(HOST) President George W. Bush’s speech on Iraq at the Naval Academy two days ago left commentator Barrie Dunsmore with decidedly mixed feelings.
(DUNSMORE) As I watched the President speak, I found myself thinking that this was one of his better performances. His energy level was high, and he seemed genuinely engaged. The speech had some good rhetorical flourishes — such as, “America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins — so long as I am Commander-in-Chief.” The midshipmen of Annapolis respon-
ded to that line with their loudest and longest applause. And I could well imagine that an average American might feel that the President had made a good case that the U.S. cannot “cut and run” from Iraq — and that to do so would invite new terrorist attacks on this country.
But my problem when I hear Mr. Bush talk about Iraq — and I sus-
pect it’s a feeling I share with many — is that the President has very little credibility on this subject. Virtually everything he and his top officials have told us about Iraq — going back more than three years — has been wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruc-
tion. There were no ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. The Iraqis did not welcome U.S. troops as liberators. Iraqi oil did not defray the costs of the war. There was no mission accomplished — not two and a half years ago when it was first declared — and not yet. The strength and makeup of the insurgency have been consis-
tently miscalculated — and the numbers of trained Iraqi security forces exaggerated. There have been two elections — with a third set for mid-December — but Iraq is not on the verge of becoming a genuine democracy, as the President would have us believe. Per-
haps some day — but right now it’s a lot closer to becoming a pro-
Iranian Shiite theocracy.
I do not know if this mass of misinformation is the result of delib-
erate deceptions, faulty intelligence or bad judgement. But, what-
ever the reason, this record of being wrong casts almost anything we are told now into serious doubt.
Once again on Wednesday, Mr. Bush said that any outcome in Iraq short of total American victory would be, as he put it, “a vindi-
cation for the terrorist tactics of beheadings, suicide bombings and mass murder.” This portrayal of the Iraq war as the ultimate battle of good versus evil — a kind of Armageddon in the war against terror — strikes me as among the most questionable of the President’s assertions. There are some sixty countries in the world where al Qaeda is operating. It makes up only a small part of the Iraqi insurgency — about seven percent by most authoritative accounts. Even top U.S. generals are now conceding that the American military presence actually feeds the insurgency — so there is no reason to believe al Qaeda would, or could, take over the country, if the U.S. should leave.
And, as justified as the war on terrorism certainly is — in my view — Iraq was never the place that war would be won — or lost.
This is Barrie Dunsmore.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.