The key paragraph in the president’s State of the Union speech was this:
This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes this war was over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of the battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.
It called to mind a speech from a different though also perilous time:
Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
Lincoln of course was surrounded throughout the Civil War by critics whose venom was the equal of the far reaches of the nutterspehere. To his enemies in the Confederacy he was evil personified, and to his political opponents at home, especially the Copperheads, he was a fool and a dangerous incompetent. But even the horrors of the war which he saw often and at first hand did not blur his vision of what had to be done, a vision far more focused and far sighted than that of his enemies combined.
So Lincoln called for resolve and he insisted on victory.
Another speech came to mind, a memory triggered by Bush’s single paragraph. When President Reagan gave a farewell address to the nation on January 11, 1989, he paused to recall “that because we are a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way.” He continued:
"But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours. And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there’s no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead we changed a world.”
First principles plus the resolve to defend them are the mark of great presidents, and it has always been so in the history of the country. President Bush extended a variety of invitations last night to the new majorities in the Senate and the House, and only the most optimistic of sorts can imagine much coming from them as the Democrats have evidenced no interest in ending their effort to reverse the judgment on Bush which history will inevitably bestow. With the possible exception of an immigration reform bill, it will be a year of confrontation and definition in preparation for a presidential election of almost incalculable stakes.
President Bush is resolved to deliver the country to his successor much safer than the one that was delivered to him, a safety which flows from clear-eyed realism about threats and the courage to act upon them.
It will be interesting to see if the combination of General Petraeus’ clear and emphatic testimony at his confirmation hearing and the president’s steady insistence on victory will reverse the flow towards neoappeasement in the Senate. That may be too much to expect of politics in these divided times, but the good news is that the president is not for turning.