Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Need for Presidential Straight Talk

Peter Beinart's "Shake Up the War Room" in today's Washington Post offers some very useful ideas to President Bush as he prepares for his Tuesday night prime-time speech to discuss the state of things in Iraq. Among them:

- Understand that the "Out of Iraq" movement is, largely, "the result of President Bush's ongoing refusal to speak honestly about the war." He must address the perception of at least a plurality of Americans (including this one) that the Administration exaggerated if not manufactured the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs and his government's ties with terrorists; the "lowballed" cost estimates of victory; and he must, for once and for all, stop making implicit connections between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of 9/11. Only by addressing these items, which Beinart correctly sees as damaging the Administration's credibility tremendously, can Bush make progress and start winning back the hearts and minds of those in this country who have come to question the policy in Iraq, whether from left, right, or center.

- Withdraw John Bolton's name from consideration. Beinart: "The nomination of Bolton is a giant declaration that the Bush administration still thinks it did nothing wrong on prewar intelligence. As undersecretary of state for arms control, Bolton tried to hype the threat from Cuba, Syria and Iraq. And when intelligence analysts opposed him, he tried to fire them. Now the Bush administration wants to send him to the United Nations so he can opine about U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear program - and be laughed out of the building."

- "[D]ump Donald Rumsfeld - whose continued employment signals that the Bush administration still thinks it did nothing wrong on prewar planning. ... How can Bush offer a credible strategy for winning peace if he relies on an utterly discredited defense secretary to carry it out?" I would add to the rationale for firing Rumsfeld his role in the Abu Ghraib and Gitmo prisoner abuse scandals, which have tarnished America's role in the world tremendously and have aided the recruitment efforts of the terrorists.

- Resist calls for a withdrawal timetable. The President and his Administration are right on this: an arbitrary timetable for pulling out is a ridiculous idea. However, honesty and pragmatic straightforwardness should be offered up in its place. Bush ought to say, clearly and unequivocally, that America is in Iraq for the long haul, that we're not going to give up there until the mission is accomplished and the Iraqi people can defend themselves. This should be done, however, with the realization that the insurgency is not "in its last throes," but that much more remains to be done.

- Beinart saves his best solution for last: "make this a national war, not a partisan one." He suggests "That means appointing independent figures to key jobs - people like Richard Lugar or Sam Nunn, who come from outside the conservative cocoon. And it means speaking about Iraq with a humility that this administration has richly earned." Bush needs to accept that the invasion of Iraq did not have the near-universal support that action in Afghanistan did have (from conservatives, centrists, and yes, liberals too, Karl), and that his actions since the war began have done little to bridge the gap and much to accentuate the rift. Even just a few words of contrition or indeed humility on Tuesday night would go a long way.

Alan at The Yellow Line made another excellent suggestion yesterday: along with calling for Bush to "speak clearly about the challenges and losses ahead, [and] about why we absolutely must push forward," Alan calls on the president to talk "about how all of us here on the home front can help the efforts." This is as important as anything else. Right after 9/11, the Bush Adminstration pledged to offer up ways for Americans to serve, in various ways. But that soon morphed into a numbingly dumb attempt to encourage "monitoring your neighbors," and the rhetoric shifted from "serve your country" to "go out and shop."

We as Americans have not been asked to sacrifice - we have not been asked to conserve energy, or to recognize that fighting a war costs money (rather alot of it, actually) that has to come from somewhere, or even to serve in some volunteer capacity at home. No, this Adminstration has tried to prove that you can have a war, giant tax cuts, bloated "emergency" spending bills and no sacrifices, all at the same time. And all while Americans just "go about their daily lives." It's time for that to end. President Bush should take the opportunity Tuesday night to lay out a detailed plan of national service opportunities for everyday Americans that offers up ways each and every one of us can contribute.

Nicholas Kristof writes in today's New York Times that because our national deficit is so high (he quotes the Comptroller General of the United States as calling recent budget years "the most fiscally irresponsible in our nation's history"), every American child is born today with a "birth tax" of approximately $150,000, their share of the deficits created during the Bush years. I've not independently run those numbers - but if true, that is incredible! Talk about a message for Democratic success next November ... I can see the ads already (cue the sunglassed men in suits, carrying large briefcases striding into maternity wards to collect).

Bush has much leveling to do with the American people. It's time to admit that things aren't going spectacularly in Iraq, but that they would likely be going much worse if America pulled out and came home. It's time to tell Americans we have to take steps to draw down the national deficit, and that doing so might mean (heaven forbid!) examining some of the current tax cuts and asking for further sacrifices. It's either we hear this, or we hear more of the same unwarranted rosiness that we've been seeing from Cheney and Rumsfeld. Let's have some straight talk, Mr. President.


At 6:29 PM, Blogger Jami said...

if his speech offers no criteria for pulling out of iraq, he loses. we all continue to lose.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger cakreiz said...

Liked your leveling comment. The problem with Mr. Bush's approach is that frankness is seen as pessimism. Only the most idealistic assessments are viewed as realistic. Heard Sen. Biden on CSpan yesterday discussing practical ways to win the occupation. Thought he was sincere and bipartisan- at least as bipartisan as things get in Congress these days. But his suggestions will fall on deaf ears since compromise is seen as weakness. Argh.

At 12:04 AM, Blogger JBD said...

It's an awful shame that's so. One of my major goals on ChargingRINO has been to make the case that compromise shouldn't be a dirty word. Argh is right.

At 6:56 AM, Blogger cakreiz said...

Appreciate the comment, Jeremy. I enjoy your website; it's insightful, thought-provoking and very well-written. It also reflects where I am politically. Thanks for having me.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Charles said...

A sane, honest, moral republican. I thought theyd killed all of you off? We hardcore lefties actually respect you guy, listen to your ideas, learn from them. Too bad there are only three of you left. I hear they have a special room in Abu Gharaib reserved for you "not quite loyal enough" types.

Good blog i enjoyed reading it. Dear god if only people with Integrity lead the right again.


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