Bush's Kitchen-Sink Address

In his lackluster State of the Union address last night, President Bush defined America’s military actions in the Middle East as the “defining challenge of our time” and yet overall, Bush offered no credible plan that could lead to an improvement

In his lackluster State of the Union address last night, President Bush defined America's military actions in the Middle East as the "defining challenge of our time" and yet overall, Bush offered no credible plan that could lead to an improvement in America's circumstances.

Yet again, Bush hyped the fear that Americans should feel from terrorists, who, he said, "want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty."  He stated that "this war is more than a clash of arms-it is a decisive ideological struggle, and the security of our nation is in the balance."

Despite the admission by the president that America faces "devastating consequences" for failure-something he might have thought more seriously about before launching this war-he continues to pursue national security on the cheap.

He talked about increasing the size of the overall military and sending more troops to Iraq while also telling Americans that he can balance the budget and do so without raising taxes. The troop levels he called for alone will cost at minimum another $30 billion in near-term money and obligate Americans to even greater outlays in long-term benefits for those soldiers. Not only is the president trying to grow the military by putting the costs into a mortgage that future generations will pay, he is not addressing the fact that the "security deliverables" coming from America's military portfolio, the most expensive military force in the world, are not sufficient to make Americans feel safe.  Something is broken and throwing more dollars and soldiers at the problem will not fix it.

Bush took a kitchen sink approach to America's problems- throwing nearly everything into the speech without structure or design-and mentioning all the parties good and bad in the Middle East from Shi'a extremists to Sunni, from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah. He mentioned the moderate Sunni regimes of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, paid lip service to wanting to establish Palestine, but offered nothing that offered a strategy for creating a new stable equilibrium of interests in the region. 

The president failed to sell any kind of new plan that involved a combination of diplomatic and political vision, combined with a reconstitution of key alliances and military and economic weight in the region that might bolster our ability to collectively reshape matters in the Middle East. 

Bush doesn't seem to get that one can't establish a Palestinian state without simultaneously negotiating with the Syrians.  He doesn't seem to get that knocking back Iran's pretensions in the region requires a rapprochement with Syria to put distance between Assad and Iran.  He doesn't seem to get that none of the major objectives we have in the region are possible without the robust support of Russia and China, two states we are not tending very well.

And Pakistan, already unstable in numerous ways, is a key player in any serious effort to try and contain a resurgent Al-Qaeda-friendly Taliban-and Pakistan wasn't even mentioned in the speech.

President Eisenhower, in these circumstances, would have convened the best and brightest to work through every last option among a set of competing plans, and tacked the direction that clearly had the best chance of working.  Nixon would have assembled a course that preserved America's key interests while trying to massage and re-order matters in the Middle East so that a new equilibrium was established that leap-frogged over the current quagmire. 

George W. Bush is tenaciously holding on to a plan that has already failed and is doubling up his bet, convinced that he is right and clearly not open to any foreign policy vision that isn't dependent on the hope and faith that we might just squeak by. There is nothing proactive in the president's course; we are on a reactive course now and because Bush continues to show the world the limits of our military and national security capacity, our foes are moving their agendas and our allies are not counting on us as much as they once did.

Steve Clemons is a senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. He also publishes the blog The Washington Note.

More National Interest online coverage of the State of the Union:

Ali Allawi on Iraq's State of DisUnion.

General William Odom on Middle East stability and the balance of power.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev on President Bush's untimely address.

Geoffrey Kemp on Bush's Critics from both sides of the aisle.

Paul J. Saunders on Bush's chimerical energy solutions.

Ximena Ortiz on the president's unique reality.

Ian Bremmer and Willis Sparks on Bush's one last chance in Iraq.