One rhetorical problem the administration has had in the Iraq debate is that it has put itself in a “stay the course” box that suggests to people that we aren’t going to do anything differently, when they don’t particularly like the way things have been going in Iraq. This is a sure way to lose the debate, and it has also been misleading in two ways: 1) the administration has been adjusting in Iraq as it learns lessons and as conditions dictate; 2) the strategy is not static but inherently dynamic because it depends on certain events–most importantly elections–changing the political environment in Iraq.
Bush and his speechwriters finally got out of the box today. Bush spoke pretty frankly about the mistakes we have made in the training of Iraqi units and how we have changed our practices in light of them. That was important. But the most crucial passage dealing with the “stay the course” rhetorical problem was this one, which shrewdly explains what the phrase should and shouldn’t be taken to mean:
Some critics continue to assert that we have no plan in Iraq except to, “stay the course.” If by “stay the course,” they mean we will not allow the terrorists to break our will, they are right. If by “stay the course,” they mean we will not permit al Qaeda to turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban — a safe haven for terrorism and a launching pad for attacks on America — they are right, as well. If by “stay the course” they mean that we’re not learning from our experiences, or adjusting our tactics to meet the challenges on the ground, then they’re flat wrong. As our top commander in Iraq, General Casey, has said, “Our commanders on the ground are continuously adapting and adjusting, not only to what the enemy does, but also to try to out-think the enemy and get ahead of him.” Our strategy in Iraq is clear, our tactics are flexible and dynamic; we have changed them as conditions required and they are bringing us victory against a brutal enemy.