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A read through the editorial pages of the three largest and most influential newspapers in the US shows nothing terribly surprising in terms of their response to George Bush's speech last night. The Washington Post offers limited and qualified support, while the Los Angeles Times takes the glass-half-empty approach and the New York Times ... well, the NYT just takes the MoveOn position of screaming every time 9/11 gets mentioned in connection with fighting terrorists.
The Post acknowledges that the connections between the fight in Iraq are legitimate, something that neither of the other two papers will admit, but claims that Bush erred by giving nothing but the sunny side of the situation in Iraq. They also fault Bush for not explaining how the strategic position changed:
PRESIDENT BUSH sought last night to bolster slipping public support for the war in Iraq by connecting it, once again, to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to the war against terrorism. That connection is not spurious, even if Saddam Hussein was not a collaborator of al Qaeda: Clearly Iraq is now a prime battlefield for Islamic extremists, and success or failure there will do much to determine the outcome of the larger struggle against them. But Mr. Bush didn't explain how a war meant to remove a tyrant believed to wield weapons of mass destruction turned into a fight against Muslim militants, a transformation caused in part by his administration's many errors since Saddam Hussein's defeat more than two years ago. The president also didn't speak candidly enough about the primary mission the United States now has in Iraq, which is not "hunting down the terrorists" but constructing a stable government in spite of Iraq's sectarian divisions and violent resistance from the former ruling elite. It's harder to explain why Americans should die in such a complex and ambitious enterprise than in a fight with international terrorists, but that is the case Mr. Bush most needs to make.
The Post makes two errors in its basic presumptions. First, Saddam did partner with al-Qaeda, long before the war, as the Jordanian government confirmed earlier this year and as intelligence reports have demonstrated. He hosted a conference of Islamist terrorists in 1999 that included both Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and sheltered the latter well before the 2003 invasion. In fact, Jordan asked for the extradition of Zarqawi in 2002, a request Saddam refused, not because he couldn't be found but because the Ba'athists didn't want him arrested.
Second, the Post makes the mistake in its second assumption -- one that critics make constantly -- that the fight has to be about one particular strategy. The fight in Iraq is to establish a stable democratic government, to be sure. It also is about fighting and killing terrorists. Whether one is "primary" over the other is mere academics; the truth is that both are vital to the overall success of the war on terror.
For a media that often derides the intelligence of George Bush, it would often appear that it's the critics who lack the capability of walking and chewing gum at the same time.
At least the Post remains somewhat supportive of Bush, even if they can't get past their faulty assumptions. The LAT continues to speak of the "presidential disconnect", and faults Bush for speaking about 9/11 when talking about Iraq:
President Bush's pep talk to the nation Tuesday night was a major disappointment. He again rewrote history by lumping together the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the need for war in Iraq, when, in fact, Saddam Hussein's Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda. Bush spoke of "difficult and dangerous" work in Iraq that produces "images of violence and bloodshed," but he glossed over the reality of how bad the situation is. He offered no benchmarks to measure the war's progress, falling back on exhortations to "complete the mission" with a goal of withdrawing troops "as soon as possible."
Nowhere in the speech does Bush say that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. He mentioned 9/11 five times, in these contexts: Islamofascists declared war on the US, and it reached our shores on 9/11. After 9/11, Bush told Americans we would not wait to be attacked again. The only way for America to lose to the terrorists is to forget the lessons of 9/11. The terrorists want to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried on 9/11. And after 9/11, Bush warned us that the road ahead would be long and difficult, and that we would need the stamina to see it all the way through to the end.
Now what in the world did the LAT hear? None of those references laid blame for 9/11 on Saddam. However, they do explain why we decided to change course and eliminate the largest and most hostile military threat in Southwest Asia, one that had openly attacked its neighbors twice in a decade and one that had refused to comply with the terms of the cease-fire and sixteen UNSC resolutions. Before 9/11, we thought we could afford to ignore Saddam. After 9/11, whether he had any involvement or not in that particular act, his involvement and association with terrorists simply could no longer be tolerated.
The Gray Lady takes this latest MoveOn meme and moves it even further downfield, as expected:
We did not expect Mr. Bush would apologize for the misinformation that helped lead us into this war, or for the catastrophic mistakes his team made in running the military operation. But we had hoped he would resist the temptation to raise the bloody flag of 9/11 over and over again to justify a war in a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks. We had hoped that he would seize the moment to tell the nation how he will define victory, and to give Americans a specific sense of how he intends to reach that goal - beyond repeating the same wishful scenario that he has been describing since the invasion.
Sadly, Mr. Bush wasted his opportunity last night, giving a speech that only answered questions no one was asking. He told the nation, again and again, that a stable and democratic Iraq would be worth American sacrifices, while the nation was wondering whether American sacrifices could actually produce a stable and democratic Iraq.
Really? In one year after the transfer of sovereignty, we've watched the Iraqis create an interim government, hold elections, form an elected representative government, negotiate with their old enemies to push them into the political process, and begin work on a new Iraqi constitution for a permanent democratic government. The Iraqis did all that in less time than we've taken to fix a welfare program heading for bankruptcy. In fact, they've done all of that in less time than it's taken Minnesota to come up with a state budget -- and we still don't have one! Should we send in the 82nd Airborne to rescue Minnesotans from the obviously failed experiment in democracy we have here in Saint Paul?
The dominant theme today will be the complaints that Bush exploited 9/11 -- complaints that will once again reveal how critics can't remember what 9/11 actually meant. It showed that we cannot afford to wait for terrorists to wave their flags and tell us where they are, because the only time they'll do that is when they're raising those flags over the ruins of American cities. That day taught us that we can no longer ignore serious threats like Saddam Hussein, especially in the Middle East. It showed us the folly of appeasement in exchange for the illusion of stability, which really meant the consignment of tens of millions of people to brutal tyrannies that produce radicals willing to die for no other reason than to kill innocents to promote their ideology.
It showed us that we are at war. We can choose to fight that war here, in the US, or we can choose to fight that war where the terrorists and their state supporters live. I'd rather we opted for the latter, and beat them there before they come over here. Building democracies in their midst creates powerful allies for us in that fight against radicalism, and Iraq's population and geography provides a strategic key to that success. Too bad that the nation's newspapers and the critics can't see past the bloody flag.
UPDATE: Corrected a coding problem. Welcome to Instapundit readers, too!
UPDATE II: The Democratic leadership obviously has the same talking points.Sphere It View blog reactions
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