Bush On Iraq

I’ll be liveblogging the President’s speech on Iraq tonight. Advance word is that President Bush admits that the current policy in Iraq has failed, and that a change in course is necessary. He advocates not only a surge in troops, but less restrictive rules of engagement that allow our troops to be more proactive in attacking the enemy rather than reacting to enemy attacks. He also has some tough words for Syria and Iran.

Bush has the most difficult challenge of his Presidency ahead. He’s lost the American people on Iraq, even those who normally support him. We cannot afford failure in Iraq, but the President has to convince the American people that he has a plan that will restore some semblance of order to the ravaged nation. That will be a rather tall order. Bush needs to channel his inner Churchill tonight, which he hasn’t been able to so far. If he does, it could help get the American people behind the war effort — if not, al-Qaeda will be that much closer to the greatest victory they have ever had.


The President is speaking from the White House Library.

The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people – and it is unacceptable to me. Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.

The President is right to say this. The situation in Iraq has not gone as we would have liked, and Bush is the Commander in Chief.

And one message came through loud and clear: Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.

Implicit in that statement is that the advocates of defeat, such as Senator Kennedy, are advocating for a defeat for this country, not just Bush.

The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad’s nine districts. When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades committed to this effort – along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations – conducting patrols, setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.

The problem here is whether we can trust the Iraqi police or not — the Interior Ministry forces are heavily infiltrated by the sectarian militias like the Mahdi Army. Will the people of Baghdad trust them? If they see them as potential members of death squads, I wouldn’t, and neither would they.

So I have committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. The vast majority of them – five brigades – will be deployed to Baghdad. These troops will work alongside Iraqi units and be embedded in their formations. Our troops will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs.

Five brigades is about what it’s going to take, plus a little in reserve. It’s still going to be a long, tough fight. Especially in places like Sadr City.

In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence. This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter these neighborhoods – and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.

Let’s hope al-Maliki is held to that, even if it means holding a gun to his head — figuratively or otherwise.

This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering.

And the media will naturally assist them in their propaganda campaigns…

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

In other words, this is a veiled threat to al-Maliki — either you fix the situation, or we throw you to the wolves. Unfortunately, that’s about all we can do. Our commitment simply can’t be open-ended, and if we have to get harsh with the al-Maliki government, then that’s what we have to do.

To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.

Does Bush mean an oil trust plan? Because if so, that’s a very good idea.

We will help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped Army – and we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq. We will give our commanders and civilians greater flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance. We will double the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams. These teams bring together military and civilian experts to help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen moderates, and speed the transition to Iraqi self reliance. And Secretary Rice will soon appoint a reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq.

It almost sounds like Bush has been listening to the bloggers covering Iraq — these are all suggestions that warbloggers have been pushing for some time. I think they’ll work — the real solution in Iraq has to come from the ground up, and giving our military more authority is crucial towards making lives easier in Iraq.

Our military forces in Anbar are killing and capturing al Qaeda leaders – and protecting the local population. Recently, local tribal leaders have begun to show their willingness to take on al Qaeda. As a result, our commanders believe we have an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the terrorists. So I have given orders to increase American forces in Anbar Province by 4,000 troops. These troops will work with Iraqi and tribal forces to step up the pressure on the terrorists. America’s men and women in uniform took away al Qaeda’s safe haven in Afghanistan – and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq.

Al-Anbar is a very big area — 4,000 troops isn’t much – but we have made progress and we are getting some good support from local tribal leaders who are sick of foreign jihadis screwing up their lives. Hopefully that will be enough to make a difference.

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity – and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

This is quite a threat, especially when he says that we’re adding another Carrier Battle Group to the region. The Iranians are making threats against the Straights of Hormuz, and that means we need to have the seapower to disrupt any potential Iranian plans in that area.

It is in the interests of the United States to stand with the brave men and women who are risking their lives to claim their freedom – and help them as they work to raise up just and hopeful societies across the Middle East.

From Afghanistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian Territories, millions of ordinary people are sick of the violence, and want a future of peace and opportunity for their children. And they are looking at Iraq. They want to know: Will America withdraw and yield the future of that country to the extremists – or will we stand with the Iraqis who have made the choice for freedom?

That is the question of our times — not only for the people of Iraq, but our future as well. What we do now will have profound effects on the sort of world we leave following generations.

Let me be clear: The terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are without conscience, and they will make the year ahead bloody and violent. Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue – and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties. The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will.

He’s right: even victory won’t look like victory in the conventional sense. Counterinsurgency is a difficult, dangerous business. The next few months will be rough, but that’s what it takes to prevent a greater disaster.

Many are concerned that the Iraqis are becoming too dependent on the United States – and therefore, our policy should focus on protecting Iraq’s borders and hunting down al Qaeda. Their solution is to scale back America’s efforts in Baghdad – or announce the phased withdrawal of our combat forces. We carefully considered these proposals. And we concluded that to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale. Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.

He’s right: withdrawal now is irresponsible and would tear Iraq apart. We cannot afford that cost, and those who advocate it frequently ignore the consequences of their positions.

Acting on the good advice of Senator Joe Lieberman and other key members of Congress, we will form a new, bipartisan working group that will help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror. This group will meet regularly with me and my Administration, and it will help strengthen our relationship with Congress. We can begin by working together to increase the size of the active Army and Marine Corps, so that America has the Armed Forces we need for the 21st century. We also need to examine ways to mobilize talented American civilians to deploy overseas – where they can help build democratic institutions in communities and nations recovering from war and tyranny.

It’s a nice idea — but the Democrats won’t play along.

Fellow citizens: The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice, and resolve. It can be tempting to think that America can put aside the burdens of freedom. Yet times of testing reveal the character of a Nation. And throughout our history, Americans have always defied the pessimists and seen our faith in freedom redeemed. Now America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can and we will prevail.

Americans don’t back down from a fight — and that’s why I think the defeatists misjudge the American character. This isn’t Vietnam, not even if some would like nothing better for it to be — and those who advocate defeat advocate a weaker America.


Glenn Reynolds wonders why Bush hadn’t advocated the oil trust idea before. I wish I knew, but it’s better late than never.

Senator Dick Durban is giving the Democratic response to Bush’s speech. Senator Durban is advocating an American defeat, and trying to dump everything on the Iraqi people. That’s nice, but if Iraq fails, we fail. They can’t “stand and defend their own nation” when foreign powers are trying to rip their country apart. It’s arrogant of us to try to advocate them to do everything when we started this conflict. Especially when Bush made it quite clear that we’re pressuring al-Maliki to reform. If he believes 20,000 more troops is not enough, let him suggest how many it would take. Surrender is not an option.

Captain Ed also live-blogged the speech and offers his analysis.

Power Line considers the President’s change in strategy.

Over at The Daily Kos there’s an in-depth discussion of the ramifications of Bush’s policy… no, wait, it’s just more of the same infantile banter.

Kevin Drum wonders if Bush is planning to clean out Sadr City when Prime Minister al-Maliki is in bed with the Sadrists. My guess is that Bush made al-Maliki quite aware that if he doesn’t play ball, he’ll be one of the first against the wall when things go to hell. At least that’s what I hope, since the only way to get Iraq running is to clean out Sadr City.

Welcome Instapundit readers!

I’m watching Hannity and Colmes (I know, but someone has to do it). Rudy Giuliani was on earlier making the pro-war case, and now Tom Vilsack is on. (And as an aside, Kirsten Powers is a bit easier on the eyes than Alan Colmes — if I were Mr. Colmes, I wouldn’t be going on many vacations…) The Democratic response seems to be centered around letting the Iraqis deal with the situation. I’d love to see them be consistent in that — why isn’t Ted Kennedy saying that refugees in Darfur shouldn’t stand up and fight back?

