George W. Bush hasn't been able to bring himself to meet with Cindy Sheehan -- riding bikes with Lance Armstrong is apparently part of living a "balanced life," but answering questions from the mother of a dead soldier isn't -- but that doesn't mean that he isn't eager to talk about Iraq.
Appearing before a friendly audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Utah today, the president launched what will be a series of speeches aimed at selling his war to a public that isn't much buying it anymore. The main part of today's message was about what you'd expect: The president mentioned 9/11 at least five times; he said we're fighting the terrorists abroad "before they can attack us here at home"; and he talked up the possibility of a free and democratic Iraq.
But there were some signs that reality -- or at least the need to acknowledge it -- is beginning to sink in for Bush. The president didn't acknowledge that the Iraqi constitution, if one comes to pass, will be a whole lot less than Americans might have imagined. He didn't mention that, in order to get that constitution moving, his ambassador to Iraq gave his blessing to language that would leave the new government subject to Islamic law. But Bush did seem to admit that things in Iraq aren't getting better every day in every way. Not long ago, freedom was always "on the march." Now, the president says, "The tide of freedom ebbs and flows."
Bush still insists that "freedom's tide is rising in the broader Middle East." But something else is rising, too, and Cindy Sheehan's protest has forced Bush to acknowledge it. With uncharacteristic detail, the president acknowledged today that 1,864 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, each of them leaving behind "grieving families and loved ones back home." Sometime today, another family will join that group: A U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb southwest of Samarra today. The soldier's identity is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.