Bush’s State of Union (with streaming video).
Michael Gerson speaks for himself (though where his loyalty lies remain clear). So often his precision, more articulate than Bush’s own, led to our understanding the person who spoke them. (Yes, I wish our presidents wrote their own speeches, but in the end it is Webb’s inconsistency rather than his hoary cliches that poses a problem.)
Here is some framing by Bush, that develops the narrative Kristol praised on Fox:
Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that’s the case, America is still a nation at war.
In the mind of the terrorist, this war began well before September the 11th, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past five years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al Qaeda and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite. They preach with threats, instruct with bullets and bombs, and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent.
He outlines quite “explicit” aims: overthrowing moderate governments, establishing safe havens. He quotes bin Laden: “Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us.” Then argues, “These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement.” So, “The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity.” His narrative of the last two years gives the killers their due, but helps connect the dots into a pattern.
we’ve seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East — and we have been sobered by the enemy’s fierce reaction. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution, they drove out the Syrian occupiers and chose new leaders in free elections. In 2005, the people of Afghanistan defied the terrorists and elected a democratic legislature. And in 2005, the Iraqi people held three national elections, choosing a transitional government, adopting the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world, and then electing a government under that constitution. Despite endless threats from the killers in their midst, nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens came out to vote in a show of hope and solidarity that we should never forget.
A thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics, and in 2006 they struck back. In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon’s legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam — the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia — and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.
This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we’re in. Every one of us wishes this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk.
Webb wrote his own speech and he has energy; the conclusion is an assertive punch:
These Presidents took the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling on this President to take similar action, in both areas. If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way.
Still, such rhetoric is often combined with a kind of muddiness. At least it seems that way to me. Would one of our commentors with more expertise explain what Webb means:
The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.
Not a precipitous withdrawal but allowing us “in short order” to leave? And not ignoring “the possibility of further chaos” but shifting toward “regionally-based diplomacy.” So, in Webb’s world those who are arming and encouraging the warring factions in Iraq – aiming at chaos – will be the creators of order. They may well be, but I have my doubts the Iraqis or we will find that particular order attractive.
I don’t understand much about the middle east – so maybe this makes sense. I’m also curious about the new mantra that many Democrats argue – that the army is firmly against the president’s plan. The high re-enlistment rate seems to belie this. But maybe they are right. It does make me think, however, that Instapundit’s remark, that for our generation it will always be Vietnam rings true here. We’ll all be sitting around nursing homes and muttering about Vietnam. It doesn’t seem like a productive way to have spent our lives. Cyclic history, perhaps, but that would mean we’d have moved on to a new one. Indeed, we’ve never learned from our own – or anyone else’s – history.
Of course, considering the front half of the speech, Bush argues the economy is good. He has a few facts to back it up (remarkable gains in jobs, low unemployment, low inflation, deficit diminishing, home ownership up. But the Democrats seem to think that complaining about how much CEOs make is a winning strategy. Perhaps some individual companies should think a bit about the pay for what are not always high-performing executives who have friends on the board. But exactly how is that a problem for government to solve? The economists on this blog will know more than I do – maybe I’m living in a fool’s paradise. Things just don’t seem that bad.