Like many columnists who listened to President Bush beseech the nation for one more chance to turn disaster into victory in Iraq, I scrambled to find some thoughtful people to help me put his words into proper perspective.

“The new strategy I outline tonight will change America’s course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror,” Bush said Wednesday night in a televised address to the nation.

To me, at least, the “new” strategy the president unveiled sounded a lot like a warmed-over version of his old war plan — the one that got this nation stuck in the middle of a civil war in the country he set out to liberate.

But rather than rely solely on my reaction to his speech, I decided to subject Bush’s words to a higher test — to see how they would hold up against the thoughts of some of this nation’s great thinkers. The voices I settled on have long ago left this life, but their wisdom is immortal, especially when matched up with what Bush said.

Listen. The president said victory for U.S. forces in Iraq “will bring something new in the Arab world — a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people.”

But as former Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., once the nation’s most powerful black elected official, wisely said: “Freedom is an internal achievement rather than an external adjustment.”

In his address, Bush warned that victory in Iraq “requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges.”

“This begins with addressing Iran and Syria,” Bush said. “These two regions are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq,” he said.

In the past, the president used a different standard to measure victory in Iraq.

First it was getting rid of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction — weapons, it turned out, he didn’t have. Then it was defeating al Qaida in Iraq, so we wouldn’t have to fight that terrorist organization on the streets of America. More recently, it was ending Iraq’s sectarian violence so the country’s fledgling democracy can make it on its own. Now, the president wants to stop Iran and Syria from getting a foothold in Iraq.

All of this brings to mind what H.L. Mencken once said.

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins,” warned the columnist and social commentator known as “the sage of Baltimore.”

In essence, there isn’t much new in Bush’s new plan for victory in Iraq. It involves a continued over-reliance on America’s military to take the fight to the enemy, another attempt to get Iraq’s government and military to do what it’s so far proved incapable of doing, and an old scare tactic: suggesting that the fighting in Iraq is the only thing that keeps hordes of terrorists from descending on the United States.

Long before Bush became this nation’s 43rd president, our 16th president offered up a bit of wisdom that is a fitting rejoinder to this part of Bush’s speech.

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time,” Lincoln is said to have mused.

In closing his address, Bush said solemnly: “The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice and resolve.”

That was the setup for his appeal to Americans for another chance to claim victory in the war he started in Iraq.

It was just this kind of stubborn resolve that moved Albert Einstein to explain that insanity “is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

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