Remember those meandering, impossibly dry, philosophical SOTU speeches we'd all grown so tired of by this time last year? Mike Gerson, ex-chief scribbler and current crazed religious zealot/nondescript advisor to the president, used to write 'em. They were heavy on vision and big ideas (see: democracy, marching, freedom, karate, Jesus, etc). After that, things got a tad hazy. Details were never Gerson's bag, though he was an amazing writer, and penned, in my opinion, one of the best presidential speeches in recent memory, Bush's "special relationship" remarks before the John Locke Society in England, in 2004. Now it's Bill McGurn's turn behind the man behind the dais, and it doesn't look good. McGurn is a conservative hack writer and pundit who relishes domestic programs like the dead-on-arrival "ownership society"; unfortunately, he's writing speeches for a foreign policy president who needs to remind the American public (in detail!) of the tough choices staring it in the face.
First up: Iraq. Sorry, but we ain't leaving, folks. The current troop draw-down measures have taken place only in parts of the country outside the perilous Green Zone, notably the Kurdish north. That's because a) the Kurdish peshmerga can actually fight for itself, b) the Iraqi army, contra Rumsfeld, can still only operate where there is close to zero chance of it inciting a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis (like protected areas of western Iraq, becalmed by large Marine contingents), and c) everybody else is getting the hell outta Dodge. So an American force, numbering at least 100, 000, will be necessary for a couple more years, barring, I don't know, a complete cessation of all ethnic, religious, and sectarian differences among the Iraqi people.
Iran. It's like Iraq, but with a different letter and slightly more Jew-hating. This one's tough. There's no reason this "axis of evil" member should be permitted to enrich uranium and develop Da Bomb. However, the Bush administration has severely bungled the initial stages of diplomacy in this matter. Now the US is five years away from a nuclear-armed rogue state between two of its pet projects and the soft power methods available to State and Defense seem completely lost on leading White House officials like Condi Rice. It's time to spell out sanctions. All together now: O-I-L E-M-B-A-R-G-O. Oh, and gas prices will rise in the interim, that you can count on. Time to be straight with Americans, Mr. President. And don't forget to dangle that military option.
And finally -- Global warming is for real. Sure, we can study it some more, but only insofar as our research creates a more fertile (and profitable) ground for alternatives to our current fossil fuel dependence. This too may take years. Stupid pork-barrel and Ted-Stevens'-wet-dream spending projects like drilling in Alaska won't do much to put a dent in long-term energy prices. Actual competition, not cronyism, is what will lead to a greater domestic incentive for hybrid vehicles and cleaner factories. But, until then, the Congress can force Detroit to make good on its fuel-efficiency proposal and drive down our increasing demand for Middle East oil.
The world is suddenly a very dangerous place again. Let's hope this president can better articulate the hard choices facing this nation, and where we go from here.