3.Speaking of not talking to nasty regimes, here's a remark by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at House hearings on Feb. 16:
"We don't have an ideological problem with talking to Syria. … [T]here just isn't any evidence that they're trying to change their behavior."
Rice was responding to a heartfelt plea from Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia. "I beg of you," he said, "if we're going to ask a young man or woman in our military to go to Iraq three different times, it's not asking too much … to send somebody to engage with … the Syrians."
The secretary's response was a replay of Bush's response to a similar question at a press conference last August: "We've been in touch with Syria," he replied. "Colin Powell sent a message to Syria in person. Dick Armitage talked to Syria. … Syria knows what we think. … The problem is that their response hasn't been very positive."
He was referring to a trip that his former secretary of state took to the Middle East back in 2003—and, though Bush didn't mention this, Syria's response was positive. Ariel Sharon, then Israel's prime minister, had asked Powell to get Syrian President Bashar Assad to crack down on Hezbollah—and Assad did, for a little while, anyway.
Then, as now, a follow-up question might have been: How do you know what the Syrians are willing to do until you talk with them and offer them some incentives?
Again, maybe the Syrians don't want to talk with Bush. Maybe they figure that this lame-duck American president shows no sign of changing his behavior, that he has nothing useful to offer them.
4."George Washington's long struggle for freedom has also inspired generations of Americans to stand for freedom in their own time. Today, we're fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life."
On Feb. 19, to celebrate George Washington's birthday, President Bush gave a speech at Mount Vernon comparing himself to the father of our country and the Iraqi war to the Revolutionary War.
He should stay away from historical analogies. The crises and wars that he's invoked don't really correspond to his predicaments, or to the extent that they do, the comparisons tend not to flatter him. Washington is particularly ill-cast as a Bush stand-in.
"On the field of battle," Bush said at Mount Vernon, "Washington's forces were facing a mighty empire, and the odds against them were overwhelming. The ragged Continental Army lost more battles than it won" and "stood on the brink of disaster many times. Yet George Washington's calm hand and determination kept the cause of independence and the principles of our Declaration alive. … In the end, General Washington understood that the Revolutionary War was a test of wills, and his will was unbreakable."
Sound familiar? It's obviously meant to, but it shouldn't. Here's an awkward question: By Bush's own description, which side in the Iraq war most resembles the "ragged Continental Army" and which side the "mighty empire"? I don't mean to draw moral (or any other sort of) equivalences, because there is nothing at all equivalent about those two wars, or these two presidents, and it degrades the serious study of history to pretend there is.