I WAS RECENTLY watching the movie "The American President" and had an epiphany.
In the climactic scene, where the president played by Michael Douglas addresses the media to finally take on the senator who wants his job, he says, "We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious men to solve them."
Then I thought of President Bush. I pondered over not just the obvious thought that he's not quite Michael Douglas, but that he is not a serious man about what is happening in Iraq, nor are there serious men or women around him to tackle this grave problem.
Last week, the president once again tried to explain his plan for "victory" in Iraq to the American people.
In a 45-minute speech, he elaborated on a White House paper put out the same day outlining the strategy for victory. Unfortunately, it was more or less received as a joke by the temperate people the president should be calling on.
A former Marine who served in Iraq, Andrew Borene, wrote on the Web site of America's largest Iraq war vets group, Operation Truth, "This is deja vu all over again. I was hoping the president would present some new strategic initiatives for rebuilding Iraq, but all I heard was the same rhetoric and lack of understanding that our enemies in the insurgency are far more complicated than can be described by referring to them as 'terrorists and Saddamists.' "
Paul Rieckhoff, a former infantry platoon leader in Iraq who heads up Operation Truth, said there were two serious shortcomings in the plan - the lack of clear metrics that define goals and a timeline. Paul Bucha, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and Vietnam veteran, echoes that, saying both are important to achieving a mission and keeping morale.
It's easy to say that critics of the president's speech and his plan are the ones who aren't the serious ones - that they only see the bad and not the good.
They are the ones, backers of the administration say, who have blinders on to all the progress being made. Just look, for instance, at the progress Iraqi military forces are making in getting trained and taking the lead in protecting their own democracy.
The president pointed to an example in the raid on Tal Afar where, he said, Iraqi battalions took the lead. Well, not quite.
<i>Time</i> magazine's Michael Ware, who was embedded with troops in that battle said, "They were not leading. They were being led by the U.S. Green Beret special forces with them."
OK, so maybe they aren't leading yet. But everyone in the administration, from the president on down, has pointed to a quickening in the pace in training Iraqi troops who are ready to maintain order in their country, right? Not really.
Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer disputed that claim in a media interview, according to the Associated Press. In fact, al-Yawer says that troop training has suffered a serious setback as Iraqi units head out to "settle scores."
For instance, the new Iraqi Army, dominated by Shiites, is conducting raids against Sunni communities, sometimes torturing Sunni detainees. Hardly the type of Army to hold together a fragile Iraqi democracy that seems to be perpetually on the precipice of civil war.
Every day that this war goes on is a day that the truth becomes clearer - the president and the company he keeps are either willingly ignorant about the truth on the ground in Iraq, or they choose to ignore the facts.
Either way, they can't be characterized as being serious about the war, nor can they be trusted to have a serious plan for victory.
So it's time for the president to call in people like Andrew Borene and Paul Rieckhoff who have served in this war.
It is time for him to call in the Vietnam veterans who can help the U.S. avoid making the same mistakes that we made 35 years ago.
Most of all, the president must call upon the expertise of people like Gens. Anthony Zinni and Eric Shinseki and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, all of whom sounded warnings that went unheard about the difficulties of a post-invasion Iraq.
Whether the president wants to see it or not, there are serious problems in Iraq. If he really gives a darn about the troops (which I assume he does), he'll call in the serious men (and women) to draft a real plan for Iraq.