George W. Bush finally has dipped his toe into the reality-based pool.
Standing in the White House library–because his PR guides wanted him to seem “conversational”–the president delivered a long-in-the-hyping speech on Iraq on Wednesday night, and he conceded what the American people have already figured out: his war is not faring well. Shortly before the November elections, Bush declared, “we’re winning” in Iraq. With public opinion polls showing that close to three-quarters of the nation disapprove of his handling of the war, Bush wanted to demonstrate that he, too, is aware that Iraq is a mess. So he said, “The situation in Iraq is…unacceptable to me….Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.” But here’s the obvious question: given the president’s history of false and misleading statements about the war and his record of poor decision-making related to the war, why should anyone accept anything he says or proposes now? He has no credibility–and far too long of a resume of failure. One speech–standing or sitting–will not make a difference in how Americans regard Bush and the war. There will be no surge of popular support for his newest plan: sending 21,000 additional US troops to Iraq for a last-chance stab at securing and stabilizing Baghdad.
Bush’s announcement of this escalation came as no surprise. Critics and advocates of such a thrust have been debating the idea for weeks, anticipating Bush would order such a move. After all, it seemed the only choice left available to pro-war partisans. But the whole notion rests upon a rather iffy proposition: that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shares Bush’s vision and can deliver. Maliki is Bush’s lifeline in Iraq. Bush’s escalation can only succeed if Maliki’s government does what Bush says it will do: clamp down on the sectarian violence that is partly fueled by Shiites who are part of Maliki’s government. In his speech, Bush credulously quoted a Maliki statement from last week: “The Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation.” And Bush noted that Maliki has pledged that there will be no “political or sectarian interference” in the coming campaign to pacify Baghdad. As a cynical foreign policy realist might say, Isn’t it pretty to think so?