I didn’t watch it, for the same reason I don’t watch any of Bush’s speeches anymore, which is that the man is simply painful to watch when he tries to form vowels and consonants with his lips and tongue. My understanding from reading the analysis is that Bush managed to be even less persuasive than usual, a sentiment that seemed to be uniform save for those folks who could watch the man fillet a live kitten and intone gravely about how it exemplified his great leadership. It’s just as well I skipped the live show. I just paid a lot of money to repair my television; I would hate to have all that money go to waste when I threw a shoe through the TV screen.
I read it, as reading is my preferred way to deal with the President these days. There were a few moments of what I’m sure is wholly unintentional irony; the man of the “Mission Accomplished” banner on an aircraft carrier really ought not have a line in a speech that says “There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.” But overall it reads as perfectly reasonable.
Which in my mind is the problem. Every time you look at the words this administration uses in describing Iraq and their plans for the country, they look perfectly sensible, especially when you hold them in isolation. When you place them in context — factoring in the situation on the ground in Iraq, this administration’s track record executing this war, the administration’s overall track record with competence and Bush’s own truculent and petulant nature — you realize that words don’t mean much. Even if Bush and his strategists are absolutely correct in their planning — that adding 20,000 troops could stabilize Iraq and get troops on their path to home — my expectation that such a strategy could be competently executed is so low that my baseline assumption is that even if it could work, this administration will find some way to screw it up. I hate that this is my baseline assumption for my government.
As I’ve said numerous times before, this isn’t a red or blue issue, at least for me; it’s a competence issue. The Bush administration has precious little of it, and has never put a premium on it. Words are cheap; competence is dear, and I wish the Bush administration would invest a bit more in the latter (Bush is fortunate that our people in uniform are, by and large, as competent as he appears not to be).
I’ll be very interested to see how this shakes out in the next few months; the war is now deeply unpopular, as is Bush, and now Bush doesn’t have a compliant Congress to do his bidding. I have no illusions that Bush and his folks will go after those who question his plans and his competence, as they’ve always done, but this isn’t 2004 anymore and I wonder how far that will go this time around.
I think the one thing everyone agrees with is that in many ways this is Bush’s last stand on Iraq; what I wonder is whether this will turn out the way anyone expects. If experience is our guide, the answer will be: Of course it won’t.