January 23, 2007

Highlights on the State of the Union

Tonight is the State of the Union address, and Democratic response delivered by Jim “The President and I Don’t Get Along” Webb.

How well does last year’s speech look in retrospect? You can decide for yourself by re-reading it here: State of the Union 2006 at C-SPAN

Some highlights:

We’re on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory. First, we’re helping Iraqis build an inclusive government, so that old resentments will be eased and the insurgency will be marginalized.

Old resentments, not quite eased at the moment.

The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home. As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels — but those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.

Emphasis mine. Response from the news:

“I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the Corps commander, General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no. - Speaker Pelosi in a letter to President Bush, Jan 5, 2006
Along the way, we have benefitted from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties. In the coming year, I will continue to reach out and seek your good advice.

Do you feel the President has received responsible advice form the American people? I would say “Yes.” Do you feel that that advice was received and duly considered? I would say “No.” Do you feel that the people, upon feeling they were not heard, proceeded to make themselves heard through traditional democratic means last November? I would say “Yes.” Do you feel he’s been receptive to that restatement of our collective advice?

Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. (Applause.) Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy.

This was the president’s neat snapping off of his critics. “Hindsight alone is not wisdom” sounds an awful lot like “I don’t want to learn from my mistakes. If you’re going to criticise me then you try to do a better job.” Mr. President, you ran for the office. Most of the rest of us didn’t. Your strategies have not been a success, so there’s really no point in your criticising your critics.

My point here is that when someone gets up in front of a podium to talk, we afford them some level of trust that they’re telling us the truth. Here, the president is chiding his critics because they’re telling him he’s screwing up, but not handing him a fully formed plan for Iraq. Imagine a college student who has spent all semester screwing around and has flunked his mid-term. When you tell him he’s on the wrong path he tells you not to criticise him unless you can give him all the answers to the final. It’s not that simple; you have to take the test, Mr. President. We can only tell you to study hard.

If you trust the president, perhaps “second-guessing is not a strategy” is an applause line. But we already know the above snippet is bullshit. Three words: Iraq Study Group. If he didn’t like his critics not being civil or thorough, he had a chance to prove it. Bush proved that his critic-silencing lines were all mouth and no money, akin to his “I’m a uniter, not a divider” promises.

The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon — and that must come to an end. (Applause.) The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. (Applause.) America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats. Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

What we didn’t know last year:

Tehran proposed ending support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups and helping to stabilise Iraq following the US-led invasion. Offers, including making its nuclear programme more transparent, were conditional on the US ending hostility. - BBC.com

Most people hate hindsight criticism because it incorporates facts that could not have been known at the time of the decision. Bush hates hindsight because his speeches rely on what you don’t know about his administration, and hindsight happens after you find out what was really going on. Facts he kept from the nation in 2003 come to light after his 2006 speech. See WMDs for more details about hindsight.

If I had more time, I’d go through the whole speech, but feel free to go through it yourself in dreaded “hindsight.” I’m sure that, if you try, you can find more things the president said that make you wonder whether the speech is a report on the actual state of the country, or a PR speech to stem his flagging ratings.

The president addresses the nation tonight. You might want to consider the quality of the information we got last year while you’re evaluating the trustworthiness of what you hear this year.

Posted by James at January 23, 2007 8:30 AM
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Univision is carrying the speech tonight too (much to my disappointment, as I was hoping to watch the regularly scheduled program). I wonder if they do a live audio translation, or just go with Spanish subtitles. I wonder if his words sound less stupid in Spanish. Or if the translator likes to have a little fun with it. ;-)

Posted by: Julie at January 23, 2007 9:44 AM

Going back to last year's speech and assessing how that all turned out is a wonderful public service. Thanks, JP!

Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at January 23, 2007 10:30 AM

I got the idea from The Daily Show when Jon Stewart pulled out that "troop levels" quote last night. I wanted to see the context.

It turned out the context was worse than the quote alone.

Apparently, Bush gave an interview this week in which he stressed how important Iraq is to the global war on terror.

When Bush says that, I hear: "I screwed something up that's even more important than you thought!"

Posted by: James at January 23, 2007 10:46 AM

Hindsight may not be wisdom, but ignoring the lessons of the past is surely folly.

Posted by: briwei at January 23, 2007 11:13 AM

James ... you kick ass. Hopefully you won't mind me referencing this tomorrow (with credit of course) ... this is great analysis.

Posted by: Keri at January 23, 2007 8:12 PM

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