Absence Explained

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Jan 11, 2007 10:29 AM

My apologies for not being around after Bush's speech last night. My computer screen went black on me right as the speech ended, and has not yet let its little light shine bright again. Plus, it made this really ominous fizzle noise when I shut it down. My guess is anytime your computer sounds like frying bacon, you need a new computer.

I'm using one of the toss-asides at the Townhall office right now, so I hope that will hold up for me. Apologies specifically to one of my liberal commenters (something along the lines of "snapdigger," but slightly different) who had accused me of not opining sufficiently on the Bush plan. I had planned to after I, you know, heard the speech and told him so, but was obviously unable to do that.

As for the speech, a few impressions. Bush sounded rather soft-spoken, didn't he? He's in a weird place. He has to sound contrite because mistakes have been made, but he also has to sound the alarm about the ideological fight in which we're engaged. He has to apologize and pep talk; he has to be realistic while communicating an idealistic vision.  And, there's really no hope of convincing anti-war types anymore, so both voices are to reassure folks who were supportive and are waning, and folks who remain supportive but need some bucking up. I think he succeeded in being straightforward and contrite. The pep talk part wasn't so great.

Aside from adding new troops, I didn't see a whole lot of "new" in the speech. A lot of it is stuff we've been doing, but the pledge is that we'll do it better, smoother, more. Economic and heart-and-mind efforts will be more "coordinated" and "integrated." Training of Iraqi troops will be more "intensive" and done by more U.S. troops. On a purely political note, I thought the line about surrender not happening on the "deck of a battleship," while true, was an unfortunate evocation of the "Mission Accomplished" incident. I would have steered clear of that particular phrase.

I did like the idea that more boots on the ground will allow troops (American and Iraqi) to hold neighborhoods after they've been cleared of insurgents. Many Iraqi civilians and tribal leaders are afraid, with good reason, to support U.S. troops in efforts to clear insurgents when they clear them and then have to move onto the next neighborhood. If civilians openly back Iraqi Army and U.S. troops, when insurgents inevitably pour back in, they have to pay for it. As Bill at INDC's Fallujan interview subject said yesterday, they're going to back the "strong horse" for self-preservation. If Iraqi/American troops can stay in one place and enforce order, they can earn more trust and lower the risk of backing Iraqi/American troops by being the strong horse.

Four thousand more troops in Anbar province are meant to increase security there and cut off terrorist highways from Iran and Syria. As Badgers Forward, who's an Army officer in Ramadi, mentioned the other day, more troops in that area will inevitably mean more security, which will mean a greater likelihood that Iraqi civilians will side with troops instead of insurgents. Of course, a lot of how that plays out is dependent on how things go in Baghdad.

And, a lot of that is dependent on how Iraqis and the Iraqi government react. Maliki was talking tough yesterday about militias, but he's done that before. One of the benchmarks for the Iraqi government is to make sure that insurgents and militants are not caught and released based on tribal and political considerations. Obviously, they have to be treated the same-- Sunni and Shia-- if there is to be security, but that's not what has been happening. The problem is, there's not a lot of talk about how that's gonna get done. All governments have corruption. A nascent government in a war-torn country is just more susceptible to it. Given that this particular kind of corruption is based on centuries of tribal and religious sectarianism, how do you root it out? I would have liked to have heard more about that.

Then, of course, you've got the insurgents extorting "protection" money from contractors , preventing rebuilding, and the natural inclination of people in an uncertain, impoverished environment to help whichever side makes it worth their while. That's how you get farmers and fathers dropping of IEDs for pocket change. How do you get past that? Baby, baby steps, I imagine, and more troops, more eyes, more patrolling helps all of it.

I feel pretty good about the fact that John McCain, who has been the leader on calling for more boots on the ground and is a good voice on military matters, feels like the job is doable with 21,500 more troops. Oliver North also spoke out in favor of it last night on Fox. I am no military expert, nor have I ever claimed to be, so I have to listen to these guys and gather what I can from what I read and hear.

A lot of the anti-war Left is saying that Abizaid and Casey are out because they're anti-surge, and Bush put another yes-man in place, blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately, the Left has also been saying that this has been a disaster since the beginning, that the light footprint plan was never viable, and that Bush should change course instead of "staying" it. So, he changes the plan, and immediately, that's a bad move, too. They never wanted a change in plans. They just want Bush to fail, which unfortunately means America must fail. Blackfive--who was more impressed with the speech than I-- is, more importantly, impressed with Gen. Petraeus, who replaced Casey. He's quick on his feet, adaptable, says Blackfive, which is good because "no plan survives the battlefield."

Michelle is on the ground in Baghdad. She's got pictures of the Baghdad slums, where folks are illegally diverting water and electricity because they've been run out of their homes by terrorists, and the Maliki government doesn't recognize their existence.

Bryan Preston, who is with her, has a really interesting analysis of conditions on the ground and the divisions and cultural complexities that make the conditions what they are. Really good read.

As for the Democrat response to Bush, I simply LOVE how all the good things that have happened in Iraq, which Democrats have been trashing as worthless for four years, are now worthwhile only after they're done and  Democrats didn't have to risk any political skin to support them or speak out for them:

And we have given the Iraqis so much. We have deposed their dictator. We dug him out of a hole in the ground and forced him to face the courts of his own people. We've given the Iraqi people a chance to draft their own constitution, hold their own free elections and establish their own government. We Americans and a few allies have protected Iraq when no one else would.

Uhh, what??? Since when has deposing Saddam, the Iraqi constitution, the Iraqi people voting, and protecting Iraq meant a damn thing to Democrats? I'll tell you when-- since about the time they found it politically expedient to endorse them in retrospect to make themselves look sufficiently pro-troops while they do their best to ensure defeat for the same troops. That's when.

The Democrats now admit that strides have been made by the Iraqi people, but they want to abandon them and that progress post haste. Bush and supporters of the war effort recognize that things have not gone the way they should have, look to change plans, and continue to fight so that the strides of days gone by and the sacrifices they required are not in vain.

Some were saying this may be the most important speech of Bush's career. I think this is the last bet Bush can lay on Iraq. The American people want victory, but they're impatient. But the best sign that victory in Iraq is possible is that only a couple Democrats are fool enough to actually stand up against the new plan and threaten funding. They're CYAing in case this works out, so they can retroactively praise the progress they denigrate for the next year.