by Rod D. Martin
January 23, 2007

Shorter than many, it was a good speech, even if it was less thematic than originally billed.  The response was polite, but not especially enthusiastic.  Even so, the degree to which the Democrats were at least polite certainly beat years past.

Once again, it’s very hard to see how the Democrats can spin the health plan as a tax increase — it is anything but.  Nevertheless they will, and conservatives need to fight this.  The reforms George Bush just outlined could have a transformative effect on health care in this country, all for the staggering good. And if they fail (or rather, if we allow them to be defeated), the pressure for socialized medicine will grow much, much stronger.

Fiscal discipline and a balanced budget are right on, but economic growth must not be impeded to achieve either.  A tax hike would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.  Democrats are salivating over the prospect of raising taxes and smearing the President with this.  We must not let them, for all our sakes.

Finally the defense and foreign policy stuff is right on.  It is good for this President to own up to the problems in Iraq:  it would be better to own up to the fact that his State Department — not his Defense Department — created most of them.  The troop surge is good, the call to first principles — of securing the blessings of liberty for our friends in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as for ourselves and our children — is exactly right.  But time is indeed running short, not militarily abroad but politically at home (it is shameful to have to write such words).

One last point:  most of the President’s difficulties in Iraq could have been avoided had he just chosen to go to Congress in 2003 and, following the Constitution, declare war.  Many seem to think of this as archaic, and I’ll admit that I get the legal argument as to why it was not strictly necessary in this particular case.  But weaseling through on a technicality was, especially in pragmatic retrospect, stupid as hell.  Had there been a declaration of war, everything would now be different:  we wouldn’t be talking about “losing” because our total, absolute, three-week victory would be enshrined now in an unconditional surrender signed in April 2003 by a senior Iraqi official.  We would now be in the formal post-surrender occupation phase, and that could not be spun as ‘losing’ the war.  And the way we end our obligation in an occupied country with which we’ve signed a peace treaty is well understood, well laid out ground.  No one could say they “don’t know why we’re there”.

This was, in retrospect, the single biggest missed opportunity in Iraq.  It’s a lesson we better learn for the future.