I have to confess that I couldn't watch the entire speech last night. From the few minutes I saw, it looked well-rehearsed. Lies, unproven assumptions and cliches dripped from his mouth like honey. I left the room and walked the dog around the block. When I came back, I saw Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews mention the "Coalition of 36 nations," without actually challenging that number. This set off alarms in my head because I had looked into this matter before (See http://terryballard.blogspot.com/2006/03/coalition-of-forgotten.html). Last March, the "Coalition" was pretty much the George and Tony show. I went back to my original source, the Brookings Institution which patiently maintains statistics about the state of things in Iraq. Their numbers show 7 countries with combat troops in Iraq. Only three of those (United Kingdom, South Korea and Georgia) have troop strength in 4 figures. They then go on to maintain a list of 25 countries that are giving some sort of personnel support - we assume that this is mostly medical and humanitarian. So where did the number 36 come from? With all of the care they took in writing 20 drafts of this speech, how could an easily checked misstatement get through? Perhaps he is talking about the number of nations that initially contributed troops. However, he did use the persent tense. This speech was vetted by people who know the facts, so I must come to the conclusion that this was a deliberate lie. It makes me less likely to believe other assertions that he made that can't be directly checked. Such as:
"Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq's government, dominate the region, and attack us here at home. If Iraq's young democracy can turn back these enemies, it will mean a more hopeful Middle East and a more secure America." So by keeping Iraq's government afloat we are more safe at home? Even the general got flustered when asked to substantiate this point of view.
"The premise of our strategy is that securing the Iraqi population is the foundation for all other progress. For Iraqis to bridge sectarian divides, they need to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods." Not such good news here. If you go further down page 30 of the Brookings report, you will see the last few years' worth of numbers on violent attacks in Iraq. In the populated provinces such as Baghdad, the overhwelming trend is more violence each period. All of this during times that the president gave us regular assurances that things are getting better in Iraq. This rise in violence continues during a time where the major demographic trend was for the religious factions to move to neighborhoods that contained only their type.
"Today, most of Baghdad's neighborhoods are being patrolled by coalition and Iraqi forces who live among the people they protect. Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return." This is ordinary life? Brookings data shows that about 3000 Iraqis per month meet a violent end. Considering that Iraq's population is about one fifteenth that of the U.S., they experience 9/11 about every other day. This is normal? That is about as compelling as John McCain's stroll to the market with a backup of 500 armed troops.
So here is where we're at, and my assessment is somewhat different from the president's. After nearly 5 years, we are propping up a government of Shi'ites - the majority sect that also is the dominant religion of Iran. We are arming Sunnis who have American blood on their hands as long as they assure us that they'll fight Al Qaida. The agreements that Parliament was to have hammered out while the Surge was making them more secure have not materialized. Now that Karl Rove is a free agent, he should go to Iraq and explain to them the art of compromise.