We have a pretty good sense now of what President Bush will say in his prime-time speech on Iraq tonight: The road is long, but there's progress being made in the training of Iraqi security forces and in the building of a real Iraqi government; we need patience, not timetables; and just in case you've forgotten, let me remind you one more time that Iraq is part of a war on terrorism that began when America was attacked on 9/11.
Now imagine that we live in some other universe, one in which the 53 percent of the public that disapproves of Bush's job performance now had voted in accordance with those feelings back in November. What would President John Kerry be telling the nation tonight?
We don't have to imagine because Kerry is telling anyone who will listen. The senator from Massachusetts has "what the president should say" op-ed in today's New York Times, and he's repeating much the same advice in an email message to supporters and in a floor speech this afternoon in the U.S. Senate.
Kerry's message: The president has made a mess of things in Iraq so far, and it's "long past time to get it right." "Our mission in Iraq is harder because the administration ignored the advice of others, went in largely alone, underestimated the likelihood and power of the insurgency, sent in too few troops to secure the country, destroyed the Iraqi army through de-Baathification, failed to secure ammunition dumps, refused to recognize the urgency of training Iraqi security forces and did no postwar planning," Kerry wrote in the Times this morning. "A little humility would go a long way -- coupled with a strategy to succeed."
So what should Bush do now? Start by telling the truth, Kerry says. "We must tear down the wall of arrogance," Kerry says in the remarks prepared for delivery on the Senate floor. "When the vice president absurdly claims the insurgency is in its 'last throes,' he insults the common sense and intelligence of the American people and diminishes our stature in the world. And how can we expect the Iraqi people to take us seriously and do their part when the White House says the insurgency is fading. . . . While we shouldn't dwell on mistakes, we need to understand their consequences on our ability to effectively move forward. With allies reading the Downing Street memo, and the American people realizing the rationalization for this war changed midstream, it becomes that much harder to rally the collective strength of the nation and the world to our cause. We have to acknowledge the past to overcome it, because the truth is the stubbornness of this administration matters. It hurts our chances for success. It leads to frustrated expectations at home, makes it so much more difficult for the Iraqi people to embrace this cause, and makes it so much easier for sidelined nations to turn their back on a common interest and say: 'OK, it's their deal.'"
After coming clean, Kerry says, Bush should make it clear that the U.S. doesn't intend to stay in Iraq permanently; insist that the Iraqis build a "truly inclusive political process" and meet their deadlines along the way; and announce that he's putting the training of Iraqi troops on a "true six-month wartime footing" by, among other things, ensuring that the Iraqi government has the budget it needs to train and deploy the troops and by accepting offers from Egypt, Jordan, France and Germany to do more to help. Kerry says the administration should set -- and share with Congress --"clear milestones and deadlines for the transfer of military and police responsibilities to Iraqis after the December elections." Kerry says Bush should push Iraq to rely on tribal, religious and ethnic militias while its own national army is being built, and that the administration should establish a multinational force to help protect Iraq's borders. Meanwhile, he says, the administrations should encourage Iraq's Sunnis neighbors to help more with the rebuilding of Iraq by presenting them with a "strategic plan" for regional security that acknowledges their fears about an "Iran-dominated crescent and their concerns about our fitful mediation between Israel and the Palestinians."
It may sound like a lot of hard work to the man who is president in the universe in which we live, but Kerry says that the next few months in Iraq will be critical. "If Mr. Bush fails to take these steps, we will stumble along, our troops at greater risk, casualties rising, costs rising, the patience of the American people wearing thin, and the specter of quagmire staring us in the face. Our troops deserve better: They deserve leadership equal to their sacrifice."