I'll give George W. Bush points for seriousness. He didn't smirk inappropriately, he didn't whine, and he even uncharacteristically took some personal responsibility. At the same time, however, he didn't exactly come off as the prototypical inspiring commander in chief. He looked almost frightened, at least to me, but it didn't serve to humanize him that much. He read the speech capably enough as these things go, though with some stutters, but he looked as if half the life had been drained out of him.
No doubt he recognizes at some level that this was his defining moment and he wasn't handling it well. Somebody in Washington, I've forgotten who, told me in the last few days that of course the people at the White House knew how badly things were going in Iraq and had known for some time. Despite all his assurances that we were on the right path and even winning, George Bush had to know it too. I'm not sure why it surprised me so much that people in Washington thought they knew that the White House knew, but it did. I guess I had assumed that the cocoon really did shut out reality, but apparently it simply masked reality and postponed any felt necessity to deal with it.
Well, maybe the cocoon really is more powerful. Dubya's plan may be the best they could come up with given the circumstances of an overstretched military and the notion of moving people from posts like Europe or South Korea or Okinawa, where they're not doing much except to serve as tripwires, being apparently too far out of the box for anybody to entertain. It might provide cover for a future decision that we gave it our best shot, we did get rid of Saddam, we did kill a lot of terrorists (never mind the civilian collateral damage), we did pump in a bunch of aid and train a lot of military and police, but the Iraqis just weren't ready to hold up their end and it's time to leave. I still doubt if that will happen on Bush's watch, but the ground may be prepared.
The plan may provide cover but it doesn't look like a winning strategy. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think 21,500 more troops, even with a somewhat different mission, will be enough to quell the violence enough for an Iraqi civil society to emerge. And while it's still way too early to tell if it will make a significant difference to Americans who have run out of patience, I suspect most Americans have simply tuned the president out. He's as lame a duck as we've seen in some time.