It seems to me that in order to be successful in his attempt tonight to reverse the course of public opinion on the Iraq war that President Bush will have to do something that is likely to be very difficult for him personally: acknowledge that the war is not going as well as he had hoped it would be by this time, and that judgments early on — how many troops to send in during the original invasion, how seriously to plan for the aftermath, whether to factor in the possibility of not being greeted with flowers and dancing — had something to do with this. I think he further has to admit that some of his, and especially Cheney’s, assessments of how things were going in the recent past — two weeks ago, three months, six months, a year — were not quite accurate.
He has to do this, I think, because, as he realizes to some extent or he wouldn’t have scheduled the speech, increasing numbers of people are profoundly skeptical about how he has handled the war. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released today shows 56 percent disapproving of the way he is handling Iraq. Americans don’t believe Cheney that the insurgency is in its “last throes;” only 22 percent think it is on the decline.
He can do this. He can say he acted on the best information available at the time, but that wars are messy and sometimes decisions don’t turn out well, but he’s learned and continues to learn from experience. He can point out that WW II was going badly after a year-and-a-half and that he warned us from the beginning that it would be a tough slog, but it’s worth it and the Middle East is starting to stabilize.
I don’t think he’ll succeed, however, unless he’s a lot more candid than is his usual wont about sharing some of the responsibility for bad decisions or miscalculations at various times. Without that it will seem as if he’s addicted to rose-colored glasses and will lose even more credibility.
I doubt he can pull it off, but we’ll see.