The Scoop Jackson/Harry Truman/JFK wing of the Democratic Party is truly dead. So much for a party that would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty” — now, it’s “screw them.”

Andrew Sullivan makes the same mistake he’s always made — to him, it’s still all about Bush. This isn’t just Bush’s plan, these are ideas that Bush has only reluctantly come to embrace. Sullivan wants to make this a personal plebiscite when what this is truly about is whether this war will lead to a more peaceful Middle East or a disaster that will lead to unimaginable consequences.

Sullivan might be right that the al-Maliki government is too far in bed with the Sadrists – I’ve wondered the same. However, I think that one of the undertones in this speech was that al-Maliki knows that his back is against the wall. If he doesn’t clean up this mess, Nouri al-Maliki will be one of the first people who gets killed when the country collapses. Never underestimate what happens when you make it clear to a politician that his own survival depends on playing ball.

Over at The Huffington Post they’re playing a ghoulish game. One would think that these people want us to lose — and they do.

Hugh Hewitt, playing true to type, heaps effusive praise on the President. I have to disagree. Bush said what he did, but his rhetoric never soared to the heights of a great wartime leader. He was reading a speech, and while I’ve little doubt he feels strongly on this issue, it didn’t show up tonight. Bush has suffered from many self-inflicted wounds over the past few years, and he’s just never been able to pull off the heights of rhetoric that would mark him as a truly great leader. Then again, given the sad state of American oratory, there are only a few who could say they’ve done better.

Meanwhile, Michael Ledeen wonders if we just declared war on Iran and Syria. I doubt it — we’re not in a position to do that, but you better believe we’re going to be more active in intercepting cross-border traffic from those countries into Iraq.

11 thoughts on “Bush On Iraq

  1. Implicit in that statement is that the advocates of defeat, such as Senator Kennedy, are advocating for a defeat for this country, not just Bush.

    Admitting defeat isn’t advocating defeat. The president doesn’t want to accept defeat, but he doesn’t want to do anything drastic to try to win. He has a politically-expedient strategy for prolonging defeat, not a strategy for winning.

    Bush admits he should have sent in more troops earlier, as military leaders (some forced into early retirement) were calling for. But that was back when things were much better than now, and they were calling for far more troops than Bush can commit without doing something politically unpopular. So now Bush is calling for a much smaller “surge” after things have gotten much, much worse. Even *powerline* admits that this doesn’t really seems like much of a new strategy, just an attempt to “shuffle the deck”. When the powerline dudes can’t bring themselves to brown nose Bush, you know things are looking grim.

  2. Which begs the question: what is the right strategy then? So far the Democrats have done little to suggest an alternative policy, instead preferring to carp from the sidelines.

  3. Which begs the question: what is the right strategy then? So far the Democrats have done little to suggest an alternative policy, instead preferring to carp from the sidelines.

    The right strategy? Not allowing for time travel so that we could go back and get Bush to listen to military advisors who were telling him a *large* increase in troop strength was needed, back before things got to such a grim state?

    Well, first of all, a situation *can* get so bad that there is no “right strategy”. Take a country to the brink of civil war, and at some point there’s no way to avoid disaster, no matter what you do.

    But let’s assume we’re not quite that close to the tipping point yet. Hopefully Bush’s “new strategy” (which isn’t new, and isn’t much of a strategy) doesn’t lead to our taking sides in a civil war. Not when we’d be backing a minority faction of the Islamic world, pitting ourselves against the majority in Saudi Arabia, etc. So let’s assume that suicidal option is off the table.

    Within those limitations, the “stay the course” approach, with a course that was poorly planned from the very beginning, leaves few options. Ethnic separation? Split the country into Kurdish/Shiite/Sunni regions, and help out with the logistics of mass migrations? That’s not entirely implausible, but it has a lot of huge risks. Turkey probably wouldn’t accept a Kurdish state (too many Kurds in Turkey would want to split off to be part of it). Among other things.

