Meat and potatoes

Michael Barone

12/5/2005 3:05:00 AM - Michael Barone

Meat and potatoes. Metrics and specifics. That's what George W. Bush provided, finally, for the American people in his speech last week at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

 Metrics: "80 Iraqi battalions are fighting side by side with coalition forces," "30 Iraqi Army battalions have assumed primary control of their own areas of responsibility," "3,500 new police officers every 10 weeks."

 Specifics: "Regional support units and base support units have been created across the country"; "an Iraqi military academy, a noncommissioned officer academy, a military police school, a bomb disposal school"; "Iraqi battalions have taken over ... the area around Baghdad's Haifa Street."

 And answers to the question: Why didn't we achieve this progress earlier? "Because we learned from our earlier experiences and made changes in the way we help train Iraqi troops." Less time in lectures and more training in small arms. More firepower and training for the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. Redirecting Iraqi Army units from border control to internal policing.

 Bush's critics have long pressed him to admit mistakes. He has been reluctant, for fear critics would pounce on any concession. But now he is saying that our military has been doing what every competent military does: learn from mistakes and adapt to circumstances. Franklin Roosevelt's military learned from setbacks and blunders in the Philippines and North Africa. Bush's military has been learning similarly, and arguably more quickly, in Iraq.

 "Americans should have a clear understanding of this strategy," Bush said, and noted that a 38-page National Strategy for Victory in Iraq has been posted on But many Americans don't have a clear understanding of that strategy or what has been happening in Iraq. One reason is that adversarial mainstream media have insisted on viewing Iraq through the prism of Vietnam and seeing nothing but endless, pointless slaughter.

 In fact, as influential blogger Glenn Reynolds ( points out, Iraq is a reverse Vietnam. The vast majority of Iraqis want us to succeed and are confident things are getting better; as Sen. Joseph Lieberman put it, this is a fight between 27 million Iraqis and 10,000 terrorists. U.S. military personnel on the ground are buoyant about the progress they've seen, and re-enlistment rates have regularly exceeded quotas.

 Franklin Roosevelt broadcast 13 of his fireside chats during World War II. They were pretty candid about early setbacks and ongoing obstacles -- but Roosevelt did not have to worry about political opponents and media critics who wanted to see America lose the war. Since the major military action in Iraq, Bush has emphasized steadfastness and insisted that America stay the course. Last week, he got more specific and made what should have long been an obvious point, "If by 'stay the course' (critics) mean that we're not learning from our experiences, or adjusting our tactics to meet the challenges on the ground, then they're flat wrong. ... Our strategy in Iraq is clear, our tactics are flexible and dynamic -- we have changed them as conditions require, and they are bringing us victory against a brutal enemy."

 My sense from such occasional glimpses that I get of life at the top of the administration is that people there have believed for some time that Iraq is obviously headed for success. But that's not how things have looked on the outside. Bush came to Washington from Texas, where the political dialogue was set by the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers with not much in the way of an ideological agenda.

 But in Washington, the dialogue is set by papers like The New York Times, whose White House correspondent wrote in a front-page story of "administration claims that Mr. (Saddam) Hussein posed an imminent threat to the world" -- despite the fact that Bush in his 2003 State of the Union message did not say that the threat was "imminent," but said it should be addressed anyway. So deeply ingrained in the Times' newsroom are the distortions and talking points of the anti-Bush left that its top people let a howling error like this on their front page.

 "In the days ahead, I'll be discussing the various pillars of our strategy in Iraq," Bush said in his speech. About time. The commander in chief needs to give Americans a steady diet of meat and potatoes.