Some suggested edits to the President’s speech

If the President wants the country to stay behind him, he ought to consider being a little more frank about what’s actually happening in Iraq.

I didn’t watch the press conference, so I don’t know how the President looked or sounded, but reading the transcript I thought he handled the press’s mostly-softball questions mostly pretty well. And the opening statement seemed to me rhetorically masterful.

However, that opening statement was also an insult to the intelligence of the hearer. No matter how “somber” Mr. Bush might have looked, he simply didn’t level with the country about what’s really happening on the ground in Iraq. I’ve inserted in boldface below the phrases and sentences that I think would have been necessary to make it a reasonably accurate statement of the facts, while still being within the realm of things a President is allowed to say in public.

And I’ve put in italics statements that should have caused the President’s nose to grow, and that could have been omitted. I’ve added footnotes at the end, explaining why those passages seem to me to embody whoppers.

(I’ve tried to resist the temptation to add any of the snarky comments that came to mind: a temptation to which I hope some fellow-blogger will succumb.)


Before I take your questions, let me speak with the American people about the situation in Iraq.

This has been tough weeks in that country. Coalition forces have encountered serious violence in some areas of Iraq, a level of violence we did not expect to face a year after the fall of Baghdad. Our military commanders report that this violence is being instigated by three groups. Some remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime, along with Islamic militants, have attacked coalition forces in the city of Fallujah. Terrorists from other countries have infiltrated Iraq to incite and organize attacks.

In the south of Iraq, coalition forces face riots and attacks that are being incited by a radical cleric named al-Sadr. He has assembled some of his supporters into an illegal militia and publicly supported the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Al-Sadr’s methods of violence and intimidation are widely repudiated by other Iraqi Shia, although no actual Iraqi leader of any stature has criticized him directly or called for his capture: perhaps because Iraqis still fear for their personal safety. He’s been indicted by Iraqi authorities for the murder of a prominent Shia cleric.

Although these instigations of violence come from different factions, they share common goals. They want to run us out of Iraq and destroy the democratic hopes of the Iraqi people.

The violence we have seen is a power grab by these extreme and ruthless elements. It’s not a civil war. It’s not a popular uprising. Most of Iraq is relatively stable, though the extent of instability is greater than we have seen in the past year. Most Iraqis by far reject violence and oppose dictatorship in principle, though so far that rejection has not been translated into a willingness to fight back against those who prefer a return to the old tyranny or the development of a theocratic tyranny. Organizing Iraqis to fight for their rights is one of the fundamental challenges before the occupation in its final ten weeks and, more importantly, before the new sovereign Iraqi government.

In forums where Iraqis have met to discuss their political future, and in all the proceedings of the Iraqi Governing Council, Iraqis have expressed clear commitments, although the IGC has also criticized our methods in Falloujah and at least four IGC members have resigned. We regret as much as they do the unavoidable civilian casualties of street-to-street urban warfare. They want strong protections for individual rights. They want their independence. And they want their freedom.

America’s commitment to freedom in Iraq is consistent with our ideals and required by our interests. Iraq will either be a peaceful, democratic country or it will again be a source of violence, a haven for terror and a threat to America and to the world.

By helping secure a free Iraq, Americans serving in that country are protecting their fellow citizens. Our nation is grateful to them all and to their families that face hardship and long separation.

This weekend, at a Fort Hood hospital, I presented a Purple Heart to some of our wounded, had the honor of thanking them on behalf of all Americans.

Other men and women have paid an even greater cost. Our nation honors the memory of those who have been killed, and we pray that their families will find God’s comfort in the midst of their grief.

As I have said to those who have lost loved ones, we will finish the work of the fallen.

America’s armed forces are performing brilliantly, with all the skill and honor we expect of them. We’re constantly reviewing their needs. Troop strength now and in the future is determined by the situation on the ground. If additional forces are needed, as Gen. Abizaid yesterday said they were, I will send them. If additional resources are needed, we will provide them.

