An opportunity missed

Looking for something new in Bush's Iraq speech? Keep trying.

Published June 29, 2005 1:12PM (EDT)

Anyone looking for new ideas in the "new speech" George W. Bush delivered Tuesday night risks looking a little like the president himself -- in that joking slide show he made in which he pretended to search under the cushions of a White House couch for the weapons of mass destruction that would never be found in Iraq.

Yes, there were a few new nuances there, but they seemed more like obligatory nods to reality than any sort of serious grappling with it.

In his Rose Garden press conference last month, Bush said he was "pleased with the progress" the U.S. is making in Iraq. Tuesday night, he acknowledged that "our progress has been uneven," but didn't go on to explain what he meant by that.

Bush didn't mention the recruiting shortfalls the Army faces, but he did thank current members of the armed services for reenlisting, and he made a halfhearted suggestion that other Americans should join up. "To those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces," the president said -- which means, we suppose, that if enlisting isn't something that the Bush twins are "considering" now, they're free to go back to the bar with their consciences clean.

And Bush finally got around to calling on Americans to share in the sacrifice that the troops are making -- not by giving up their tax cuts to pay for the war or providing adequate funding for veterans' care or even parking their SUVs in favor of more sensible transportation. No, Americans can do their part simply by being patient with their president and showing their patriotism in the meantime. "This Fourth of July," Bush said, "I ask you to find a way to thank the men and women defending our freedom -- by flying the flag, sending a letter to our troops in the field or helping the military family down the street."

What will Bush be doing to help those families -- that is, what will he be doing to get their sons and daughters back home to them sooner rather than later and alive rather than dead? Exactly what he has been doing already, apparently -- staying the course. The president offered up no new strategies, no new tactics, nothing that isn't already happening in terms of training Iraqi troops or rebuilding their country. As the New York Times puts it in an editorial this morning, the president had a chance Tuesday night to "tell the nation how he will define victory and to give Americans a specific sense of how he intends to reach that goal -- beyond repeating the same wishful scenario that he has been describing since the invasion." He blew that chance, again.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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George W. Bush Iraq Middle East War Room