Bush's more "sober" view of the war

Published December 8, 2004 7:58PM (EST)

Amid all the boilerplate rhetoric of optimism and resolve, the Bush White House now seems to be at least tacitly acknowledging the ominous assessment of the situation in Iraq recently handed to it by the CIA. The San Francisco Chronicle's James Sterngold reports that President Bush expressed a more "sober" view of progress in the war when he spoke to U.S. troops at the Camp Pendleton Marine base in southern California on Tuesday.

"Bush, who frequently has spoken in the past tense of victories achieved, talked of 'eventually' stabilizing Iraq and commented almost wistfully about defeating the enemy in the future. He also said returning troops need more help than they are getting, a particularly poignant theme at this sprawling base, which has been hit harder than most -- 269 Marines killed in action in Iraq and thousands more wounded."

In the speech, Bush noted that his visit to Camp Pendleton came on the 63rd anniversary of the surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. Not surprisingly, he compared that December day with the 9/11 attacks of 2001, as well as the ensuing battle for freedom fought by U.S. soldiers. In light of the deteriorating situation in Iraq, there was one intriguing rhetorical flourish that Bush's speech writers worked into the address regarding the nature of the mission:

"In places like Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, our fathers and our grandfathers struggled and sacrificed to defend freedom," Bush said. "And today, in places like Fallujah and North Babil, this generation of Marines is fighting to extend freedom."

Particularly since the specter of Saddam's massive WMD stockpiles evaporated like a mirage, the administration has put its faith in the theme that extending freedom to Iraq is precisely necessary to defending America's own -- even if it means continuing to do almost all of the heavy lifting ourselves. With insurgent violence and the U.S. combat death toll continuing to rise, how long will the American public go along?

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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