The people of our country are united behind our men and women in uniform, and this government will do all that is necessary to assure the success of their historic mission.

One central commitment of that mission is the transfer of the sovereignty back to the Iraqi people. We have set a deadline of June 30th. It is important that we meet that deadline.

As a proud, independent people, Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation, and neither does America. We’re not an imperial power, as nations such as Japan and Germany can attest. We’re a liberating power, as nations in Europe and Asia can attest as well.

America’s objective in Iraq is limited, and it is firm. We seek an independent, free and secure Iraq.

Were the coalition to step back from the June 30th pledge, many Iraqis would question our intentions and feel their hopes betrayed. And those in Iraq who trade in hatred and conspiracy theories would find a larger audience and gain a stronger hand.

We will not step back from our pledge. On June 30th, Iraqi sovereignty will be placed in Iraqi hands. As the details of that transfer, and of the post-transfer interim government of Iraq and Iraq’s long-term constitution, get worked out over the next several weeks, we can expect political fireworks for sure and, possibly, additional violence.

Sovereignty involves more than a date and a ceremony. It requires Iraqis to assume responsibility for their own future.

Iraqi authorities are now confronting the security challenge of the last several weeks.

In Fallujah, coalition forces have suspended offensive operations, allowing members of the Iraqi Governing Council and local leaders to work on the restoration of central authority in that city. These leaders are communicating with the insurgents to ensure an orderly turnover of that city to Iraqi forces, so that the resumption of military action does not become necessary.

They are also insisting that those who killed and mutilated four American contract workers be handed over for trial and punishment. *

In addition, members of the Governing Council are seeking to resolve the situation in the south. Al-Sadr must answer the charges against him and disband his illegal militia.

Our coalition is standing with responsible Iraqi leaders as they establish growing authority in their country. The transition to sovereignty requires that we demonstrate confidence in Iraqis. And we have that confidence. Many Iraqi leaders are showing great personal courage, and their example will bring out the same quality in others.

The transition to sovereignty also requires an atmosphere of security, and our coalition is working to provide that security.

We will continue taking the greatest care to prevent harm to innocent civilians, yet we will not permit the spread of chaos and violence. I have directed our military commanders to make every preparation to use decisive force if necessary to maintain order and to protect our troops.

The nation of Iraq is moving toward self-rule, and Iraqis and Americans will see evidence in the months to come. On June 30th, when the flag of a free Iraq is raised, Iraqi officials will assume responsibility for the ministries of government. On that day, the transitional administrative law, including a bill of rights that is unprecedented in the Arab world, will take full effect.

The United States and all the nations of our coalition will establish normal diplomatic relations with the Iraqi government. An American embassy will open, and an American ambassador will be posted.

According to the schedule already approved by the Governing Council, Iraq will hold elections for a national assembly no later than next January. That assembly will draft a new permanent constitution, which will be presented to the Iraqi people in a national referendum held in October of next year.

Iraqis will then elect a permanent government by December 15, 2005 — an event that will, we hope, mark the completion of Iraq’s transition from dictatorship to freedom. Some influential Iraqis, not affilitated with those now in arms against us, want elections to come sooner. We, and the Iraqi Governing Council, are working to reconcile their understandable impatience with the realities of a nation still rebuilding from decades of tyranny.

Other nations and international institutions are stepping up to their responsibilities in building a free and secure Iraq. We’re working closely with the United Nations envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, and with Iraqis to determine the exact form of the government that will receive sovereignty on June 30th.

The United Nations Election Assistance Team, headed by Karina Perelli, is in Iraq developing plans for next January’s election. NATO is providing support for the Polish-led, multinational division in Iraq. And 17 of NATO’s 26 members are contributing forces to maintain security.

Secretary of State Powell and Secretary of State Rumsfeld and a number of NATO defense and foreign ministers are exploring a more formal role for NATO, such as turning the Polish-led division into a NATO operation and giving NATO specific responsibilities for border control.

