I listened to only fragments of Bush speech last night. I was cooking dinner -- grilling hotdogs and sauteing rice -- walking in and out of earshot.
Looking at the NYT transcript this morning, here are some passages that I find noteworthy:
Andreas Schafer, 26, of New Plymouth, New Zealand, missing in Iraq for 3 months, was in US custody:
US Denies Holding Kiwi In Iraq
MP Keith Locke says it is hard to believe US officials did not know where Mr Schafer was, particularly when their people interrogated him several times.
NZ traveller held in Iraq by US Army
"I was then held for nearly three months and interrogated by the US Army on several occasions. / "Each time they questioned me they said it was the first they had heard I was being detained and that the investigation was starting from the beginning. / "Eventually the British consul got involved one way or another (probably notified by New Zealand Foreign Affairs) and then I was out within a week." . . . / She said her son and a number of other foreign nationals were picked up by the Iraqi police the day after a serious bomb attack. / "Initially they told him it would take two days and he would be out. Then the two days turned into a week and another week ... "
This one seems to me to border on delusional. Not only does this resurrect the old saw that the old regime was in cahoots with al Qaida; it de-emphasizes real efforts elsewhere to reduce the risk of terrorism in favor of the war in Iraq.
Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror. And we must understand that as well.
The return of tyranny to Iraq would be an unprecedented terrorist victory and a cause for killers to rejoice. It would also embolden the terrorists, leading to more bombings, more beheadings and more murders of the innocent around the world.
(The neocon speechwriters just don't quit with that Saddam=Osama thing, do they?)
Then there's this juxtaposition. Bush says that on June 30th the occupation will end. But a few paragraphs later he says:
Given the recent increase in violence we'll maintain our troop level at the current 138,000 as long as necessary.
How, exactly, does one define occupation in such a way that ending an occupation does not involve troop withdrawals?
He goes on to say:
Successful units need to know they are fighting for the future of their own country, not for any occupying power. So we are ensuring that Iraqi forces serve under an Iraqi chain of command.
But if we haven't withdrawn any troops, who can be expected to believe the occupation has ended?
Eventually, he comes around to the subject of Abu Ghraib:
A new Iraq will also need a humane, well-supervised prison system. Under the dictator prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture. That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values.
America will fund the construction of a modern maximum security prison. When that prison is completed detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated. Then with the approval of the Iraqi government we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning.
I'm all for demolishing the place, but simply getting its inhabitants new digs does not seem to the point. According to our own military, a large percentage of them don't belong in jail in the first place, let alone in maximum security. Exactly whom does Bush think he's impressing with this line of reasoning? The problems in that facility were not simply a function of malign architecture. He's proposing to solve the Abu G problem the way one would deal with a haunted house, when in fact the problems are systemic to our own military and its outsourcing policies. Demolishing a building can be a metaphor for a solution, but it is not the solution itself.
Then he says, The fourth step in our plan is [drumroll] to enlist additional international support for Iraq's transition. Given the recent erosion of the coalition, this is a rather pathetic pronouncement. What is he really saying? We'll sideline Rumsfeld and get that bench-warmer Powell back in the game?
His final proposal is "free national elections to be held no later than next January."
In that election the Iraqi people will choose a transitional national assembly, the first freely elected, truly representative national governing body in Iraq's history. This assembly will serve as Iraq's legislature and it will choose a transitional government with executive powers.
I'm all for elections, but if he's really ending the occupation and handing over power June 30th, what is he going to do about it if the new government doesn't want to hold elections? Why should his appointees hold an election if they are already in power? As he says himself, Iraqis will write their own history and find their own way. (Of course the answer to this question is that since Bush is only pretending to end the occupation, they will have elections, or else our non-occupying troops will do something about it.)
Finally, he contrasts two visions of Iraq: the terrorists' and "ours." I'm not sure who he thinks "we" is but this back-and-white dichotomy does not seem to leave much room for legitimate disagreements within Iraq. It sounds very much like Bush's my-way-or-the-highway policies of the past.
This speech is not so much to outline a strategy for a US exit from Iraq as a strategy for a US exit for responsibility for Iraq. The mindset underlying the speech seems to me to be It matters not whether you win or lose, but where you place the blame.