Tuesday, June 28, 2005

President's Speech

I've just watched the President's speech on TV.I suppose I may as well offer some initial reactions.

I think there was a general consensus floating around that the President needed to pull an absolute blinder with this one and really get it right with some serious straight talk.

I took notes on the speech as it went on and based on that, here are my initial thoughts:

1) Troop numbers - same old, same old. "If I'm told by my commanders on the ground, they are perfectly happy etc..." I don't like this and I think it represents one of three things i) it's a lie ii) the ground commanders do want more troops but are worried that saying so will cost them their jobs/promotion or iii) the ground commanders don't actually want more troops because they don't understand the importance of a strategy based around population control. None of the three options are particularly appetising.

2) New ideas for conducting operations. The idea of embedding small cadres of NCOs and officers with Iraqi units to live with them, train with them, work with them strikes me as a good idea and too long in coming. It seems reminiscent of the Marines' CAP programme in Vietnam and British practice elsewhere and hopefully that's close to what it will be though unfortunately I'm not sure it really focuses on the territorial/civil side the way the CAP programme did so I'm holding my breath on this one. But grounds to be positive, I feel.

3) Libya as an example of the positive effects of Iraq - disingenuous. So much for giving it straight.

4) No timetable for withdrawal - I thought the President had this absolutely bang on. He touched all the bases and put his argument forward in a convincing way. Excellent.

5) He focused very much on the positives of staying. My personal view is that this needed to be a straight talk speech and that that needed to manifest itself less in whimsical gushing about the rather intangible and theoretical benefits of staying and more in a hard-nosed indication of the very concrete negative implications of leaving.

6) I've written "Blah, blah, blah - messianic" here, but that's very much a matter of personal taste.

7) The President called for sacrifice - but not much. Support the troops, send letters, fly the flag. Well, alrighty. But we've heard this before. And there was no serious call to broader sacrifice, no real plea for public service or national mobilisation. The message was very much - just Support The Troops and everything will be ok and you've done your bit and can just carry on as usual. In fairness, one of the points I've made elsewhere is that things are now so far advanced that a challenging, fairly demanding speech by the President may simply result in the people at home going "Oh my God! What the hell have you got us into?! This wasn't part of the bargain!!!" with predictably dire consequences. So I can see why the powers that be may have decided to soft-pedal. I still feel this may well have been a missed opportunity.

8) I still feel there's too much faulty history being worked into the mix, but that's a whole other issue.


Overall I thought it was a bit of a game of two halves. At times the President hit it dead on and got it very right and all credit to him. But overall there was just a bit too much of it that was singing from the same old hymn sheet and I'm not sure this really was the "telling it straight in order to stick at it" speech that many of us had been hoping for.

If I had to make a prediction I'd say - the President will see a positive spike in his ratings and in support for the war. For about a month. Then it'll be back to the usual routine.

I hope I'm wrong.

Anyway, these are very much spur-of-the-moment reactions. No guarentee that I won't wake up tomorrow and think "Oh God, what was I thinking".

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