Only this president, only in this time, only with this dangerous, even messianic certitude, could answer a country demanding an exit strategy from Iraq, by offering an entrance strategy for Iran.
Only this president could look out over a vista of 3,008 dead and 22,834 wounded in Iraq, and finally say, “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me” — only to follow that by proposing to repeat the identical mistake ... in Iran.
Only this president could extol the “thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group,” and then take its most far-sighted recommendation — “engage Syria and Iran” — and transform it into “threaten Syria and Iran” — when al-Qaida would like nothing better than for us to threaten Syria, and when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to be threatened by us.
This is diplomacy by skimming; it is internationalism by drawing pictures of Superman in the margins of the text books; it is a presidency of Cliff Notes.
And to Iran and Syria — and, yes, also to the insurgents in Iraq — we must look like a country run by the equivalent of the drunken pest who gets battered to the floor of the saloon by one punch, then staggers to his feet, and shouts at the other guy’s friends, “Ok, which one of you is next?”
Mr. Bush, the question is no longer “what are you thinking?,” but rather “are you thinking at all?”
“I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq’s other leaders that America’s commitment is not open-ended,” you said last night.
And yet — without any authorization from the public, which spoke so loudly and clearly to you in November’s elections — without any consultation with a Congress (in which key members of your own party, including Sens. Sam Brownback, Norm Coleman and Chuck Hagel, are fleeing for higher ground) — without any awareness that you are doing exactly the opposite of what Baker-Hamilton urged you to do — you seem to be ready to make an open-ended commitment (on America’s behalf) to do whatever you want, in Iran.
Our military, Mr. Bush, is already stretched so thin by this bogus adventure in Iraq that even a majority of serving personnel are willing to tell pollsters that they are dissatisfied with your prosecution of the war.
It is so weary that many of the troops you have just consigned to Iraq will be on their second tours or their third tours or their fourth tours — and now you’re going to make them take on Iran and Syria as well?
Who is left to go and fight, sir?
Who are you going to send to “interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria”?
Laura and Barney?
The line is from the movie “Chinatown” and I quote it often: “Middle of a drought,” the mortician chuckles, “and the water commissioner drowns. Only in L.A.!”
Middle of a debate over the lives and deaths of another 21,500 of our citizens in Iraq, and the president wants to saddle up against Iran and Syria.
Maybe that’s the point — to shift the attention away from just how absurd and childish this latest war strategy is, (strategy, that is, for the war already under way, and not the one on deck).
We are going to put 17,500 more troops into Baghdad and 4,000 more into Anbar Province to give the Iraqi government “breathing space.”
In and of itself that is an awful and insulting term.
The lives of 21,500 more Americans endangered, to give “breathing space” to a government that just turned the first and perhaps the most sober act of any democracy — the capital punishment of an ousted dictator — into a vengeance lynching so barbaric and so lacking in the solemnities necessary for credible authority, that it might have offended the Ku Klux Klan of the 19th century.
And what will our men and women in Iraq do?
The ones who will truly live — and die — during what Mr. Bush said last night will be a “year ahead” that “will demand more patience, sacrifice, and resolve”?
They will try to seal Sadr City and other parts of Baghdad where the civil war is worst.
Mr. Bush did not mention that while our people are trying to do that, the factions in the civil war will no longer have to focus on killing each other, but rather they can focus anew on killing our people.
Because last night the president foolishly all but announced that we will be sending these 21,500 poor souls, but no more after that, and if the whole thing fizzles out, we’re going home.
The plan fails militarily.
The plan fails symbolically.
The plan fails politically.
Most importantly, perhaps, Mr. Bush, the plan fails because it still depends on your credibility.
You speak of mistakes and of the responsibility “resting” with you.
But you do not admit to making those mistakes.
And you offer us nothing to justify this clenched fist toward Iran and Syria.
