ANY BUSH speechwriter daring to propose that the president say to the nation, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," would be immediately told to turn in his word processor and leave by the side door. An administration committed to tax breaks for the wealthy, sweetheart contracts for Halliburton, and deregulation for corporate polluters and media giants wants speechwriters who stay on message, not dreamers who might confuse American voters with talk about service instead of greed.
Even less welcome would be a White House speechwriter suggesting that the president invoke John F. Kennedy's additional inaugural challenge in 1960: "My fellow citizens of the world, ask: `What together we can do for the freedom of man?' "
Our current president, who disdains international law and organizations, does not consider himself to be a "citizen of the world," much less a mere "fellow" among many. And, bent as he is on unilateral actions like preemptive strikes, he has no interest in doing anything "together" with anyone.
Under our Constitution, that is his choice. In that context, it is a mistake to blame Bush's talented team of White House speechwriters for the enormous, startling gap between the actual situation in post-Saddam Iraq, as reported by the media, congressional officials, foreign correspondents, and others physically on the scene (a dark, tragic picture of continuing bombings, car burnings, bandits and body bags) and the vastly different, rosier picture depicted by the president in his speeches (orderly, with an applauding, welcoming, celebrating population, decisively defeated, presumably disarmed and fully cooperating with US forces). It has been the president's deliberate decision and policy -- not that of his speechwriters -- to substitute talk, especially tough talk, for adequate force and experienced allied help in Iraq.
He has repeatedly demonstrated this not only by his prepared texts but also by his spontaneous remarks in answer to specific questions and the stream of uncontrolled setbacks ever since his dramatic dress-up declaration of victory nearly five months ago -- a victory that he said had been accomplished "with a speed . . . the world had not seen before." (It still hasn't.)
Armed resistance continuing in Afghanistan?
"We destroyed the Taliban!" (May 2).
New foreign terrorists pouring into Iraq in the most bungled occupation in US military history?
"Bring 'em on!" (July 3).
Does the president regret trying to invade and occupy a huge country on the cheap, even after being warned by Army leaders against too small a contingent?
"We've got plenty tough force there right now!" (July 3).
"We're not going to get nervous . . . we're realists in this administration" (July 3).
We will hunt them by day and by night" (July 7).
A mounting serious security threat to the lives of our troops?
"We're going to deal with it person by person" (July 11).
The sniper, bombing and other killing of Americans continues?
"The terrorist cause is lost!" (Aug. 19).
Innocent humanitarian officials from the United Nations killed? Continuing sabotage and murder in Iraq?
"We're bringing order to that country" (Aug. 26).
These long months of weirdly combining tough talk with inadequate force have not only stood on its head Theodore Roosevelt's sage advice to "speak softly and carry a big stick" but also seem almost to dare, taunt, and provoke our enemies into renewed attacks on American and British troops, friendly Jordanian officials, and supportive Iraqi police and religious authorities.
Perhaps, in order to induce other countries to send their troops to serve under an exclusive American command in Iraq, the president should promise to keep quiet. Unfortunately, on Tuesday at the United Nations the president was back at it again, declaring, "Across the Middle East, people are safer" and proclaiming that the terrorists in Iraq "will be defeated." So, do not blame the speechwriters for the president's willful, wishful prevarications. Do not blame the US military for his initial unilateralism and inadequate force. And to our critics in Europe, I have this: Do not blame the American people -- they voted for Gore.
Theodore C. Sorensen, a New York lawyer, served as special counsel to President John F. Kennedy.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.