Politics & Policy

State of The Nation

Some suggestions for Bush.

It is speculated that the president has already got his staff to hammer out preliminary drafts of the State of the Union address, though it will not be delivered until sometime in January. I remember in 1966 being seated alongside Professor Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in a CBS Studio. Our duty was to opine on the State of the Union speech being given by President Lyndon Johnson. He had defeated Barry Goldwater soundly a year before and had recently decided to challenge the North Vietnamese invasion of the South, summoning a great army to service in Indochina. Schlesinger and I waited as the president rolled on and on with plum pudding after plum pudding, designed to appease those who disapproved of his venture in Vietnam. In despair, after 70 minutes, Professor Schlesinger reached down for a bottle of whiskey and we drank together our joint concern for Mr. Johnson’s endless exploration of the state of the union.

There will be a lot of that kind of thing in President Bush’s address. He is correctly concerned for any number of things that don’t have anything to do with Iraq, but Iraq will be the subject on which the eyes of the nation will train. What’s going to happen?

The election in Iraq is scheduled for the last week of January.

This we have been holding up as the validating moment for our whole enterprise in Iraq. To the end of bringing on such an election, we have set up 9,000 voting sites, promising that they will grant the voter the security freely to express his mind. If only a small number of Iraqis show up, that will be prima facie evidence that threats of retaliation against prospective voters served their purpose.

The Iraqi voters will be selecting political representatives to serve them in a national legislature. What range of concerns will these legislators espouse? In our own critical election of 1800 we had the Federalists of Hamilton and Madison, the Democrats of Thomas Jefferson, the Southern slaveholding interests, the free traders and the protectionists. There was no party pleading the cause of irredentism, a return to colonial status. That war had been fought and decided. The war to jettison Islamic extremism has been fought: but whether it has been won is not a settled question. There are at least ten thousand men who are determined that strife and tyranny shall prevail. So how do we adjust to the possibility that the election will fail to introduce working democratic order?

The result can’t be guaranteed, which brings us to obligatory concessions in the Presidential message which have to do with the national security.

Some writers and thinkers who are referred to as neo-cons aren’t exactly that, Wilsonian dogmatists. This is the community, notably including the Center for National Security, that has over the years fought superstitions that have been generated so profusely about disarmament. The analytical axiom of this community is that fewer arms do not bring lessened risks. We have been told by President Putin, no less, that Russia has designs on a brand new family of nuclear weaponry which, said Mr. Putin, would make his country mightier than ever, and perhaps even the mightiest.

We have heard such talk before, and it is wise not automatically to dismiss it.

Solidarity is encouraged, by the party of President Bush, in the matter of the war in Iraq. But the point that should not be lost is that the concern for national security is a concern that transcends the war in Iraq. That war can be said to have been, at distinct moments in the past, coextensive with the concern for national security. But policies that once conflated do not necessarily continue fused, any more than marriages which once brought two persons into singularity, always survive as such.

We went to Iraq for the right reasons, a venture in affirming the palpable demands of national security. At this moment we can’t say with absolute assurance that the venture will succeed in its stated purpose, but we know that the demands of national security will continue, that challenges aimed at our national security will continue, and that we will have to meet them in whatever theater they appear, and in whatever guise, with tactical energy and self-confidence, but with an eye to the strategic reserve. That lesson was nowhere more vividly spelled out than in Vietnam. Our specific aims were not met there, but our grander aim–our mightiest aim–was not sacrificed.

This is the point that Mr. Bush will need to make in his important address.


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