Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, December 08, 2005


One of the interesting things about reading Bush's speeches is that Bush is a better reporter than the reporters are. His speech is full of facts, and I'll be ridiculed for saying this but I stand by it: there's less spin in your average Bush speech than in your average NY Times article.

However, this definition of victory shoots too high:

"[V]ictory will be achieved when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks against our nation."

Is the first victory-criterion, that "terrorists... can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy" even something that has been achieved in the United States? Depends on how you parse the words. No: the US, a democracy, is still threatened by terrorists. Yes: realistically, while terrorists pose a threat to American lives, it's implausible to imagine them destroying our democratic form of government.

Which does he mean?

Speechwriters weigh every word. I think it's a fair assumption that if a phrase can be interpreted in two ways, they intend for it to be interpreted in both ways. For the sake of plausible deniability, Bush, or his defenders, could claim that he only meant that victory is when Iraq's democracy is stable enough to withstand terrorism. But many listeners will hear that victory is when terrorism in Iraq is eliminated altogether, and that is not a realistic goal. It might-- just possibly-- happen, but that depends on the terrorists, not us. That's asymmetric warfare for you.

I support the administration, the war, the troops, and Iraqi democracy. But someone needs to lower the bar a bit, and explain that an Iraqi democracy which, like Israel, faces an intractable terrorism problem, is still a victory. Some of Bush's rhetoric is escapist.


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