In a sobering, businesslike, 25-minute speech that aired during prime time Wednesday night (January 10), President Bush announced new plans for the war in Iraq. Those include the much-discussed addition of 21,500 troops, the demand that Iraqi forces
take over major combat operations by November and the infusion of $1 billion to help build up the country’s infrastructure.
“The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people and it is unacceptable to me,” Bush said during the speech, which had been delayed from late 2006 as he gathered more opinions and shook up his national security team . “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.”
Democrats opposed Bush immediately after the speech, with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin saying, “Twenty thousand American soldiers are too few to end this civil war in Iraq, and too many American lives to risk on top of the ones we’ve already lost.”
Roughly a year after addressing the nation to celebrate the parliamentary elections in Iraq , Bush admitted that the transition to democracy in the country had not gone as planned, that Iraqis had not come together and that the nation’s forces did not take over in a fashion that allowed American troops to stand down.
In fact, Bush said, “the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq’s elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.” The result, he said, was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues.
Bush had stated repeatedly that he would let military leaders on the ground decide the next step in the war – even though he seemingly ignored many of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, including its call for a phased withdrawal of all troops by 2008 . Bush said it is clear that a “new strategy” is needed. A big part of that strategy is the influx of more troops, which comes in opposition to the advice of many of the country’s top military leaders, who have said that the amount of troops Bush has called up is not enough to do the job and could cause the sectarian violence to actually increase .
In announcing his plan, Bush gave a harsh assessment of the situation in Iraq, blaming it both on mistakes in U.S. assumptions on how the war would unfold and on failures by the Iraqi government to follow up on its promises. He said part of the failure came in not having enough Iraqi and American troops on the ground to secure neighborhoods in Baghdad that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. Now Bush is calling for American troops to clear neighborhoods in Baghdad alongside Iraqi Army and National Police brigades, who will go door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents and have greater leeway to keep the neighborhoods secured, he said.
The plan to add 21,500 troops comes two months after Democrats swept to victory in midterm congressional elections . Democrats have claimed that the gains were due to public dissatisfaction with the increasing brutality and death toll in the war.
The president’s plan also contradicts the reported wishes of the Iraqi prime minister. When he met with Bush in Amman, Jordan, in November, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not ask for additional American troops. In fact, according to The Washington Post, his plan was for U.S. forces to reduce their profile, not raise it.
Before Bush gave the speech, several pundits painted it as something of a last-ditch effort to get things right in Iraq, 13 months after the administration unveiled its “Plan for Victory,” which was never executed . This time, Bush said, his plan will succeed because “we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared.”
According to ABC News, the tip of the “surge” began even as Bush was giving his speech, with 90 advance troops from the 82nd Airborne Division arriving in Baghdad on Wednesday. An additional battalion of about 800 troops from the same division were expected to arrive in Baghdad on Thursday. Bush called for the troops – which will cost $5.6 billion to mobilize – to help stabilize the country and for Iraqi forces to take over major combat operations in all of Iraq’s provinces by November. Prior to the speech, The Washington Post reported that members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were opposed to the increase in troops, but grudgingly went along with the plan because they were promised that the military escalation will be matched by renewed political and economic efforts in Iraq.
Democrats went on the offensive before Bush gave his address, condemning the call for more troops. “President Bush should not be permitted to escalate the war further and send an even larger number of our troops into harm’s way, without a clear and specific new authorization from Congress,” Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy said Tuesday. He went on to describe the Iraq war as “George Bush’s Vietnam.” The war has cost $400 billion, claimed more than 3,000 American troops and lasted longer than America’s involvement in World War II.
Bush also laid out a series of benchmark tasks for the Iraqi government to meet as far as taking responsibility for the nation’s security and economic initiatives, including a plan to distribute money from oil revenues to all the country’s ethnic sects and committing $10 billion of Iraq’s money to reconstruction.
The call for additional troops is likely to be met with more sharp criticism in the Senate and House, where Democrats have already introduced legislation proposing that no more soldiers be deployed or money spent on “escalating” the war without congressional approval. Though the scheduled debate next week in the Senate on the Bush plan is symbolic, it is aimed at expressing distaste for the White House’s plan, or, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly stated this week, its “lack of a clear plan.” Senate Democrats have already announced plans to hold hearings and propose a nonbinding resolution next week condemning the troop increase.
The new Bush plan also faces stiff opposition from the public, with a Gallup poll based on what the president was expected to announce finding that 61 percent of Americans opposed an increase of U.S. troops. CNN reported that an influential group of Sunni Muslim scholars in Iraq said the additional U.S. troops will likely result in the deaths of “many, many more innocent Iraqis.”
“The inability of 140,000 soldiers to achieve their goals in battle makes it unlikely that another 20,000 will be able to do that,” said a statement from the Association of Muslim Scholars.
Scott Keeter, director of survey research for the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, told MTV News after the address that the speech was not likely to sway public opinion on Iraq, as it is “pretty fixed on this topic.” He added: “I don’t think it was aimed at public opinion. I think it was aimed at people on the fence in Congress and other circles who are paying attention to the nitty-gritty details … which he got into.”
After rejecting the Study Group’s call to enter into dialogue with Iran and Syria, Bush said his new plan will prevent attacks on U.S. forces by disrupting the flow of support to terrorist and insurgents from those two countries. As part of that plan, Bush has ordered another carrier strike group to the region and has deployed a Patriot missile defense system to the area.
“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,” Bush said. “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?”
Admitting that the plan will not immediately end the violence and that the year ahead will be bloody and difficult, Bush said victory can still be achieved. But, he cautioned, “Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. But victory 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.
“A democratic Iraq will not be perfect,” he continued. “But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them, and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren.”