The most salient point to emerge from the president's recent speech on Iraq was the new rationale he put forward for continuing to support him and his policies: effective management of his own failures.
Consider the trajectory.
Originally, the case for war was built on claims about the Iraqi regime's possession of weapons of mass destruction and its support for terrorist groups like al qaida. To a lesser degree, but with increasing force as these other rationales faded way, the case was made on the basis of democratizing and liberalizing Iraq.
As that prospect too has become increasingly distant and improbable, President Bush has taken a fundamentally different tack. His emphasis now is seldom on what good might come of his Iraq policy but rather the dire consequences of its unmitigated 'failure' or its premature abandonment.
In other words, the president now argues that he is best equipped to guard the country from the full brunt of the consequences of his own misguided actions, managerial incompetence and dishonesty.
Strip away the chatter and isn't that pretty much the argument? Who will best be able to avert the worst case scenario end result of my policy?
It has now become close to a commonplace that John Kerry's policies differ little from President Bush's. Where is the difference, we hear, since both candidates are for an openness to greater troop deployment, a fuller role for the United Nations and the country's traditional allies, and dropping support for the exilic hucksters who helped scam the country in the first place.
This is a weak argument on several grounds. But the most glaring is that what we see now isn't the president's policy. It's the president's triage -- his team's ad hoc reaction to the collapse of his policy, the rapid, near-total, but still incomplete and uncoordinated abandonment of his policy.
The president's actions, if not his words, concede that Iraq has become the geopolitical equivalent of a botched surgery -- botched through some mix of the misdiagnosis of the original malady and the incompetence of the surgeon. Achieving the original goal of the surgery is now close to an afterthought. The effort is confined to closing up as quickly as possible and preventing the patient from dying on the table. And now the 'doctor', pressed for time and desperate for insight, stands over the patient with a scalpel in one hand and the other hurriedly leafing through a first year anatomy text book.
Next up, what does 'failure' in Iraq mean?