You Can Tell George W. Bush’s War is in Big Trouble…

…when the best spin the Richmond Times-Dispatch can put on Wednesday’s speech and the Bush escalation plan is this rather lukewarm offering from the editorial page on Friday.

It’s an odd piece. The RTD demonstrates more resignation than conviction in talking about the Bush plan, and doesn’t claim that the “surge” is going to work.

It’s as if the editorial writers realize Iraq has been a total failure, but can’t lift themselves out of the rhetorical frame Bush has provided for the last four years, and can’t bring themselves to admit that this was wrong all along.

Indeed, the editorial clings to the notion that Bush offered “just” reasons for the initial invasion. That’s an odd claim, because as I recall “justice” had little to do with it back in winter 2003–the invasion was supposed to be about disarming an immediate threat. The discourse about justice and democracy and building freedom in the Middle East was (at the level of public explanation) a post facto attempt to justify the war after the whole WMD thing turned out to be wrong. (Barton Hinkle of the RTD has deftly pointed out the shift in this posting on his blog.)

More importantly, the RTD’s claim that Bush had the right idea but executed it poorly–though clearly a significant advance over some previous statements, especially Ross Mackenzie’s intransigent refusal until late last year to entertain any criticism of the war at all–cannot stand close scrutiny.

Why not? Because when it comes to war, evaluation of the likely success of a plan must itself be part of any moral evaluation of the justice of a proposed war (especially a pre-emptive war of this kind).  You don’t get credit for nice tries or almost meeting your goals in war. You have to win and do so decisively if you are to achieve your stated goals; otherwise the entire enterprise is pointless, even on its own terms. (This was the wisdom of the Powell Doctrine, which somehow got thrown out the window on the road to Bagdhad.)

Therefore, it’s not good enough to say “that sounds like a good reason to have a war, let’s do it.” You also have to ask, “can we really pull that off”, or more pointedly “Can we really pull that off given the resources we are willing to devote to this and the sacrifices that the American people are going to be wililng to bear for this cause?” And you have to ask, “Does the cast of characters in charge of carrying out this proposed war have the competence to do what they say they are going to do? Can this administration be trusted to follow through on its promises and carry out the war in the most conscientious possible manner?”

Those are all questions very few people asked in the run-up to the war, even though having persuasive, positive answers to those questions should have been an absolute prerequisite of undertaking this enterprise. Very few mainstream political actors can escape blame for that failure.

On the one hand, the Bush Administration actively discouraged such questioning, either by the public or even (and this is what is most shocking) internally; to ask such questions was to betray a lack of toughness or conviction in the need to fight evil or the goodness of the United States.

On the other hand, the vast majority of Democrats in Congress failed the public trust placed in them by refusing to ask the hard questions at the right time. They, too, bear some of the blame for what has been allowed to happen. So too, of course, does the mainstream media.

In any case, it is striking that Bush can no longer count on even conservative editorial writers to back wholeheartedly his prosecution of this war.

As for the escalation plan itself, the most serious analysis of its likely military and strategic effects can be found in this New York Times piece today by an analyst from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, which provides a highly informative annotated commentary on Bush’s speech.

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Published in: on January 12, 2007 at 8:35 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thad, I’m not igoring your larger point of a possible sign being seen in RT-Ds Ed. Page. I couldn’t ignore it; I read RT-D first thing every morning.

    But speaking of signs…President Bush is a Cancer. Astrologically speaking. He is going to dig his heels even further into the dirt, regardless of other’s opinions. I know because I am a Cancer. His ‘approval rating’ could go as low as 2% and it wouldn’t matter.

    I’ve resigned to the fact that this situation will not improve until Bush’s term is over. Anyone believing otherwise is squandering their thoughts, time and energy needlessly.

  2. The war speeches have long been more ceremonial than deliberative, a problem because all that ever seems to happen is that we’re asked to be good Americans by supporting the troops.

    The shock in watching this speech was in the visuals—the President looked frail and putting him in front of the books seemed like a lame attempt to counteract his reputation for boredom and laziness about ideas and details.

    The White House image:

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/01/images/20070110-7_g8o0232-745v.html

    Perhaps the wan appearance was the reason that for the first time in recent memory, still photographers were not allowed to shoot once the president was finished speaking, a break with longstanding tradition:

    http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003531834


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