By DAVID FRUM
LOS ANGELES TIMES
The president is going to talk about Iraq again. He's going to have to. The problem is not that his speech last Tuesday night failed to quell his critics: No speech could have done that. The problem is that his speech failed to reassure his worried supporters.
Those of us who support this president and this war do not need to be told how important it is to win. We get that. However, that's precisely why we are worried -- because every day brings terrible news that makes us fear that the war is being lost.
The president says progress is being made in Iraq. He's right about that as it happens. However, his words would be more convincing if he gave some examples. He could have cited the capture of three of the top insurgent leaders over the last three months, including Abed Dawood Suleiman (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's top military aide), Muhammad Khalaf Shakar (the leader of the Mosul Al-Qaida cell) and his aide, Hussein Alaiwi Ibrahim.
The president could have talked about the capture of weapons caches, the discovery of an insurgent torture chamber with four shackled Iraqi victims, and the rescue of Australian hostage Douglas Wood. He might have quoted Wood's words after the rescue -- "God bless America" -- and mentioned Wood's continuing faith that the Anglo-Australian-U.S. mission in Iraq remains worthwhile.
Needing a plan
Americans want to hear a plan for victory. It's good that U.S. forces are training Iraqis. And yes, as Iraqi forces become more capable, it's logical that U.S. forces would stand down. However, as Winston Churchill said after Dunkirk, "wars are not won by evacuations." And they aren't won by resolve alone either. We have a full-scale terrorism war on our hands in Iraq, a bigger war than the administration expected, backed by at least one regional government, Syria's, and abetted by another, Iran's.
On Sept. 20, 2001, the president said: "From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."
Have those words been abandoned? If not, what consequences will these hostile regimes face?
Bush's advisers tell him that public support for a war is affected less by the casualty toll and much more by the public perception that success is achievable. Success in Iraq is achievable.
Last week, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a fierce early critic of the administration's strategy, returned from Iraq to offer optimistic briefings about the skills of Iraqi security forces and the internal weakness of the insurgents. In late June, the International Herald Tribune reported an outbreak of violence between insurgent factions near Karabilah along the border with Syria.
Yet despite all the positive trends, many Americans are losing their optimism.
They want facts, details and vision from their leader -- and they are getting only unconvincing assertions.
Henry Kissinger has quipped that in the Clinton years, the explanations were always better than the policies. In the Bush administration, unfortunately, the reverse is becoming true. And in a democracy, a policy that is not effectively explained is a policy that cannot endure.
X Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and and co-author of "An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror."