Former Bush Speechwriter Reviews Iraq Address
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Joining us now is a former speechwriter for President Bush, David Frum. He was a speechwriter during the president's first term. He's now a columnist for the political journal National Review. He joins us from Washington.
David Frum, welcome back to the program.
Mr. DAVID FRUM (National Review): Thank you, Alex.
CHADWICK: Your general impression of the speech as a speech?
Mr. FRUM: As a speech, it was fine. It was important above all for what it did not say. The omissions are always a little hard to evaluate, but they are the most eloquent part. It was widely predicted that this would be the speech in which the president began to climb away from his commitment to the war in Iraq, and he did not do that. And the thing he did not say is the headline.
CHADWICK: The thing that he did not say. He didn't say, `Hey, I agree. We need to get out, and here's the date that I'm looking at.'
Mr. FRUM: He didn't say that. He said he recommited. `We're continuing till we win. We're not rigid.' I mean, he wanted not to be trapped into saying `Stay the course'--means do the same thing over and over again. This is exactly the kind of speech that he ought to have been giving all along, more detail about what's happening on the ground.
CHADWICK: He quoted a letter in his closing, a very eloquent one, I thought, from a Marine corporal, Jeff Starr, who died fighting in Ramadi earlier this year. The corporal said he knew what he was fighting for and his sacrifice would be worth it. The president went on to say this.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: There's only one way to honor the sacrifice of Corporal Starr and his fallen comrades, and that is to take up their mantle, carry on the fight and complete their mission.
(Soundbite of applause)
CHADWICK: David Frum.
Mr. FRUM: Well, that is extremely emotional and powerful. What the president is doing here, though, is he is changing the subject back. You know, one of the things that is weird about the Bush administration is it goes through these long periods of silence where it just doesn't communicate regularly with the American people. In those weeks and months in which the president doesn't talk, he loses control of the conversation. And so we have switched over the past two or three months from a conversation about how do we succeed in Iraq, what is the goal, what are the markers of success, a conversation which Democrats were joining. He went silent and then the conversation became one about withdrawal. And now the president is reasserting himself into the argument and saying, `No, this is an argument about success.'
Now that doesn't mean he's succeeding and that doesn't mean everybody has to applaud what he's doing, but he's got us back talking about a different subject, and that's really important. And invoking the sacrifice of a soldier is a way of reminding people this is not Bush's war; this is a national war. And this is not a war that Democrats joined until the president's poll numbers began to sink. The Democrats who voted for this war voted to fight it through to the end, one presumes.
CHADWICK: One of the Democrats who did vote for this war gave the Democratic response after the president's speech today, Senator John Kerry, his opponent in the last election. Let's hear just a bit of what he said.
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Our own generals are telling the president that our presence in large numbers is part of the problem and that you have to begin to reduce that. The president did not acknowledge that today, but gave us the same talk about simply staying as long as it takes to get them to stand up.
CHADWICK: So the debate is not going to go away. And are people going to be listening more to Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry?
Mr. FRUM: Well, I think that speech of Senator Kerry's was not very nimble. The president didn't give the speech exactly that Senator Kerry was expecting so his response, I think, was off-key. The president didn't say stay the course. In fact, he repudiated the idea. If stay the course means we don't evolve, he repudiated that idea.
And he did acknowledge that the importance of making sure that the American presence in Iraq is less intrusive. That means detailing the work of patrols to Iraqi troops, and that is something, you know, many of us on the right have been criticizing the president for not early on--not arriving with an Iraqi partner ready to go, not having enough of a trained force of Iraqis because, of course, it was never going to work to have boys from Iowa and Nebraska and Georgia and New York clumping down Iraqi streets in combat uniforms, not speaking the language, not being attuned to the culture and history of the place, knocking on peoples' doors asking `Where are the terrorists?' That was never going to work.
CHADWICK: Political writer and former White House speechwriter David Frum.
David, thank you for being with us again.
Mr. FRUM: Thanks for the invitation.
CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY on NPR News.