Leadership, and the War on Terror

Mr. Bush, speaking to Veterans on Veterans Day, says "We stand for peace." How many Iraqis get to hear that message, and what do you suppose they make of it? He also said "We must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war against the terrorists." That's been his story all along, from way back when it didn't make a lick of sense to now, thousands of casualties later, when we may well have made it so.

I know from people I've talked to who support Bush that this is likely the core of his support: military strength, never backing down from the enemy (ignoring that our actions can create more enemies).

"In fact, we're not facing a set of grievances that can be soothed and addressed. We're facing a radical ideology with inalterable objectives to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world. No act of ours invited the rage of killers, and no concession, bribe or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder. On the contrary, they target nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence. Against such an enemy, there is only one effective response—we will never back down, we will never give in, we will never accept anything less than complete victory!"

That "complete victory" ringing in the air sounds like George Orwell's speech writing, doesn't it?

Strength is important, certainly. Dick Cheney says being able to torture is important, too. And having a network of secret prisons? We know it's going to be important to track down the bleeding heart liberal who leaked the information about the secret prisons, at least.

The one part of democracy that Bush is not so keen on is criticism.

After beating the war drum for most of his speech, he says "our debate at home must also be fair-minded." He had "strong bipartisan support" to remove Hussein from power; those who didn't agree with our going to war "didn't support the liberation of Iraq."

He says "while it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decisions or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began."

So too is it deeply hypocritical for the leader of the most secretive administration in our history to lecture us about "rewriting history." We're discovering history, finding out some of what this administraton has tried so dilligently to hide. He refers to the pass he got from the "bipartisan Senate investigation" without mentioning how Republicans controlled that investigation and to date have left the job half-done. (Will the Nov. 14th deadline generated by the Senate Democrats surprise closed session change that?)

"The fifth element of our strategy in the war on terror is to deny the militants future recruits by replacing hatred and resentment with democracy and hope across the broader Middle East."

I'm in absolute agreement with my President that this is a difficult and long-term undertaking with no alternative. We must do this. Where we are (much) further apart is on the means we'll use to achieve it and the measures of our progress. Optimism is a good thing, but pulling a stunt to land on an aircraft carrier and declare "Mission Accomplished" when it was barely started is but the most memorable of his mistaken assessments. There is ample reason to distrust George W. Bush, even as the demonstrably mistaken actions of his administration are dispassionately recorded for history.

(My blog entry for this date has additional discussion of The Washington Post report of the "asterisks" in Bush's speech, and Frank Rich's 13.Nov column responding to Bush's bald-faced "We Do Not Torture" claim made from Panama City.)


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org