The emperor's new way forward

If the president's speech sounds familiar, that's because it is.

By Tim Grieve
Published January 10, 2007 11:23PM (EST)

The White House has just distributed excerpts from George W. Bush's speech tonight as well as a "fact sheet" detailing, in an abbreviated way, his new plan for Iraq. The president will say tonight that his new plan will "change America's course in Iraq and help us succeed in the fight against terror." But neither the "six fundamental elements" of the plan the White House has listed nor the way the president will describe them tonight sounds all that different from what we've heard many, many times before.

The president will say tonight that "only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people." On June 14, 2006, he declared that "success in Iraq depends upon the Iraqis." He'll say tonight that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "understands" that his government has to follow through on its promises or that it will lose the support of the American people. Back in June, he said he'd just "made it clear to the government there that it's up to them to succeed. It's really up to them to put a plan in place and execute it. We'll help, but it's -- they were elected by the people, they're living under a constitution that the people endorsed, and they have to follow through."

The president will say tonight that the Iraqi government has "put forward an aggressive plan" to secure its country, in large part by securing Baghdad first. But this is at least the third swing at a Baghdad security plan. In June 2006, Bush praised Maliki for coming up with a "robust plan" to secure Baghdad. When that plan failed, the Iraqis and the Americans came up with a new one, and Bush praised it in August as being "very robust."

When that plan didn't work either, Bush said Iraqi forces had failed to perform as well as they should have. Now he'll say that the problem was that there were "not enough Iraqi and American troops" to clear and then hold neighborhoods and that there were "too many restrictions on the troops we did have." This time around, Bush says that "our military commanders" have checked to see if the new Iraqi plan "addressed these mistakes," and "they report that it does."

If the excerpts distributed by the White House are any indication, that's about as new as tonight's speech gets. The rest you've heard before -- often in exactly the same words Bush will use tonight. Bush will say that the war in Iraq is part of the "decisive ideological struggle of our time," just as he's been saying since at least last August. He'll say that the struggle is about providing a "hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy," just as he's been saying since at least the summer of 2005.

And he'll say that victory will not come with "a surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship." The president first uttered those words in December 2004. More than two years later -- with victory in Iraq seeming even more distant than it did then -- the best the president can offer is another round of promises about something that sounds a lot like the same old plan. "The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success," Bush will say tonight. With all due respect, the real question is whether anybody believes what he has to say about Iraq anymore.

Tim Grieve

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

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