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Bill Orton
(D-Long Beach)

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On the President’s War Speech

by Bill Orton

June 28, 2005 -- Having been silent on the war policies of this Administration since I wrote a series of essays before the bombs fell where I criticized the logic leading to the bloodshed, I both commend the President on a frank and comprehensive outline of his goals tonight and for finally admitting – if only vaguely – that "our progress has been uneven" in winning the peace in Iraq.

Uneven is to put it mildly.

Our civilian leaders of the war utterly failed in planning for the peace.

The heavy hand with which we have been using to wallop the enemy has also whipped up the fervor that feeds the hatred of America.

The political gains which the President spoke so highly of are undermined by our insensitivity to the basic human rights of detainees and the day-to-day chaos which ordinary Iraqis must live with, since the only secure area of the country is a protected little green zone within the capitol.

And worst yet, our soldiers must bravely roll out for duty not knowing if an improvised explosive devise, sniper’s bullet or car bomb awaits them. A faceless ghostlike enemy hovers unseen in the air and every day steals the final breath of our heroic soldiers, marines and National Guard personnel.

When Senators like John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) say in open hearings that the American people are seeking honest answers from the President and a congressional resolution seeking a timetable for withdrawal is authored by a Republican congressman from North Carolina, it is obvious that the war we are losing is for the hearts and minds of the American people.

In that respect, the President did himself some good tonight.

His willingness to concede that "our progress has been uneven" only hints at the failure to secure the peace, but it is a start. It is only a single phrase within a long speech otherwise brimming with bravado, but it may be the most honest statement we’ve yet seen from this President on the costs of the war.

In March 2003, before the bombs fell, I wrote a column entitled "THE COST OF WAR, PEACE AND SECRECY," in which I stated that, "Put simply and cynically, this President wants war."

Before that, I wrote, "I do not agree with the logic leading to this war, nor do I believe that the President is leveling with the American people about the tremendous long-term costs of our exercise in nation building."

This simple assumption seems born out by "The Downing Street Memo." The document – which can be found at http://downingstreetmemo.com – contains minutes transcribed during the British Prime Minister's meeting on July 23, 2002 that, taken together with several other leaked UK government documents, paint a picture of a President intent on invasion, and a loyal ally troubled both by how it could be justified and by what it would bring.

And so to have the President finally offer frankness to the American people is a good thing, and I applaud him for it.

As I wrote in March 2003, "Ultimately, no one will quibble over money [to fund war operations], but it is a mark of the President's faith in the American people that he should honestly and openly discuss the potential costs in advance of our attack."

Yes, in his speech tonight, the President did away with any notion of a timetable for withdrawal. Yes, he laid out a case for our mission that refuses to set even a broad timeline or expected costs. But at least he finally offered a sliver of frankness to the American people, a group which to read recent polls does not in the majority stand with him on his war policy.

Tonight, I believe, the President bought himself some time. I think that the voices in Congress calling for a timetable to bring our troops home will be quieted, at least momentarily. And the short-term polling will likely show a return of majority support to his positions, at least momentarily.

I wish the President well on the path he laid out tonight, primarily because his success will mean the speedier return of our brave American service personnel from "over there" – more than half of who are citizen soldiers serving in the National Guard and reserves.

Mr. President, use this moment wisely, for failure to act in good faith and to stay on the path of frankness will lead not simply to a resumption in the calls for withdrawal, but a wholesale abandonment by the American people of your exercise in nation-building in Iraq.


Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.