Bill Clinton, asked to name an international hero, never hesitates before citing Nelson Mandela. For George W. Bush, that ground is held by Ariel Sharon, a man who asserted that leaders have a moral obligation to take risks, that cold and timid souls who horde political capital as a cautious poker player minds his chips are unworthy of high office.
Bush is now all in on Iraq. He will shrug off the scorn of congressional skeptics and would-be successors. This is it, one last chance to show tangible success before his hand is folded for him.
His acknowledgement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was extraordinarily gracious. The warmth of his delivery suggested a Bush many had almost forgotten. But don't let the humbler, more bipartisan tone fool you: this president will not play defense. It's not in his nature. He believes that leadership can only be exercised from strength-and strength should be used to move the status quo.
But the president also worked during the speech to assuage the fears of those who suspect he now has little more than a nodding acquaintance with reality. "This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we're in", he noted, injecting a note of realism into calls on Congress to give his last best strategic hope a fighting chance. The president will now press forward- for better and for worse.
Ian Bremmer is president of the Eurasia Group and author of The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall. He is also a contributing editor to The National Interest. Willis Sparks is a research associate at Eurasia Group.