    A *significant* increase in troop strength is perhaps the only real option. Not a small percentage, like Bush is trying to get away with, but getting up to the levels that those who disagreed with Rummy and Wolfowitz and Cheney said would be necessary, or since things are far worse now than when those estimates were made, even more. Shinseki for example said we’d need “several hundred thousand” and that was *before the war started*, projecting what we’d need from the start to do it right. (He lost his job for saying so, of course.)

    But that would require real sacrifice. It would require that the US be on a war footing, and not just with hollow words about “we’re at war.” It would require a draft. It would be politically unpopular. So instead what we get is a mini-surge, and a “new strategy” that even the powerliners admit isn’t really new, that the joint chiefs of staff didn’t support prior to the commander in chief giving them no real choice about it, etc., etc.

  4. Besides, even if the Democrats were to propose an alternate strategy, what chance is there that the Administration will adopt it? There’s word out there that the ISG went down the drain because whatever policy they proposed didn’t square with what the White House wanted.

    Speaking of “paying any price, bearing any burden”…why is it that you only feel the Democrats have to do that? I heard him talk about sacrifice, but where is he showing it? I don’t see the twins suiting up, or George P. I’m not saying they have to join the 82nd Airborne, but, shoot, even FDR’s kids joined up in WW2. How come the only people that I see sacrificing are me and my brother? What’s the rest of the country putting on the line?

    I like what Bobb proposes; there’s no earthly chance that will take place, though.

    As an Iraq war vet, I’m despairing of this. This isn’t a way forward to victory; this is my former Commander-in-Chief trying to save his political skin, and I feel like a pawn, as does my brother, getting ready to go back for a third time. I’m glad he took some responsibility; I wish that his speech had really been a way forward. It’s not even a strategy; it’s some tactical card-shuffling.

    You mention al-Maliki. Yeah, I’m not so optimistic. He’s at heart a creature of the Dawa party (the most pro-Iranian Shi’ite party). You seriously think this guy’s gonna go from Frank Pierce to Abe Lincoln on our say so? Besides, I heard the President talk about all this stuff that al-Maliki’s going to do in Parliament–how? The Parliament hasn’t even met for three or four months because they can’t meet a quorum, on account of Moqtada al-Sadr and his people not showing up.

    I’m done with this…I’m just sad, and I want this to end, because clearly no one in a position to do something wants to do something worth doing.

  5. A call for 500,000 troops is a call for doing nothing. There aren’t 500,000 troops available. Never was. Keeping 130,000 in Iraq on a continuous basis is a strain.

    Thus the Rummy complaint: “You go to war with the army you have…..”

  6. I grow weary of divisive Republicans saying Democrats want America to lose this war. I’d like a Republican to say that kind of crap to my face one day…

  7. A call for 500,000 troops is a call for doing nothing. There aren’t 500,000 troops available.

    A recognition that 500,000 troops would be needed to stabilize a country in the midst of a civil war, plus a recognition that we don’t have 500,000 troops available, is a recognition that there is no winning solution.

    But of course, that we don’t have them available doesn’t mean we couldn’t change that (even setting aside that 500k is above any estimate I’ve seen). Not overnight, from 2001 to 2007 is not “overnight”. The problem is that the war proponents aren’t willing to say that we should be on a war footing. They want everything here to be as if it were peacetime. And under those conditions, we can’t substantially increase the size of the military. And under those restrictions, we can’t even come up with the *lowest* number of troops any military estimate said would be needed to secure *just Baghdad* (letting the insurgents go sit out the storm in other cities, if they want). It would be like a bad joke, if it weren’t a joke with such a high cost.

    Thus the Rummy complaint: “You go to war with the army you have…..”

    Yes, but the army you have five years later doesn’t have to be the army you started with, unless you ignore everyone who disagrees with you and try to get by on the cheap, hoping things will work out even as the evidence tells you otherwise …