I’ve been trying to steer clear of newsy items because I doubt anyone comes here for news. But I try to give President Bush credit when he does something well because I don’t want to be written off as a knee-jerk Bush-basher. (Just to be clear, it’s the “knee-jerk” part that’s the problem.)
I did not watch the President’s speech on his veto of the “emergency” funding bill for “Iraq,” but when I read the transcript a couple of points impressed me. I thought the President was uncharacteristically nuanced in his assessment of the current situation and the overall mission in Iraq:
Al Qaida’s role makes the conflict in Iraq far more complex than a simple fight between Iraqis. It’s true that not everyone taking innocent life in Iraq wants to attack America here at home. But many do.
Many also belong to the same terrorist network that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, and wants to attack us here at home again.
We saw the death and destruction Al Qaida inflicted on our people when they were permitted a safe haven in Afghanistan. For the security of the American people, we must not allow Al Qaida to establish a new safe haven in Iraq.
(My italics.) As a description of the current situation, this is a long way from an apology for painting us into this corner, but it is also a long way from “mission accomplished.” To say that the situation is “far more complex than a simple fight between Iraqis” is implicitly to concede that it is largely a fight between Iraqis, albeit with certain elements that make it “far more complex” than that. The White House used to be allergic to the phrase “civil war,” and the objections to that description of the situation often seemed to me to betray a fundamental unwillingness to face facts. What elements? Well, “many” in Iraq — presumably al Qaida — would like to attack us here at home even if we were not fighting them there. “Many,” but “not everyone.” Some of the people taking innocent life in Iraq would leave us alone if we left. This begins to sound like something that can be discussed without any accusations of treason on the one hand or blood-for-oil tyranny on the other.
Similarly, as a statement about our goals in Iraq, the argument that “we must not allow Al Qaida to establish a new safe haven in Iraq” is a long way from all that Wilsonian stuff about democracy in the Middle East, or even from “stay the course.” The implication, at least, used to be that Hussein had already provided a safe haven for al Qaida in Iraq; that Iraq bore in some measure the sort of vicarious responsibility for 9/11 that Afghanistan bore. The more modest claim that Iraq must not be permitted to become a new safe haven for al Qaida is a more powerful argument, even if it conveniently abstracts from the question of whether it is our military intervention that has created the problem.
I also found this part of the speech interesting:
The Democratic leaders know that many in Congress disagree with their approach and that there are not enough votes to override the veto. I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war. They’ve sent their message, and now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need.
Some of this, to be sure, is a slap at antiwar Democrats for playing “politics,” as if they were alone in that respect. Perhaps the whole thing came off that way live. But on the printed page, just as “far more complex than a simple fight between Iraqis” implicitly concedes that civil war is the closest analogy, the vote-counting statements above implicitly concede that the President is now in the minority and can continue to prosecute the war only because he retains at least 33% support: “there are not enough votes to override the veto.” “They’ve sent their message,” says the President. I would have preferred, “I hear their message.” But I am encouraged to find at least some textual evidence that he does hear it, whether he says so or not.
All of this made me a little surprised to see commentary this morning suggesting unfavorable conditions for compromise. On paper, at least, it looks to me like the path is clear for President Bush to get his funding without a timetable, and for the Democrats (and antiwar independents) to get their withdrawal without a timetable as well.
UPDATE: A friend wrote to commend me on my “hermeneutical generosity.” It occurs to me that hermeneutical generosity is something this blog should encourage, so I’m adding it as a category for future posts that try to put the most agreeable interpretation on the words of someone with whom the writer fundamentally disagrees. I hope that definition of the phrase doesn’t cost me my commendation.