In our country, Wednesday night’s “surge” was mainly a surge of words, twenty-minutes worth, 2,898 of them. In the build-up to the speech, as almost every last detail of it was leaked to the media, untold hundreds of thousands of words surged onto news pages, onto the TV news, into talk radio chatter, and on-line — and so many hundreds of thousands more, these included, will follow in the days to come.
As Gail Russell Chaddock of the Christian Science Monitor wrote, the President’s “new way forward” plan is guaranteed to run into a “wall of words on Capitol Hill,” but, she added, “not much more.” The New York Times front-paged that the Democrats were planning “symbolic votes” against the President’s plan “which would do nothing in practical terms to block Mr. Bush’s intention to increase the United States military presence in Iraq.”
Practical terms means, not words but Congress’s undeniable power of the purse, and so its right to deny at least some part of the tsunami of money the Bush administration is demanding to carry out its latest plan. Only in recent days has the possibility of using the purse to rein in the war begun to make its way from the distant frontiers of critical pariah-hood onto at least some mainstream agendas.
In the lead-up to Bush’s speech to the nation, almost nowhere did words not surge — despite the odd irony that the President did not actually use the word “surge” in his speech. Amid the deluge of words, only George Bush resorted to the resounding sound of silence. As Howard Fineman wrote in Newsweek:
“[T]he new chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee — Carl Levin, an important character now — sent Bush a private letter three weeks ago offering his counsel. Levin never got a reply. Bush can be just as deaf to Republicans. At a recent White House ceremony, Sen. Susan Collins offered to brief him on her Iraq visit. He responded by escorting her to the office of his deputy national-security adviser — and then left before she told her story.”
Given the crisis atmosphere, much of the speech itself, when the President was not plodding through his tactical changes in Iraq or offering insincere thanks to James Baker’s Iraq Study Group, was remarkably ordinary Bush boilerplate. The newest (and most ominous) note struck hardly related to Iraq at all. It lay in these two lines clearly aimed at Iran, a country the Study Group wanted to draw into negotiations: “I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies.” At a moment when at least one American air strike had just taken place in Somalia, it hinted at a different kind of surge entirely.