WASHINGTON -- During the battle of the Marne in September 1914, France's Marshal Foch declared: ``My center is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking.'' His brio is remembered because his tactic worked: It prevented a rout that might have swiftly ended what might not today be known as World War I. But, then, we cannot know that.
The president's Wednesday evening address was without Fochian panache. He surely knows that he cannot know how his new policy will unfold, any more than his critics can have reasonable confidence in the consequences of their alternative policy.
The president is probably wrong in thinking that 17,500 more U.S. forces can clear Baghdad until Iraqi forces can hold it. And he probably is wrong in thinking that economic pump-priming and jobs programs, which are usually disappointing when tried in America, can succeed amid Iraq's anarchy. Besides, Shiites are not torturing Sunnis with electric drills and Sunnis are not beheading Shiites because both sides are suffering the ennui of the unemployed. For Iraqis, ennui is a utopian aspiration.
But the president is right in framing his new policy as a ukase to Iraq's government: We are buying you time, and not much of it, for you to dash to competence concerning security matters. Bush's policy probably will not succeed, but at least we will know what were the parameters of the possible, given the government produced by those Iraqi elections that once were the source of so much U.S. confidence.
The president's gamble is not a larger one than Democrats are making with what they are adopting as a party position. They are right that the ``surge'' probably will not pull Iraq back from the abyss. But they are wrong to think that their policy is more than a variant of the president's policy: Shock treatment for Iraq's government, which is threatened with what, on Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice icily called, with studied vagueness, ``the consequences now of nonperformance."
All sides recognize that the status quo in Iraq is untenable. Therefore those -- almost all Democrats, and a growing minority of Republicans -- who hope to block the ``surge'' are really for setting in motion a swift and irreversible process of U.S. withdrawal, in the hope that it will galvanize Iraq's government to military and policy capabilities that U.S. training and subsidies have so far been unable to produce. And if not, Iraq and the region probably will become a cauldron of conflicts with genocidal stakes for the sectarian groups involved.