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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What President Bush Should've Said

I was reading Time this morning, and near the front of the September 11, 2006 edition of the mag is a piece by Joe Klein with the same title as this post. Klein wrote the article in response to President George W. Bush’s August 31 speech to the American Legion Convention.

If you’re not familiar with Bush’s words, you can find a transcript of the speech here.

Though I wouldn’t say I’m behind everything that Klein had to say, I thought it was a good piece and that it beared reprinting.

Klein wrote what he thought Bush should have said instead of the speech he actually gave. His column is below:

By Joe Klein

My fellow members of the American Legion, I have made some serious mistakes and miscalculations in our struggle against Islamic extremism over the past five years. Some of these were made out of anger and impatience in the months after we were so viciously attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Others were made out of my heartfelt belief that our American values—freedom, democracy, market economics—are the surest path away from the fury and despair that have plagued the nations at the heart of the Islamic world. I still believe deeply in those values.
I am still convinced that we are facing a long-term campaign against Islamic extremists who have the means to bring unimaginable horrors to our streets. But events in Lebanon and Iraq this summer have convinced me that our Freedom Agenda must be modified.
I was going to deliver a speech today in which I said, "The war we fight today is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century." But then I thought about a conversation I had recently with a young U.S. military officer, a combat veteran of the Iraq war who remains on active duty, committed to our mission. "Mr. President," he said. "If this struggle is so important, why is this the only war in American history where we haven't increased the size of the Army and raised taxes to pay for it? Why haven't you mobilized the nation?"
In the speech I planned to deliver, I would have spoken—too easily, too dismissively—about how previous Presidents pursued a mistaken policy of seeking "stability" in the Middle East, which resulted in the terrorist attacks against us. I would have implied that my aggressive promotion of democracy was the only alternative to the failed policies of the past. But that would have posed a false choice. Stability is, after all, our goal for the region. And we have learned, sadly, in recent years that the mere act of holding an election does not create a democracy. Indeed, in many countries of the region—in the Palestinian territories, Iran and, yes, Iraq—elections have brought the forces of instability to power.
Which brings me to Iraq. I want to tell you something I've never acknowledged: the U.N. inspection regime that was forced on Saddam Hussein in 2002 was working. We should have had more patience with it and supported it more fully. In the end, it would have revealed what we now know: that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. That revelation would have destroyed the dictator's credibility. His brutal regime might have toppled from within. At the very least, his power would have been severely compromised. But—impatient again—we rushed to war, without sufficient preparation and sufficient allies. Today we face a very difficult situation in Iraq. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is riddled with Islamic radicals. This week elements of the Iraqi army were attacked and defeated in Diwaniyah by a sectarian militia led by the radical Shi'ite Muqtada al-Sadr. This is the same al-Sadr who attacked U.S. forces in 2004, the same al-Sadr who controls 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament—and who is the linchpin of al-Maliki's governing coalition. I say this to Prime Minister al-Maliki: The U.S. cannot support a government that includes Muqtada al-Sadr. You must build a new coalition, one that includes the secular political parties and Sunnis and guarantees the Sunni minority the rights and the share of Iraqi oil revenues it deserves. We have not sacrificed 2,600 Americans to create a radical Shi'ite government in Iraq.
One of the many books I've read this summer was Fiasco, by Tom Ricks of the Washington Post. It is a careful summation of the military mistakes we've made in Iraq. It ends with a series of scenarios for what might happen if we withdraw now. All have terrible implications for the region and the world. So we must stay in Iraq, but we must stay smarter. To that end, I announce the following initiatives. I call on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to meet with me one on one to discuss the stabilization of Iraq. In time I hope we can also discuss other issues, like his government's nuclear program and support for Hizballah, and the resumption of normal diplomatic relations between our countries. But, President Ahmadinejad, as a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, you must appreciate the disastrous potential of the chaos on your western border. Surely you don't want to risk the possibility of a regional Sunni reaction that would bring fire to your oil fields and death, once again, to the streets of Tehran.
Here at home, I call on Democrats to join with me in building an alternative energy strategy to limit our dependence on foreign oil. Everything is on the table, including a tax on carbon-based fuels. Finally, to achieve stability in Baghdad during the creation of the new governing coalition, I am temporarily sending two divisions—30,000 more troops—to pacify that troubled city. If a stable, moderate, inclusive Iraqi government is not created, we may be forced to reassess our military posture in the region. These initiatives may not succeed. But the time for fancy words and grand theories about changing the world has passed. We need to take action now

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