"Either we'll succeed, or we won't succeed"

The president on Iraq.

Published May 2, 2007 5:34PM (EDT)

In a speech before the Associated General Contractors of America today, George W. Bush said that, "for all we hear about the consequences of failure in Iraq" -- a subject he addresses virtually every day -- "we also shouldn't forget the consequences of success."

Which would be what, exactly?

The president didn't say at first. Instead, he rambled off into the story he tells during a lot of his public appearances -- the one in which he expresses amazement that he's pals with the leaders of the Japanese government despite the fact that his father fought the Japanese during World War II. Bush said the tale reminds him of "the power of liberty to transform an enemy into an ally." "I firmly believe that a democracy can survive in the Middle East," he said, "and I believe it is a necessary part of laying a foundation of peace for generations to come."

So will a democracy in Iraq be one of the "consequence of success" there? The president used to say so. "We are in Iraq today because our goal has always been more than the removal of a brutal dictator," Bush said in 2005. "It is to leave a free and democratic Iraq in its place."

Now? Not so much. By the time the president wound his way back to the "consequences of success" in Iraq today, his goals seemed to be just a little more limited: "Slowly but surely, the truth will be known. Either we'll succeed, or we won't succeed. And the definition of success, as I described, is sectarian violence down. Success is not no violence. There are parts of our own country that have got a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives. And that's what we're trying to achieve."

Update: As Think Progress notes, the definition of success the president offered today sounds a lot like something John Kerry used to say -- that we'll never eliminated acts of terrorism, but that we've got to get to the point where terrorists are reduced to a "nuisance." Of course, when Kerry said that in 2004, Bush claimed that his challenger "fundamentally misunderstands the war against terror." "Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance," Bush said then. "Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive, destroying the networks, and spreading freedom and liberty."

By Tim Grieve

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

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