Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The State of the Union

George Bush gave one of the best speeches of his presidency tonight. It was cogent, coherent, and well-delivered. The question is, was it well-received? Only the pollsters know... maybe.

Watching his speech tonight via a live Internet video stream, I was struck by the reactions of the various members of the audience in the House chamber, especially to Bush's statement of "Whatever the people voted for, they didn't vote for failure [in Iraq]." Unfortunately, the Democrats seem to be circling like sharks smelling blood in the water, Bush's blood. They think he's fatally wounded (and he may be), but Bush isn't giving up yet. "Lame duck" status is a matter of perception, and Bush has the advantage of strength of character; he really doesn't care what people think of him as long as he believes he is on the right path. So... regardless of whether Bush's positions on the issues have merit, too many of his opponents will seek to act in whatever manner gains them the most political advantage whether or not the country is helped or hurt.

I also watched the Democratic response, given by Senator James Webb. Now, I have been a Jim Webb fan ever since I read "Fields of Fire" and especially "A Sense of Honor" while I was an NROTC midshipman. I thought George Allen's attack on Webb based upon the father/son scene in "Lost Soldiers" was pathetic; it cost Allen the election as it should have. However, James Webb the Senator is not as impressive as James Webb the author, or James Webb the Vietnam-era Marine war hero. In many ways it seems he has become the type of politician he reviled in "Something To Die For" when he pontificates on the mistakes that were made as "reckless" instead of acknowledging that mistakes are the "friction of war" as von Clausewitz noted.

Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes. Two years later, it's blindingly obvious what should have been done in the aftermath of the Iraq War; declare martial law, clamp down on Iraq as we did in post-WWII Germany and Japan, set up the country as a US protectorate and get the civil institutions up and running before we turned Iraq back over to its citizens. However, at the time, there was little popular support for a long occupation just as after the Clinton Administration there were insufficient numbers of troops to successfully fully occupy Iraq while meeting our commitments across the globe. More important, what is accomplished by continually harping on our mistakes and publicly threatening the Administration with a Congressional fight over the war? Yes, I know it's good for partisan political advantage, but is it good for the country? Imagine how much harder it would have been for FDR to fight World War II if the Republicans had continually pointed out the mistakes that were made, from failing to reinforce Wake Island, to letting the Philippines fall, to the disasters in the Solomon Islands, Anzio, etc. We would not have won that war in this political climate.

Do I think the surge in Iraq will work? Evidently both Al Qaeda and al Sadr do; the former has evacuated Baghdad knowing that to stand and fight means losing, the latter is desperately trying anything and everything to avoid the coming smackdown. The problem I have with the Democrats and their views on the surge is, as John Kerry so aptly put it, they were for it until they were against it. There is no reason to the Democratic opposition to Bush's plans, unless one considers it acceptable to seek partisan advantage by any means necessary regardless of the troops it endangers and the harm it does to the country.

The Republicans lost the Congress because they failed to live up to their campaign promises and took their constituencies for granted. "Where else are they going to go?" was the attitude. The Republican leadership knew that most conservatives wouldn't vote for liberal Democrats. What they forgot is that their base might not go anywhere and choose to stay home and not vote at all. This is what happened in 2006; the Republican turnout was very light while the Democratic base showed up at the polls and voted. The same thing happened in 1992, with the same results (the GOP lost everything). However, I don't think 2006 portends a continuance of Democratic Congressional rule after 2008. Just as they did in 1992, the Democrats are well on their way of reminding the voters why they were kicked out in the first place, and we all know what happened in 1994.

Despite their missteps and blunders, the Republicans have brought the country a long way from where it was in 2000, from the start of a recession with an administration that refused to face the oncoming economic and terrorist storms. We weathered the recession and 9/11, and the country is stronger with more jobs, a better economy, and reduced deficits. The terrorists who were gaining strength in 2000 have been largely obliterated and the few that are left are hiding in holes in remote regions of the world. Most of us no longer worry about terrorist attacks on our country, and that goes a long way to explain why Democrats won (we don't se the threat). But our troubles and travails aren't over yet, despite wishful thinking on the part of the majority of Americans.

So, the State of the Union is that we are both stronger, and blinder, than we have been in a long time. We have a president who still believes we are threatened, and not only does the opposition disagree but many from his own party are starting to distance themselves as well.

Who's right? Unfortunately, I think we'll find out sooner rather than later.

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