Thursday, September 13, 2007

LOWERED EXPECTATIONS. I admit to disappointment that the President didn't start his speech with the news that 2,200 Marines were coming home at the end of the month and would not be replaced. In fact, I had hoped that he would have a WELCOME HOME banner and maybe a glass of non-alcoholic champagne. For many Americans this is the money shot, and good news no matter how you slice it, as is the possibility that 3,500 soldiers will also come home without relief by Christmas.

The speech was not mainly about the drawdown, but about the surge-related progress Bush is claiming in Iraq. The surge, we now see, was not meant to end the war but to continue it. Though the intrigues of Sunnis, Shiites, and our own Government in Iraq -- and elsewhere -- are complex, the President portrayed the contest as a simple one between the forces of freedom and Al Qaeda, and the pacification of some areas as part of a linear progress from tyranny to democracy. The advantage of this narrative is that it is simple; the disadvantage is that it extends into the distant future. Bush bluntly reminded us that our occupation of Iraq would continue after he is out of office. It is a sobering thought, but there are the troop withdrawals and stories of newly-re-liberated Iraqis to take some of the sting out of it.

The President clearly hopes the American people will accept this modest package because it promises, in the old Nixonian phrase, peace with honor. Bush's closing with a dead-soldier anecdote tips his hand: our blood and treasure cannot have been shed in vain, and with patience it will not be. Bush and his supporters, who once dismissed comparisons of Iraq and Vietnam, have of late adopted them, with the provision that the sad ending of that conflict will be rewritten with this one.

For political purposes, this is not meant to erase some imagined Vietnam stigma -- there is no sign that America seethes with regret over that -- but to erase bitter memories of the Administration's own malfeasances: the fallacious case for war, the early declarations of victory, and the dispiriting violence that came after.

With war support at a low ebb, Bush bought a bit of breathing space with his surge, and in that space sealed the exits. Now he tells us that since we cannot get out, we can only go up.

We've come a long way from the toppled Saddam statue and strewn flowers of early days. Who would have thought then that the restoration of some order to neighborhoods our invasion plunged into chaos would be offered as proof that we were on the right track?

No comments:

Post a Comment