In fact, when you briefed news correspondents off-the-record before the speech, they were told, once again, “if you knew what we knew … if you saw what we saw … ”
“If you knew what we knew” was how we got into this morass in Iraq in the first place.
The problem arose when it turned out that the question wasn’t whether we knew what you knew, but whether you knew what you knew.
You, sir, have become the president who cried wolf.
All that you say about Iraq now could be gospel.
All that you say about Iran and Syria now could be prescient and essential.
We no longer have a clue, sir.
We have heard too many stories.
Many of us are as inclined to believe you just shuffled the director of national intelligence over to the State Department because he thought you were wrong about Iran.
Many of us are as inclined to believe you just put a pilot in charge of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because he would be truly useful in an air war next door in Iran.
Your assurances, sir, and your demands that we trust you, have lost all shape and texture.
They are now merely fertilizer for conspiracy theories.
They are now fertilizer, indeed.
The pile has been built slowly and with seeming care.
Video: Looking back at Bush’s record I read this list last night, before the president’s speech, and it bears repeating because its shape and texture are perceptible only in such a context.
Before Mr. Bush was elected, he said nation-building was wrong for America.
Now he says it is vital.
He said he would never put U.S. troops under foreign control.
Last night he promised to embed them in Iraqi units.
He told us about WMD.
He has told us the war is necessary:
Because Saddam was a material threat.
Because of 9/11.
Because of Osama Bin Laden. Al-Qaida. Terrorism in general.
To liberate Iraq. To spread freedom. To spread Democracy. To prevent terrorism by gas price increases.
Because this was a guy who tried to kill his dad.
Because — 439 words in to the speech last night — he trotted out 9/11 again.
In advocating and prosecuting this war he passed on a chance to get Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.
To get Muqtada Al-Sadr. To get Bin Laden.
He sent in fewer troops than the generals told him to. He ordered the Iraqi army disbanded and the Iraqi government “de-Baathified.”
He short-changed Iraqi training. He neglected to plan for widespread looting. He did not anticipate sectarian violence.
He sent in troops without life-saving equipment. He gave jobs to foreign contractors, and not Iraqis. He staffed U.S. positions there, based on partisanship, not professionalism.
He and his government told us: America had prevailed, mission accomplished, the resistance was in its last throes.
He has insisted more troops were not necessary. He has now insisted more troops are necessary.
He has insisted it’s up to the generals, and then removed some of the generals who said more troops would not be necessary.
He has trumpeted the turning points:
The fall of Baghdad, the death of Uday and Qusay, the capture of Saddam. A provisional government, a charter, a constitution, the trial of Saddam. Elections, purple fingers, another government, the death of Saddam.
He has assured us: We would be greeted as liberators — with flowers;
As they stood up, we would stand down. We would stay the course; we were never about “stay the course.”
We would never have to go door-to-door in Baghdad. And, last night, that to gain Iraqis’ trust, we would go door-to-door in Baghdad.
He told us the enemy was al-Qaida, foreign fighters, terrorists, Baathists, and now Iran and Syria.
He told us the war would pay for itself. It would cost $1.7 billion. $100 billion. $400 billion. Half a trillion. Last night’s speech alone cost another $6 billion.
And after all of that, now it is his credibility versus that of generals, diplomats, allies, Democrats, Republicans, the Iraq Study Group, past presidents, voters last November and the majority of the American people.
Oh, and one more to add, tonight: Oceania has always been at war with East Asia.
Mr. Bush, this is madness.
You have lost the military. You have lost the Congress to the Democrats. You have lost most of the Iraqis. You have lost many of the Republicans. You have lost our allies.
You are losing the credibility, not just of your presidency, but more importantly of the office itself.
And most imperatively, you are guaranteeing that more American troops will be losing their lives, and more families their loved ones. You are guaranteeing it!
This becomes your legacy, sir: How many of those you addressed last night as your “fellow citizens” you just sent to their deaths.
And for what, Mr. Bush?
So the next president has to pull the survivors out of Iraq instead of you?
© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints