He spun and he spun but President Bush got nowhere with his ballyhooed speech on the Iraq War last week. All his mighty spinning went for naught. He should have saved his breath.
Mere words cannot begin to undo the stark reality revealed in thousands of televised images of carnage; blood-letting so destructive and so brutal that even Americans can no longer pretend it is not occurring.
So in the final analysis it will not matter in the slightest that Fox News, Donald Rumsfeld, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Rush Limbaugh and Dubya himself are striving at peak creativity to put the most positive spin possible on what is going on in Baghdad. It isn't working.
Their words might succeed in misleading the public for a few more weeks; maybe even for another year or two. They might buy a teensy bit more leeway from restive voters and congressional critics.
But it doesn't make a whole lot of difference what does or doesn't happen in the U.S., because Mr. Bush simply cannot win his war where it really counts, in the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.
Let me say that another way. Dubya and his posse can tell us that "we're making progress" in this insane war, but he can't tell that to the Iraqi people because they know better. Two and a half years after we invaded their homeland they are still without basic services and are less secure and poorer than they ever were under Saddam. They are pitted against one another in tribal rivalries that would be called civil war anywhere else on the globe.
That ain't progress, Mr. President; that's a very nasty bog you've plunked us into.
So go ahead and patiently explain for the umpteenth time that "we are going to stay the course." Set your jaw firmly and gaze sternly into the camera as you declare: "We will not set a timetable for leaving." Make half a dozen irrelevant references to 9/11. None of that blather matters.
What you could have done, what honesty demanded you should have done, what you at some time (and the sooner the better) will have to do if you expect to be taken seriously, is define "victory" in Iraq so we'll know what you're aiming for. You never have, you know.
I mean, once it was clear that deposing Saddam was not a significant enough milestone to declare victory and leave, shouldn't we have (at least in general terms) defined what that significant enough milestone would be?
Is it when the insurgency runs out of volunteers for suicide bombing duty? Is it when the body count of dead insurgents hits 25,000? 250,000? 2,500,000? Any specific number? Is it when water and electricity have been restored to all the major cities? Is it when the Iraqi puppet government asks us to leave? Tells us to leave? Pays us to leave? What will be, in other words, the little telltale sign we're done?
I'm beginning to think that the plan all along may have been for this kind of fuzzy, ill-described, continuous, droning violence. The specter of Vietnam hangs over the whole enterprise: 10 or more years of lethal fumbling, for no discernible purpose.
But hell, it doesn't matter what I think might be going on. The only opinion that matters in this poll is the opinion of the Iraqi masses.
If they believe we are planning on staying in their country indefinitely, we've got a big problem. They will do (as we or any group in the world would) whatever it takes to drive us out.
If they see us as their occupiers and not their allies, they will become determined to push us out and they will eventually win and we will certainly lose. It might take the dozen years Rumsfeld is apparently prepared to fight, but we will have to leave in the end.
So why are we building half a dozen permanent military bases in Iraq? A casual observer might jump to the conclusion that it looks like we're planning on staying, based on that construction effort.
Whatever the Pentagon's strategic reasoning for those bases, they serve as gasoline on the fires of the insurgency. We sure look like occupiers. And the longer we stay, the worse we look.
The president is trapped in Iraq. He's defined leaving there as skipping-out on duty, and that's a corner from which there is no escape.
At the same time, we are running out of soldiers. Seventeen hundred troops are dead; 35,000 are wounded and shipped home; another number, possibly equally large, have been broken psychologically and cannot or will not fight any longer. Reenlistments are down and recruitment is dwindling so badly that standards are being revamped so the quotas won't be missed by too wide a margin.
This is a big-time disaster for Bush. It creates a golden opportunity for the Democrats to act like leaders, but only if they do what Dubya has stubbornly resisted doing: Tell the American and the Iraqi people honestly that we are not staying there indefinitely. Set a deadline and get out completely within that time frame.
You can't escape a bog by lingering aimlessly.