After meeting with defense officials yesterday, George W. Bush began to explain why he had postponed until next year a speech announcing the new "way forward" in Iraq. Then he caught himself, apparently aware that he was about to diverge from the official White House line that no speech -- and hence, no decision -- had actually been scheduled for December in the first place.
"I put off my speech -- actually, I was quite flexible about when I was going to give my speech, to begin with," the president said. Then he explained that "one of the main reasons" he'd put off the speech -- or been "flexible" about the speech or whatever -- was that he really wants "the new secretary of defense to have time to get to know people and hear people and be a part of this deliberation. And he will not be sworn in until next Monday."
The president is right about that: Bob Gates won't be sworn into office until Monday. But it's probably fair to note here that the Senate confirmed the Gates nomination on Dec. 6, and the new secretary could have been sworn in immediately thereafter. That's the sort of timetable the White House seemed to appreciate when Samuel Alito was confirmed for a seat on the Supreme Court earlier this year; Alito was confirmed by the Senate around lunchtime on Jan. 31, and he was sworn into office during a White House ceremony the very same day. There was no real urgency for the Alito swearing in; Sandra Day O'Connor was on the job and wouldn't be leaving until Alito arrived. But Bush was to give his State of the Union address that evening, and it sure was nice for him to be able to talk then about the "superb new member" of the Supreme Court.
There would seem to be a little more urgency to get the new secretary of defense on the job now; at least 15 U.S. soldiers and hundreds if not thousands of Iraqis have been killed since the Senate confirmed Gates eight days ago. But for whatever reason -- Gates' need to wrap up work at his old job, the president's need for a little more time, Rumsfeld's desire for an extended farewell -- everyone will need to wait a few more days for the formality of a swearing-in ceremony.
Even then, Bush has made it clear that he won't be in much of a hurry. "I will be delivering my -- my plans, after a long deliberation, after steady deliberation," Bush said yesterday. "I'm not going to be rushed into making a difficult decision."
We're all for "steady deliberation," especially when there's time for doing it. But when we hear the president talk about all the time he needs to think about the "way forward" in Iraq, we can't help remembering the rushed way he took the country into war in the first place. No Americans were dying -- as it turns out, no Americans were even at risk -- when Bush declared in March 2003 that he couldn't wait any longer before going to war. Is it really too much to ask that he bring the same sense of urgency to the job now?