Iraqis’ neighbors also have responsibilities to make their region more stable. So I’m sending Deputy Secretary of State Armitage to the Middle East to discuss with these nations our common interest in a free and independent Iraq, and how they can help achieve this goal.

As we’ve made clear all along, our commitment to the success and security of Iraq will not end on June 30th. On July 1st and beyond, our reconstruction assistance will continue and our military commitment will continue.

Having helped Iraqis establish a new government, coalition military forces will help Iraqis to protect their government from external aggression and internal subversion.

The success of free government in Iraq is vital for many reasons:

A free Iraq is vital because 25 million Iraqis have as much right to live in freedom as we do.

A free Iraq will stand as an example to reformers across the Middle East.

A free Iraq will show that America is on the side of Muslims who wish to live in peace, as we’ve already shown in Kuwait and Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

A free Iraq will confirm to a watching world that America’s word, once given, can be relied upon, even in the toughest times.

Above all, the defeat of violence and terror in Iraq is vital to the defeat of violence and terror elsewhere and vital, therefore, to the safety of the American people.

Now is the time, and Iraq is the place, in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world. We must not waver.

The violence we are seeing in Iraq is familiar. The terrorists who take hostages or plants a roadside bomb near Baghdad is serving the same ideology of murder that kills innocent people on trains in Madrid, and murders children on buses in Jerusalem, and blows up a nightclub in Bali and cuts the throat of a young reporter for being a Jew.**

We’ve seen the same ideology of murder in the killing of 241 Marines in Beirut, the first attack on the World Trade Center, in the destruction of two embassies in Africa, in the attack on the USS Cole, and in the merciless horror inflicted upon thousands of innocent men and women and children on September the 11th, 2001.

None of these acts is the work of a religion. All are the work of a fanatical political ideology. The servants of this ideology seek tyranny in the Middle East and beyond. They seek to oppress and persecute women.

They seek the death of Jews and Christians and every Muslim who desires peace over theocratic terror. They seek to intimidate America into panic and retreat, and to set free nations against each other. And they seek weapons of mass destruction, to blackmail and murder on a massive scale.

Over the last several decades, we’ve seen that any concession or retreat on our part will only embolden this enemy and invite more bloodshed. And the enemy has seen, over the last 31 months, that we will no longer live in denial or seek to appease them.

For the first time, the civilized world has provided a concerted response to the ideology of terror — a series of powerful, effective blows.

The terrorists have lost the shelter of the Taliban and the training camps in Afghanistan. They have lost safe havens in Pakistan. They lost an ally in Baghdad. And Libya has turned its back on terror.

They’ve lost many leaders in an unrelenting international manhunt. And perhaps more frightening to these men and their movement, the terrorists are seeing the advance of freedom and reform in the greater Middle East.

A desperate enemy is also a dangerous enemy. And our work may become more difficult before it is finished. No one can predict all the hazards that lie ahead or the cost that they will bring.

Yet, in this conflict, there is no safe alternative to resolute action. The consequences of failure in Iraq would be unthinkable.

Every friend of America in Iraq would be betrayed to prison and murder, as a new tyranny arose. Every enemy of America in the world would celebrate, proclaiming our weakness and decadence, and using that victory to recruit a new generation of killers.

We will succeed in Iraq. We’re carrying out a decision that has already been made and will not change. Iraq will be a free, independent country, and America and the Middle East will be safer because of it.

Our coalition has the means and the will to prevail. We serve the cause of liberty, and that is always and everywhere a cause worth serving.


* The comment about turning over those who killed the four contract fighters in Fallujah is pretty silly. What earthly reason is there to think that the perpetrators stayed around to be captured and executed by us when we re-took the city, as they knew we would? If we insist on having some “terrorists” to execute, no doubt they will be provided, but it seems unlikely that they will be the actual criminals.

** Terrorism, if the word has any meaning at all, means killing non-combatants. Attacks on armed personnel and on military transportation and installations can’t reasonably be called “terrorist.” Sadr’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah makes him a supporter of terrorists, but Sadr’s insurrection doesn’t make him, or his supporters, terrorists.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: