TCS Daily

That Bloody, Bloody Flag

By Ryan H. Sager - June 30, 2005 12:00 AM

It was a speech the content of which proved its own irrelevance. Sagging poll numbers brought President Bush to Fort Bragg, but the words he spoke there made it clear that no poll ever taken will shake this administration's resolve in the course it has set for Iraq.

That could be good, or it could be bad -- Bush certainly still seems to have some blind spots, or spots where he hopes to keep the public blind -- but if the American people re-elected Bush to stay the course in the War on Terror, they are getting what they asked for, in spades.

The president offered little that was new Tuesday night, but that's only because the administration's thinking has been so simple from the start: We will not wait to be attacked again at home, we will not retreat at the sight of sacrifice and we will no longer accept the tyranny of the status quo in the Middle East.

And, of course, "from the start" means "since 9/11" -- an aspect of the president's speech that seems to have sent liberals who listened to it into immediate apoplexy. After Bush finished speaking, Paula Zahn on CNN commented on how Bush's multiple references to 9/11 would leave him open to criticism from Democrats (a comment that was, in and of itself, a thinly veiled criticism). Hours later, The New York Times went to press with an editorial excoriating the president for raising "the bloody flag of 9/11" and accusing him of "coloring" Iraq with the memory of that day.

And, yes, how ridiculous of the president to tie the largest terrorist attack ever on the American homeland to the current front in the War on Terror. How frivolous of him to presume that the defining event of our era has anything whatsoever to do with the current conflict.

Or, perhaps, is it possible that references to 9/11 so distress Democrats because there is a kernel of truth in Karl Rove's suggestion that "conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers"?

Not, mind you, because there's any literal truth to the Rove statement -- outside of those fringes of the left where people don't believe in concepts like "literal truth" -- but because few Democrats have ever offered a tough, compelling alternative to the Republicans' response.

After all, just what is the Democratic alternative to the current approach in Iraq? Plenty of Democrats, and a few jittery Republicans, have taken to nattering on about how the administration should set a "timetable" for withdrawal from Iraq.

Bush dispatched with this silly argument pretty effectively, saying: "Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong signal to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out."

And the most serious Democrats -- that being those who have their eyes on the White House in three and a half years -- already seem to agree with Bush on this point. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have opposed any timetable. Meanwhile, in a theoretically "critical" op-ed in The New York Times on Tuesday, before the president spoke, Sen. John Kerry called on Bush only to "announce immediately that the United States will not have a permanent military presence in Iraq."

If such wasn't already clear, it certainly is now, after Bush telling the world that "as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

Which, as it so happens, all circles back to that bloody, bloody flag The New York Times and others are so upset about the president waving.

The most crucial paragraphs of Bush's speech came right at the beginning. "The war reached our shores on Sept. 11, 2001," the president said. "The terrorists believe that free societies are essentially corrupt and decadent and, with a few hard blows, they can force us to retreat."

This is what Bush is talking about when he refers to "the lessons of September the 11th." Those lessons include the fact that terrorism isn't simply mindless hatred made physical -- it is violence against civilians with the goal of achieving political ends. We were attacked because Osama bin Laden and his fanatic friends thought America was a paper tiger that would run from the Middle East at the first sight of danger. They miscalculated. Instead, 9/11 triggered America redoubling its engagement in the Middle East.

And perhaps that has something to do with why we haven't been attacked since.

Skeptics of the war in Iraq may have been right that the cost would end up being higher than the benefit. But now that we're in Iraq, it seems clear as day that we can't once again lead the terrorists to believe that we're weak by withdrawing from a war we're winning.

For all his faults -- such as continuing to assert that "commanders on the ground" don't want more troops -- Bush made a compelling case Tuesday night to show the terrorists that in their belief that they can cow us with TV-ready bloody theatrics, "They are mistaken."

Ryan Sager is a member of the editorial board of The New York Post. He also edits the blog Miscellaneous Objections and can be reached at



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