President Bush’s Monday speech at the Army War College successfully set forth U.S. strategy for bringing peace and democracy to Iraq. Countering critics who maintain that the administration doesn’t have a postwar plan, Mr. Bush articulated a five-step process for handing over sovereignty, rebuilding infrastructure, maintaining security, garnering international assistance and moving toward free elections and representative government. It is a plausible vision intended to demonstrate his resolve to a shaky Congress and doubtful Iraqis. Now the president needs to make another speech assuring Americans that we are making progress and that success in Iraq is a matter of national security here at home.
Yesterday’s address was one of a series of weekly speeches Mr. Bush will make through June 30. Making the commander in chief more public is a response to supporters of the Iraq war who have advised the White House that the case for staying the course hasn’t been successfully communicated to the public. To this end, Mr. Bush needs to reach out to a larger national audience than he did two days ago. An Oval Office address that is carried by the television broadcast networks would achieve this. Monday’s speech was seen by just 5 million to 12 million Americans because it was carried on cable only. An Oval Office address could reach 35 million to 50 million Americans.
A president can only take advantage of a few opportunities to address the country over a national broadcast. But it is the largest platform a president can get to explain U.S. policy, and what we are doing in Iraq needs to be clarified. The president’s approval rating is now the lowest it has ever been, and this is in large part due to creeping public opinion that the situation in Iraq may be spinning out of control. The mission’s success depends on the support of the American people. A national address could help assuage undecided Americans and those who supported the war but are now confused or wavering in their commitment.
A national presidential address would need to focus on the successes achieved and why a stabilized Iraq is essential to the war on terror and a secure America. The average American needs to understand that freedom and democracy in Iraq set an example for the greater Middle East and end Iraq’s availability as a base of operations for terrorists. On Monday, Mr. Bush said the United States will use “measured force or overwhelming force to achieve a stable Iraq.” We suspect it will be necessary to use overwhelming force to vanquish insurgencies in the coming months. A better popular understanding of U.S. policy would make it easier for Americans to accept possible military escalation in Iraq.