Two days after his press conference, Bush spoke eloquently and in more specific detail than he has before on Iraq in a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy. Bush identified our adversaries not, as he has in the past, as generic terrorists, but as "evil Islamic radicalism," "militant Jihadism" and "Islamo-fascism." He described the campaigns in which American forces, sometimes leading and sometimes aiding Iraqis, are clearing out Iraqi cities on the roads to Syria and then installing Iraqi units to prevent the enemy from returning. He described how more than 80 Iraqi battalions are now fighting alongside us, up from not much more than zero in July 2004.
Recently returned Lt. Gen. David Petraeus provides additional detail: More than 36 Iraqi battalions are capable of fighting "in the lead," and another 80 are capable of "fighting alongside" American forces.
Effective war leaders like Franklin Roosevelt have used a narrative framework to tell citizens how progress is being made and work is being done to assure progress in the future. Bush did a better job of that last week than he has in some time. He needs to keep it up to counter mainstream media that have mostly focused on casualty counts. And to make clear the consequences of withdrawal or failure: "Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe, with Zarqawi and bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people and its resources?"
On domestic policy, Bush has been pursuing the plans he set out in his 2000 campaign, some of which seem blocked, temporarily or permanently. His gas tank is running low. Of course, the Democrats have little in the way of specific proposals, aside from repeal of the Bush tax cuts -- they've been running on empty since Bill Clinton left office.
That invites the public to say a pox on both parties. But it also provides an opening for Bush to lay out a more robust agenda -- maybe in his State of the Union next January -- one geared to the years ahead, instead of his priorities in 2000. Bush seems beset now, but he has a chance to rebound and confound his vitriolic critics once again.
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