January 21, 2004

SOTU Watch

Not his best speech. Here's the link to the text. Go read, if you haven't already, Patrick Belton's excellent instant analysis from last night. (Oh, while you're over at Oxblog, scroll up to read some excellent material Dave Adesnik has up. He's wearing his essay reviewer hat).

Here's the Democratic response (Pelosi, of course, trots out the Krugman radical meme: "[Bush] embraced a radical doctrine of pre-emptive war unprecedented in our history.")

I'll leave the parsing of domestic policy to others like Matthew Yglesias: "Long story short -- more budget BS than you can shake an unprecedented expansion in entitlement spending at."

Worth reading too, Sullivan's pretty gloomy take on the speech.

But let's look at the bright side for a little. Here were the strongest parts of the speech:

"As part of the offensive against terror, we are also confronting the regimes that harbor and support terrorists, and could supply them with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. The United States and our allies are determined: We refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger." [my emphasis]

In other words, denial isn't just a river in Egypt. The intersection among transational terror groups, rogue states and WMD remains the greatest peril facing the civilized world in the 21st Century.

Bush gets it. Blair gets it. Nancy Pelosi, er, doesn't.

"Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better. Last month, the leader of Libya voluntarily pledged to disclose and dismantle all of his regime's weapons of mass destruction programs, including a uranium enrichment project for nuclear weapons. Colonel Qadhafi correctly judged that his country would be better off, and far more secure, without weapons of mass murder. Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible - and no one can now doubt the word of America." [emphasis added]

Some will find such a claim risible. They will say the word of the United States, on the most important national security problem facing us (ie. WMD etc.) has taken a beating given that no significant WMD stockpiles have yet turned up in Iraq.

But myriad intelligence services of other sovereign nations were similarly fooled (and the Kay Report provided a good deal of evidence re: WMD programs). There was no mega-hoodwink, no Big Lie.

Governments the world over realize this. We'll have a harder sale, to be sure, if we are suddenly rushing about Berlin and Paris saying that Iran is about to go nuclear--particularly if their intelligence is to the contrary.

But I believe, at the end of the day, that we will still be able to persuade our allies re: the merits of our intelligence. We haven't lost all credibility here. After all, if Iraq's WMD was the rubric, virtually all intelligence services would be considered about as credible as the local weatherman.

Bottom line: I believe foreign governments take this Administration's pronouncements very seriously and at face value. In other words, we have that precious commodity, crediblity, on the world stage.

Contrast that with the Clintonian era of legalistic verbal parsing exemplified by Clinton's smirky utterance "it depends on what the meaning of is is." That very phrase encapsulated a low, dishonest decade where Clinton presided over a party-time bubble economy based on no real foundations except, so frequently, rank graft and looting of the company store.

Back to the speech.

"I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all. They view terrorism more as a crime - a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments. After the World Trade Center was first attacked in 1993, some of the guilty were indicted, and tried, and convicted, and sent to prison. But the matter was not settled. The terrorists were still training and plotting in other nations, and drawing up more ambitious plans. After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States - and war is what they got."

In other words, steer clear of, say, Wes Clark's (Radovan Karadzic's immunity for genocidaires) legalistic approach to waging the fight against international terrorism.

"Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized. This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners in Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17 other countries that have committed troops to Iraq. As we debate at home, we must never ignore the vital contributions of our international partners, or dismiss their sacrifices. From the beginning, America has sought international support for our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have gained much support. There is a difference, however, between leading a coalition of many nations, and submitting to the objections of a few. America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country."

This bears keeping in mind. When a Nancy Pelosi poo-poohs Bush's unilateral war--don't forget that Brits, and Japanese, and Poles, and Italians, and many others--have died in the course of multilateral allied action with the Americans. Indeed, Bush is right, we should never glibly dismiss their sacrifices.

Oh, and the "submitting to the objections of a few" language was a winner. Remember folks, "Europe" as such wasn't against us. A few countries' governments, mostly because of self-interested agendas, were (see France, Germany).

The weaker spots on foreign policy?

The passages on democratization in the Middle East were very weak (it will take more than VOA pipe-ins) and light on specific policy. Ditto on Iraq's future.

This is why I say it wasn't one of his stronger speeches. And he should have told us how, specifically, the Libya precedent might be employed with NoKo, Iran, and others.

And nothing (I mean, nothing at all) on Israel-Palestine. Or critical relationships with Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. Nada. As I said, weak--even if, like me, you hate laundry lists. Some critical issues bear mentioning. And they weren't.

A couple final thoughts. When Bush first mentioned Iraq

"Since we last met in this chamber, combat forces of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Poland and other countries enforced the demands of the United Nations, ended the rule of Saddam Hussein - and the people of Iraq are free"

the chamber erupted in applause. And on both sides of the aisle. That's part of the reason why Dean is losing steam.

It's still an election mostly driven by the trauma of 9/11. And the majority of Americans, not because they are imbeciles and think Saddam is UBL, but because of their prudential fears re: the intersection of rogue states, terror groups, and WMD--still think going into Iraq was the right call (yes, despite 500 fatalities and $120B).

Finally, a brief thought on the domestic side of the fence. I was struck by this passage:

"And even some of the youngest understand that we are living in historic times. Last month a girl in Lincoln, Rhode Island, sent me a letter. It began, ``Dear George W. Bush.'' ``If there is anything you know, I Ashley Pearson age 10 can do to help anyone, please send me a letter and tell me what I can do to save our country.'' She added this P.S.: ``If you can send a letter to the troops - please put, `Ashley Pearson believes in you.'''

Tonight, Ashley, your message to our troops has just been conveyed. And yes, you have some duties yourself. Study hard in school, listen to your mom or dad, help someone in need, and when you and your friends see a man or woman in uniform, say, ``Thank you.'' And, Ashley, while you do your part, all of us here in this great chamber will do our best to keep you and the rest of America safe and free."

Well, this ain't Haight-Ashbury folks. Talk about counter-counter-cultural rhetoric. Thank the troops, listen to dad, and study hard--it brings to mind an idlyllic, rosy, nuclear-family-centric Eisenhowerian America.

Rove's not dumb. The SOTU locked in critical swaths of the Republican base that are socially conservative through such rhetoric and talk about sexual abstention and the like.

Now Bush will strike out towards the center during the main campaign season to get critical independent and moderates on his side--having used the SOTU to help consolidate the base.

Bottom line, the SOTU gets a C plus. It didn't look forward enough, as Sullivan points out.

But, as mentioned, it consolidated the Republican base, reminded all that U.N. resolutions on Iraq were finally enforced by real action and the concommitant overthrowing of a genocidal thug, and of continued progress in the war on terror and counter-proliferation initiatives.

Kerry might not be Dukakis. But he will have his hands full on national security.

And given that the economy (at least for the next 10 months) looks to be O.K., Kerry needs to get really smart guys like Dick Holbrooke to make sure his foreign policy stances are credible, tough and not B.S.-ridden.

Otherwise he's likely not going to make it a real tight race.

Posted by Gregory at January 21, 2004 11:34 AM
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