It Came From Planet Bush
By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, September 14, 2007; 1:12 PM
In the alternate universe that President Bush occupies, he gave a smashing speech last night.
Over there, the people of Iraq need our help to save them from the al Qaeda terrorists who intend to overthrow their brave and united government on the way to attacking America. It's a battle of good versus evil. We have 36 countries fighting alongside us. And the fight is going very well indeed. Ordinary life is returning to Baghdad.
A few more things about Bush's universe: There, the president can make things true simply by solemnly pronouncing them from the Oval Office. He can reach out to his critics just by saying he is doing so. And people believe him.
But over here in the real world, things are different.
Iraq is mostly ruled by armed gangs, not a central government. American troops are dying in the crossfire as the country continues to violently disintegrate along ethnic and sectarian lines. We're in it pretty much alone. There's no end in sight. And the real al Qaeda is regrouping in Pakistan.
President Bush is trying and failing to rally support for a war that the majority of Americans have concluded is not worth fighting. He's not going to change anyone's mind because he's too stubborn to change his own. And in any case, his credibility is shot to hell.
Here's the text of his speech last night, his eighth prime-time address on Iraq.
Bush opened with this astonishing vision: "In Iraq, an ally of the United States is fighting for its survival. Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq's government, dominate the region, and attack us here at home."
In reality, the nearly powerless central government is endangered and marginalized not by terrorists but by internal division. And al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent group with nominal ties to the real al Qaeda, is in no position to take over the country, not to mention the region. There is also no evidence that they have any interest in attacking us at home.
Said Bush: "One year ago, much of Baghdad was under siege. . . . Today, . . . ordinary life is beginning to return."
To call anything in today's Baghdad even vaguely normal is flatly outrageous.
Said Bush: "The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks -- and in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must."
But he's been saying that for a long time. And he has even less leverage now, having made it so abundantly clear that his commitment to Iraq is open-ended.
"Our troops in Iraq are performing brilliantly. Along with Iraqi forces, they have captured or killed an average of more than 1,500 enemy fighters per month since January."
Body counts are a notoriously suspect way of measuring success in an armed conflict -- particularly one where it can be hard to tell enemies from civilians. And in the past, Bush has said he would avoid them.
"Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home."
Actually, he has no choice. Pentagon officials have long said Bush's troop buildup could not be sustained past next summer without huge damage to the military.
"The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together."
As if. It's basically the same "way forward" -- and what most Americans are looking for is a "way out."
"A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people, and be an anchor of stability in the region."
That's what I think of when I think of Iraq: An anchor of stability.
"We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy."
A recent State Department report shows a total of 25 countries with armed forces in Iraq -- and that includes Slovakia's six soldiers and Moldava's 11. Non-American troops total under 12,000, with most in non-combat roles, compared to over 160,000 Americans.
And quoting the parents of a dead soldier, Bush said: "We believe this is a war of good and evil."
It's a bit more complicated than that.