What a difference a year makes. In his State of the Union Address last night, President George W. Bush was, as expected, conciliatory - almost sheepish. Where last year he lead off with what he thought was his strength, Iraq and the “War on Terrorism,” this year he did not bring it up until after more than 3,000 words into his address. It was, interestingly enough, a placeholder Hurricane Katrina held in his address last year. The "failed policy slot," I guess. He ultimately acknowledged that it is “not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we’re in.” Last year those opposing the president’s policies were labeled “isolationists,” this year he is begging us to “give it a chance to work.”
It’s been more than three years. More than 3000 of our brave men and women have been killed and thousands more maimed. His “new way forward” is nothing new. This war has been, from the start, ill advised and mismanaged. I’ll not waste anymore time on an address that was entirely predictable and luke warm save this: His acknowledgment of “Madam Speaker” Nancy Pelosi was classy even if it was necessary and proper. Acknowledging her father’s service in the House a generation earlier was a nice touch.
Let’s now turn to an address that contained some real substance, the Democratic Response.
Rather than run through the Democratic Party platform plank by plank, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., chose “two areas where our respective parties have largely stood in contradiction.” He addressed the economy first, pointing out that although certain specific indicators show a healthy economy, other broader benchmarks exemplify the severe disparity in the distribution of wealth. He fears “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.” Although he scored high marks on his criticism of the administration’s economic policies, he saved the big guns for his second “area of contention.”
Senator Webb is a military man. His family has served with honor for three generations in three different wars, including this one. Ironically, the war Webb and his brother served in was equally controversial and has some ironic historic parallels to this current war - a war Webb’s own son is fighting at this very moment. Although Webb didn't say it, I will - it's the sort of military duty our president and vice president conveniently avoided. He presented his audience with a photo of his father while serving in Germany during World War II. What he said following the introduction of his and his family’s military background (he left out far more than he included - he was not boasting) was delivered in grim monotones… he was - angry.
“Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues - those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death - we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way.
We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us - sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.
The president took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the Army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed.
The war's costs to our nation have been staggering.
The damage to our reputation around the world.
The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism.
And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.”
There’s nothing more I can add. Webb nailed it - and he’s right.