Reading through the transcript of President Bush’s speech, I was immediately struck by the urgency of the situation in Iraq and how important it is that we give the Iraqi people one more opportunity to secure their country. Although we do not belong there, should never have gone there, and have bungled the situation there, it is still our duty to support the government that we helped shape until it is clear that they themselves have failed to meet their obligations.
Bush’s words point out the nature of the enemy quite clearly:
In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. And Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon’s legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam — the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia — and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.
And his challenge to the Democratic Congress was, in my opinion, equally compelling:
This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.
I and many other people wish the American military was not engaged in Iraq. In a better world, perhaps under better leadership, this would not have happened. But that is immaterial. As W says, this is the fight we are in. The reason why are not of immediate importance, only the way forward matter. And he outlined the appropriate steps:
In order to make progress toward this goal, the Iraqi government must stop the sectarian violence in its capital. But the Iraqis are not yet ready to do this on their own. So we are deploying reinforcements of more than 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq. The vast majority will go to Baghdad, where they will help Iraqi forces to clear and secure neighborhoods and serve as advisers embedded in Iraqi Army units. With Iraqis in the lead, our forces will help secure the city by chasing down terrorists, insurgents, and roaming death squads.
This is what we should have been doing all along: taking the fight to the enemies of Iraq’s people on all fronts. It seems as though the Iraqi government has been blocking us in that objective. Now it is time for them to do what is right and we must give them that opportunity, even at the risk of American lives.
(Although lives, for Democrats, are clearly not a real issue. That inconsistency is, to me, too glaring to overlook.)
In response, Jim Webb’s speech was also very good. While Bush promised a complex-sounding health care/tax relief bundle that I doubt if 5% of the public understands at this point, Webb made a strong, strong point about the ever-growing income gap and the undue influence of large corporations on policy:
When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it’s nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.
Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts.
In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table.
The wages, stock subsidies and gifts, options and perqs that CEOs and their cronies receive is quite obscene. Americans know this, regardless of where they live or what party they are affiliated with and it was smart of Webb to bring this issue up. Enron, Arthur Anderson, MCI, Tyco. The list of mismanaged corporations is a long one and it points to bad executive leadership and failed oversight from corporate boards. Even the best of CEOs, Steve Jobs of Apple, is not immune from wrong-doing or the consequences that come from being caught.
An understanding of Econ 101 is all that’s required to see what is happening with the American work force and the stock market. Cheaper overseas labor undercuts them and the jobs go winging over to Thailand; corporate profits hold or increase and almost everybody wins. Everyone, that is, except the poor sap who lost his job and doesn’t have the skills to find another.
Education, we’re told, is the way out of the trap. But as Webb points out, the cost of a university education is rising much more rapidly than wages, particularly for those toward the bottom of the economic pyramid. It’s certainly possible to save money by attending a junior college; however, the education these facilities provide is generally of lower quality than a 4-year university. It’s a good policy, I think, that the Dems have enacted legislation that promises to make student loans more affordable. What point is there, after all, in going to college only to emerge to a $25,000 that you have to pay off?
Webb’s attack on Bush’s Iraq policy was emotional but vague. It’s also immaterial – we’re there and we owe the Iraqis our best, whether we want to give it or not.
The winner? Bush, by unanimous decision.