President Bush went to the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., tonight attempting to explain what his plan is in Iraq. This is the same Army War College, by the way, that produces research and scholarship, some critical of Bush's policy in Iraq and on the war on terror, that Bush chooses to ignore, including Jeffrey Record's January report that called the Iraq war unnecessary and a "detour" from the war against global terrorism. Another Army War College strategist accused the Bush administration of seeking to win "quickly and on the cheap" in Iraq while ignoring the more important goal of creating a stable, democratic nation. A report last month warned of the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam.
When Bush spoke at the War College crowd tonight, though, the crowd was clearly stacked with friendly supporters who whooped and hollered despite the obvious reason Bush was appearing before them: His desperate need to salvage his standing at home and around the world as his misguided and destructive Iraq policy continues to unravel. Bush really didn't say anything new in his address, except for announcing the proposed and largely symbolic demolition of the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib, which will be replaced by a shiny new maximum security prison. (Even this proposal was already suggested and approved last week by members of Congress.)
Instead, we heard more trademark insistence from Bush on "staying the course" -- read: plowing ahead regardless of the consequences -- and sticking with the arbitrary deadline of June 30 when we'll hand an unstable Iraq over to some combination of competing factions of Iraqis to be named later. No mention of when U.S. troops would be withdrawn. If Bush has an exit strategy, he isn't letting us in on it.
Clearly, tonight's speech, and those that will follow it in the next several weeks, are more about calming public doubts and fears about the mess he got us into. Bush has some serious persuading to do -- just hours before he gave his speech tonight, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that public approval of President Bush's handling of the conflict in Iraq has hit its lowest point ever. Just four in 10 Americans gave the president positive marks. While a majority still favors keeping troops in Iraq, it's down to 58 percent from 66 percent last month. The percentage favoring troop withdrawal reached 40 percent, up 7 percentage points in the past month.
We'll have to wait and see if Americans, and allies around the world, were convinced. Bush gave them little to work with.