The general public, if they still care at all, watched President Bush’s State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, January 23. Almost everyone had an opinion, especially about the Iraq portion of the speech. Glenn Beck, the conservative talk show host on CNN, said 85% of the speech was “bull-crap,” the typical political stuff one expects. In some ways I agree. He also noted that the part of the speech that really mattered, about 10% of it, was the controversial part. This was the part about Iraq and America’s long term security in the world. Beck applauded the president and noted some amazing lines in the speech that were a clarion call to the leadership of this country to not run from the battle where the front is now engaged, namely in Iraq. I have wavered on this point but I am now convinced that this is true. I am not sure that we can win in Iraq. I am severely critical of how we pursued this battle for the last two years or so. I think military historian Thomas Ricks, in the best-seller Fiasco, got it about right. But walking away now strikes me as weak and, more importantly, truly wrong.
It seems Americans have given up on this effort, seeing it as a very bad mistake in the first place. In some way, which we do not all agree on, we want out of Iraq as soon as possible. Democrats believe they were elected to Congress last November to make sure that this happens but most of them do not want to cut off funding for troops already in harm’s way. The president seems to have the power to press on unless Congress tries measures it is not likely to employ. The debate will go on endlessly over the months ahead, creating more interpersonal conflict in our nation. (And this conflict will also impact our churches, where views are strong on both sides of this debate.) But I must remind anyone who knows history that this has almost always been the case with war. It has been said, “War is hell.” It is. But sometimes it is necessary hell, like it or not.
Modern Americans have bought into the lie that wars are easy, quick, and virtually painless. They should always turn out just fine. (The success of the Gulf War in 1991 tends to fuel this notion.) We were warned, following 9/11, that the years ahead, for our nation, would be very hard. I do not think we heard it. If we did we did not believe it. I still believe this is true and it will be so for my lifetime. President Bush may share some of the blame for not making his case more clearly in the past and for talking about a roaring economy during a major war effort. Furthermore, in this age of instant this and that 9/11 seems like ancient history to most people under forty.
Winston Churchill once said, during World War II, “that the whole-English speaking world