Tuesday, May 25, 2004

# Posted 12:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FIRST VERDICTS: In its straight news account of the President's speech, the WaPo reports that
Bush disclosed few new details of the scheduled June 30 handover of limited sovereignty to Iraqis, declining to name the Iraqis who will take power or to clearly define the future U.S. military presence in Iraq.
The article then reinforces that point by reporting that
Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the president's Democratic challenger, said in a statement that Bush "laid out general principles tonight, most of which we've heard before." He added: "What's most important now is to turn these words into action by offering presidential leadership to the nation and to the world."
Finally, for those who needs thing spelled out for them, the WaPo has a news analysis column entitled "A Speech Meant to Rally Public Support Doesn't Answer Key Questions".

Pretty much, Bush is getting what he deserves. The repackaging of the administration's strategy for Iraq as a five-point plan is hardly persuasive. Already, the NYT is putting scare quotes around the words "five-point plan", as if to warn that it may contain only four points or even just three. But from where I stand, the real problem is that the speech created false expectations about what the June 30th handover will accomplish. In the final analysis, that is much more dangerous than being vague.

On the other hand, the implicit suggestion that Bush should have unveiled a revolutionary and detailed plan for bringing stability to Iraq is somewhat absurd. It is the kind of suggestion that exists only in order to create impossible standards that cannot be met. The overall strategy for Iraq has been the same for quite some time now: hold things together until the Iraqis can elect their own government.

It might just work. Or, as the NYT readily suggests, it might just fail. Either way, it is a strategy, and a strategy that distinguishes the President from those such as John Kerry who have begun to suggest that the people of Iraq cannot expect the United States to give them freedom, but instead only stability.

As suggested below, the real news value of the President's speech is the way in which it solidified his commitment to stay the course in Iraq, come hell (falling approval ratings) or high water (more American casualties).

Although indirectly, this point sometimes comes across in the newspapers. For example, the WaPo's first graf describes Bush's commitment to promote democracy in Iraq as a "vow". Still, there is very little sense that Bush is holding fast to a risk-laden but idealistic strategy even as the November election approaches. Stubborn perhaps. Even foolish. But very idealistic.

UPDATE: David Brooks makes exactly the same point.

Also, the NYT editorial on the speech is now up. Can you guess what it wanted Bush to say about Iraq? The same as always, of course: drop the problem on someone else.
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