The burdens of empire
On the assumption you've seen the headlines from the president's speech (he thinks we need more troops in Iraq now so we can have fewer troops in Iraq later — you can't make this stuff up), here's the real news.
- The president is still fervently committed to his messianic vision of democratizing the world, and his Manichean vision of tyranny anywhere threatening freedom everywhere. Otherwise, he wouldn't have spoken of "advancing liberty" or "the decisive ideological struggle of our time."
- The president laid some additional rhetorical groundwork for an attack on Iran, backed up by his confirmation that he's sending a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. The most outrageous moment of the speech was when he blamed Iran for aiding attacks on U.S. troops. The notion of Shiite Iran helping the overwhelmingly Sunni insurgency is preposterous. What about Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, you ask? They're actually the least pro-Iranian of the Shiites in Iraq. But for a president who doesn't "do nuance," I guess this nonsense is to be expected.
- While the president promised the "surge" of 20,000-odd troops would provide the "force levels to hold the areas that have been cleared," anyone who knows anything about guerrilla warfare knows that's a crock. And that includes the new U.S. commander in Iraq, as Fred Kaplan recently pointed out at Slate, but he took the job anyway. Go figure.
- Most nebulous statement of the speech: "America's commitment is not open-ended." Commitment to what, exactly? He never said. Commitment to keeping U.S. troops in Iraq? Commitment to U.S. intervention in Iraq in general? Those commitments likely are open-ended. The commitment he was probably referring to is the commitment to Iraq's current leadership. Watch for more talk of a "strongman" able to crack heads and do Washington's bidding.
Toward the end of the speech, he spoke about "the burdens of freedom." Bollocks. The Swiss don't carry these burdens. Americans didn't carry these burdens during the first century of our republic. The burdens the president speaks of are the burdens of empire.
Oh, my prediction about the number of times he'd invoke 9/11 was spot on . Once, by my count.