Bush warmed over, or Nixon revisited?

How many times can the president deliver a "major" speech on Iraq?

Published December 1, 2005 2:11PM (EST)

The White House says George W. Bush's speech at the U.S. Naval Academy yesterday was the first of a series of speeches the president will give in an effort to turn around public opinion on Iraq. If that sounds familiar, it should. In May 2004, Bush spoke at the Army War College in what his aides said would be the first of at least six speeches aimed at bolstering support for the war.

Nobody likes reruns.

In an editorial this morning, the Los Angeles Times says Bush's speech before "applauding midshipmen" provided "more detail and specifics than his usual 'stay the course' rhetoric on Iraq, but it still lacked a coherent definition of the U.S. military's mission, and therefore offered Americans no sense of when they can be assured that mission will be truly accomplished." The Washington Post notes that this "Strategy for Victory" is, like every other plan the Bush administration has offered for Iraq, "based on overly optimistic assumptions and insufficient resources" and "supposes a series of successes in the next 12 months that approach the miraculous." Democrats who want a more specific timetable increase the "risk of failure," the Post says, but Bush "continues to understate the magnitude of the challenge."

Former U.S. News & World Report columnist Roger Simon wonders how many more times the White House will get away with announcing "a 'major' speech on the Iraq war that turns out not to be major," and notes that, by appearing once again before an all-military audience, the president is starting to come off as "afraid to present his views to anybody but soldiers in uniform and fat cats at fundraisers." The views of Wonkette may not be shaping foreign policy decisions at the White House, but she does offer a fine visual depiction of a war plan stuck in reverse: It has gone from "Mission Accomplished" to "Strategy for Victory" to "Plan for Victory," and Wonkette wonders if "Brainstorming About Victory" is going to be next.

And then there's the New York Times. The Times' editorial page seldom has anything nice to say about the president, but today's offering is particularly brutal. Bush's speech, the paper says, set out the "most grandiose set of ambitions for the region since the vision of Nebuchadnezzar's son Belshazzar, who saw the hand writing on the wall. Mr. Bush hates comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. But after watching the president, we couldn't resist reading Richard Nixon's 1969 Vietnamization speech. Substitute the Iraqi constitutional process for the Paris peace talks, and Mr. Bush's ideas about the Iraqi Army are not much different from Nixon's plans -- except Nixon admitted the war was going very badly (which was easier for him to do because he didn't start it), and he was very clear about the risks and huge sacrifices ahead.

"A president who seems less in touch with reality than Richard Nixon needs to get out more."

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 Iraq War Middle East War Room