The presidential address last week was pathetic enough to make one feel sad for the poor dear man, as they say in the old country. With little emotional affect he read a lecture about his ''new strategy,'' which was in fact nothing more than a new tactic, growled at Iran and Syria, threatened the Iraqi government, and promised that the United States would emerge the winner in Iraq.
The notion that 20,000 more American troops would pacify Baghdad was farcical. If one really intended to stop internecine war between two religious tribes, one would have had to promise a lot more Americans. John Keegan, the famous English military historian and commentator, estimated that pacification would take 50,000 troops. Various American military experts suggested that it would require at least 100,000 soldiers and Marines. If one calculates two American soldiers or Marines for every 1,000 people in a city, as does the Army's counter-insurgency manual, 140,000 fighting men (which excludes the half of the troops in Iraq who are not combat soldiers) would be required.
The mountain labored and gave birth to a mouse.
Some of President Bush's allies in government and the media (David Brooks in the New York Times, for example) contend the ''new strategy'' must be tried if only because there's nothing else to do. Republican senators insist the Democrats in Congress must suggest an alternative strategy if they expect to be taken seriously. How are we going to solve the Iraq Problem unless we have a strategy?
There are two answers to such idiocy: 1) There isn't an alternative strategy or any strategy that will clean up the Iraq mess, and 2) the Democrats do have a strategy: phased withdrawal, beginning now.
In fact, no one knows what will happen when American troops leave or what Iran or the Arab countries would do. One does know that the Arabs and the Persians don't particularly like one another and that the Sunnis want to run Iraq again and have little interest in re-establishing a caliphate presided over by Osama bin Laden.
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In any event, the Middle East is always unstable. The Iranian president is unpopular with his people because he has not been able to transform the economic chaos in his country. The various Islamic factions are not likely to try to induce stability in their part of the world as long as a U.S. army is occupying one of their countries.
The president's apocalyptic descriptions of Iraq after ''we'' leave are transcriptions of neo-conservative memos. The neo-cons are high-level thinkers and brilliant memo writers. They provided the ideas that the president and his aides (none of them high-level thinkers) needed to justify the war. Although many of them are distinguished graduates of the University of Chicago and similar institutions, they seemed to know very little history. None of them anticipated what a cursory reading of Winston Churchill's book on Iraq would have predicted: the present civil war.
The most pathetic part of the president's talk was the peroration, a listless reprise of all the neo-con cliches from the last six years: war on terror, enemies who want to destroy our way of life because they fear our freedom, global cultural confrontation, the crucial battle of our time. For motivation to support his "new strategy," the president had to fall back on the conventional wisdom of talk radio hosts, conservative editorial writers, and the gurus of the Fox network.
No one ever offers hard proof that these horrors would occur. The battling Shiites and Sunnis are interested in killing each other in a struggle for power for themselves in Iraq. They may hate Americans, but they hate each other more. The only ones who can destroy American freedom are government officials who claim the right to read our mail, listen to our phone calls, bug our e-mail, and deny some of us the right to have lawyers to defend us. They are the real enemy.
For all the bravado of his words, the president did not seem to have his heart in the speech. He tried to sound tough, but really seemed like someone who knew deep down that he was a beaten man.