The problem is that this hobgoblin has consequences. Bush's renewed warning of a future "Islamic empire from Indonesia to Spain" at first seemed to me as outlandish as President Ronald Reagan's warning that the Russians planned to transit Nicaragua to invade Texas. On second thought, Bush's concern may become self-fulfilling prophecy, since the course he is on could hardly be better designed to usher in an eventual Islamic, rather than American, "empire."
Iraqi Security Forces: A Pathetic Pillar
The president indicated that in the days ahead he would be addressing various pillars of his policy in Iraq. Yesterday's speech was devoted largely to the training of Iraqi army and security forces, and he protested too much in his efforts to accentuate the positive. His tortured attempt to explain why, after so many months of US training, only one Iraqi army battalion can fight independently was no more convincing that earlier attempts by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his star-bedecked generals. Statistics just confuse the issue, we have been told; progress is being made. Trust us.
LBJ: "I wonder if you shouldn't find two minutes to devote to Vietnam."
McN: "The problem is what to say about it."
The training was not going good then, and it's not going good now. The Johnson administration's self-deception helped usher in a decade of war resulting in 2-3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 American servicemen killed. The parallel is eerie. Just a few months ago Rumsfeld was talking about the need for US forces to remain in Iraq for perhaps as long as 12 years.
Let "Freedom" Ring
As for LBJ's commitment to "freedom" for a foreign client, Bush's speechwriters would not be outdone. In his speech the president used "freedom" or "free" no fewer than 36 times. The nine-paragraph coda, apparently orchestrated by Bush speechwriter and ambassador Karen Hughes, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, was a veritable free-for-all - with 19 "frees" or "freedoms."
...and "Real Progress" in Preparing Iraqi Forces
I found it embarrassing to listen to President Bush stretch for evidence of "real progress" in readying Iraqi army and security forces to "stand up [so that we] can stand down." Did you know that, because of our help, the Iraqis now have their own supply depot north of Baghdad; simulation models for roadblocks; a bomb disposal school; a training program for squad leaders? Bush even quoted a US soldier saying, "We have turned the corner." For veteran observers of the Vietnam, this brings on a very troubling flashback.
How Many "Insurgents?"
Missing from the president's words was any information on how many "insurgents" there are. No surprise here. Rumsfeld, whose fingerprints are all over the speech, is apparently still seeking "situational awareness," the lack of which he has famously bemoaned time and again.
Those of us with experience on Vietnam remember only too well that the Pentagon kept the count of Vietnamese Communist forces at an artificially low level, lest its claims of "real progress" be given the lie. It is hard to know which is worse - artificially low numbers, or none at all. It is, in fact, quite telling that Rumsfeld and the president prefer to leave enemy strength in the Rumsfeldian category of "known unknowns." And it is small solace that this category is one step higher than the "unknown unknowns" in his lexicon.