President Bush addressed the nation in a live televised speech Sunday night to talk about the situation in Iraq (see full text). To his detractors, it was yet another easy opportunity to dismiss the usual "same old cheerleading." This time, however, I was inclined to disagree. It seems to me that in recent weeks, the administration has been taking a different tack toward handling criticism of the war. Instead of completely ignoring the very idea that opposition to the war even exists, Bush & Co. are now making more of an effort to engage skeptics and convince them of the wisdom of staying the course. And the slogan "Mission Accomplished" seems to have finally been replaced with the more accurate "Work in Progress".
This speech, then, is quite a big deal. Bush was elected as a man whose popularity was derived from a leadership style seen as removed from the fickleness of ratings and poll numbers. While the idea sounded admirable, it didn't work too well when practiced to the extreme, and now it seems the president has realized he has a responsibility to serve the interests of the public that elected him. At a time when the public is increasingly questioning the war, it only seems right that he take the opportunity to address their concerns.
In Sunday night's speech, Bush acknowledged the lack of WMD's in Iraq. saying "much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," but with refreshing candor added "as your President, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq." Furthermore, he continued by admitting to the ongoing "danger and suffering and loss" and explicitly stated that the situation has "led some to ask if we are creating more problems than we are solving." He went on to give a compelling answer to that question, citing critical progress while answering key criticisms at each turn.
To the question of whether the Iraq war was hurting the war on terrorism, Bush memorably responded "the answer depends on your view of the war on terror. If you think the terrorists would become peaceful if only America would stop provoking them, then it might make sense to leave them alone...We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. We invite terrorism by ignoring them." Bush went on to admit that the reconstruction of Iraq was going slower than expected, but importantly pointed out that progress was being made despite "the grim results [of the insurgency] on the evening news." Judging by events like last week's successful elections in Iraq, I believed the President when he said:
"For every scene of destruction in Iraq, there are more scenes of rebuilding and hope. For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed. And for every terrorist working to stop freedom in Iraq, there are many more Iraqis and Americans working to defeat them. My fellow citizens: Not only can we win the war in Iraq -- we are winning the war in Iraq."
The last part of Bush's speech was more reminiscent of the triumphant tone and well-worn cliches of the administration's past, but on the whole, I believe the content of the speech definitely merited attention--enough so, at least, to justify the delayed airing of the new Family Guy.
My major concern now is that even with the administration's new, more diplomatic approach, it may be too late. While I share the president's belief in the need to stay in Iraq until the job is finished, Congress and the American public are already deeply entrenched in their own views of the Iraq war, and there is little reason to anticipate that anyone will change their minds now. If only this speech had come a year ago, it might have been so much more meaningful. I'm glad President Bush is doing more to acknowledge the tough reality of the war; I just wish he had done so earlier, at a time when more people were willing to believe the sacrifices are worth it.