Bush Speech Widens the Reality Gap

bushFacing polls which show Americans have lost confidence in his ability to manage the crisis in Iraq, President Bush delivered the first in a series of speeches to respond to growing criticism. He offered not one new policy proposal. One administration official acknowledged the growing credibility gap on Iraq, saying the president's speech was needed to dispel "this idea that we don't know what we're doing." But the post-speech headlines reflected just how far the president was from laying out a clear vision: Newsday headlined, "Bush: More of the Same," the Boston Globe pointed out "Bush's Reality Gap" and the Houston Chronicle noted "Iraqi Leaders Say They're Dissatisfied With Post-Occupation Plan." Bush "did not provide the midcourse correction that even some Republicans had called for in the face of increasingly macabre violence." He also did not "try to answer some of the looming questions that have triggered growing skepticism and anxiety at home and abroad about the final U.S. costs, the final length of stay for U.S. troops, or what the terms will be for a final U.S. exit from Iraq." Instead, he "basically repackaged stalled U.S. policy as a five-step plan." While President Bush does not have a plan for Iraq, American Progress does: see our Strategy for Progress in Iraq.

With $166 billion already spent, the speech provided no answers about how much the war will ultimately cost Americans. As senior appropriator Rep. David Obey (D-WI) noted, by the end of this year, "we will have spent on Iraq more than the United States spent on World War I, and that's after it's adjusted for inflation." Instead of fessing up to this reality, the president trumpeted the fact that Iraqi oil revenues had reached $6 billion, expecting Americans to forget that before the war, the administration told Congress Iraq's oil revenues would bring in "between $50 and $100 billion" in the first two to three years, and that Iraq "can really finance its own reconstruction." The president also provided no justification for why he is pushing $1 trillion in new tax cuts at the same time he wants Congress to increase the national debt to finance more spending on the war. According to the LA Times' Ron Brownstein, the Bush cut-taxes-and-war-spend policy is the first of its kind in American history: Every president since Lincoln who faced a major war asked the country to sacrifice by paying more taxes. Brownstein asks: "If Iraq is important enough to bleed for, isn't it important enough to pay for?"

Addressing the burgeoning prison abuse scandal, the president said the eventual replacement of the Abu Ghraib prison with a new, U.S.-funded maximum security prison would put the entire controversy to rest. Ignoring the fact that American maximum security prisons are renowned for their poor conditions, the proposal did not modify administration-approved policies that may have led to the Abu Ghraib abuses in the first place. Nor did Bush follow through on pledges to enforce "personal responsibility" and fire senior Pentagon officials. As the NYT reported, in December the administration sent a letter to the Red Cross emphasizing the "military necessity" of isolating and mistreating some inmates at the prison for interrogation. Similarly, Newsweek reported that "President Bush, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door" to the abuse. For a plan to restore American credibility in the wake of the prison scandal check out this American Progress report.

The president claimed the coalition "has a clear goal, understood by all" -- an implication that the U.S. has broad support among the Iraqi people. But Slate's William Saletan points out, even before the prison scandal, "the most reliable Iraqi poll (to which his own Coalition Provisional Authority submitted questions) found that most Iraqis want coalition soldiers to get out." USA Today confirms, " American credibility in Iraq may be at its lowest point since the war began," with "much of the trust desired and needed for a smooth transition" being "replaced by cynicism." According to a nationwide poll by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, whereas six months ago only 1% of Iraqis supported cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his insurgency against American troops, 68% now say they support him.

The President promised that on June 30, "the occupation will end, and Iraqis will govern their own affairs" -- but offered no details as to whom the U.S. would transfer power, and did not mention that there would be "severe limits" on the new government's sovereignty, including "no authority to enact new laws." He also said that "a force of 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, police, and other security personnel" will be able to secure the country -- ignoring the fact that these same forces "are suffering from inadequate training, poor pay, equipment shortages and a serious lack of public support." He said that "we want the Iraqi people to know that we trust their growing [security] capabilities" -- but failed to mention that American forces will continue to assume full responsibility and that Iraqi generals will be forced to serve under an American general.

One of the key points in the president's speech was his promise to "encourage more international support" and attract more international military help. But only moments after that promise, he tried to revise history, claiming "at every stage, the United States has gone to the United Nations to confront Saddam Hussein." The reality is, after promising to hold a U.N. vote on military action against Iraq, he reversed himself, and refused to hold a vote. Now the White House is circulating a new U.N. resolution that was "disappointingly sketchy" on how to internationalize the military operation, and would fail to "commit the Security Council to do anything in particular." While it might be easier to secure more multinational forces by giving the U.N. more control in decisions, that "possibility was ruled out" by the Bush Administration. You can find complete American Progress coverage on Iraq here.

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