A 2-Month White House Debate On Iraq, Capped By 'The Big Push'

A 2-Month White House Debate On Iraq, Capped By 'The Big Push'
January 12th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: A 2-Month White House Debate On Iraq, Capped By 'The Big Push'

A 2-Month White House Debate On Iraq, Capped By 'The Big Push'
New York Times
January 12, 2007
Pg. 1

By Jim Rutenberg, David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 — Even before the November elections, President Bush and his national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, were informally discussing what Mr. Hadley was calling “the big push” — whether it made sense to make a show of increased American force in Baghdad to take back the city.
But when Mr. Hadley traveled to Iraq in late October, the commander there, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., repeated his frequent warning that to send more troops to Iraq could be counterproductive, because it might make the Iraqi government less likely to defend itself. By the time Mr. Bush met Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Jordan on Nov. 30, Mr. Maliki was insisting upon taking control over all Iraqi troops and urging the Americans to withdraw to the outskirts of his capital.
Over the past two months those diametrically opposed options — adding American troops, or pulling back to let the Iraqi factions fight it out — marked the boundaries of a vigorous debate inside the Bush administration. At one point, as Mr. Bush, Mr. Hadley, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the newly appointed secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, weighed their options, the president asked his deputies, in effect: “Why can’t we just pull out of Baghdad and let the factions fight it out themselves?”
Ultimately, the president and his advisers came back to the idea of adding American troops — the new approach they concluded was the best of a series of difficult choices, according to a senior administration official involved in the process.
A narrative pieced together from interviews with participants and from public testimony suggests that through much of the process, generals who had been on the ground in Iraq during the past year had favored that the new strategy begin with a substantially smaller force than the one that President Bush announced to the nation on Wednesday night. In the end, it was Mr. Bush who appeared to drive his commanders along to the conclusion that more troops were needed.
In an appearance before Congress on Thursday, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that General Casey had requested only two new American brigades, about 9,000 troops, for Baghdad, along with three Iraqi brigades. The White House gave him five brigades. Gen. John P. Abizaid, who heads the Central Command, was opposed to any increase in American troop levels until mid-November, when he became convinced that the economic commitments by both Iraq and the United States made it worth adding troops.
White House officials were clearly sensitive on Thursday about any suggestions that the president countermanded his generals, and said his new plan had their full support. They said the generals sought and received assurances that the Iraqis would undertake political initiatives and end the practice of releasing militia figures who were friends of the government and captured by American or Iraqi forces.
In public comments before the elections, Mr. Bush resisted calls for troop increases from some of his own supporters, saying his generals saw no such need. During an interview session with conservative columnists in September, Mr. Bush said: “If General Casey feels like he needs more troops, we’ll send them,” according to a transcript posted by The National Review. Asked by an interviewer, “What if he’s wrong?” Mr. Bush shot back, “Then I picked the wrong general.”
Still far ahead of Election Day, Mr. Bush had decided to oust Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Mr. Rumsfeld was seen by people inside and outside the administration as opposed to a major change. “It was clear Rumsfeld was committed to the strategy that he had employed from the beginning,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said. Several officials inside and outside the administration said Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure on Nov. 8 helped to empower Mr. Hadley, along with his deputy at the National Security Council, Jack D. Crouch, as they ran the review process inside the White House. Both said they considered many options. But Mr. Hadley was clearly focused on troop levels early on, suggesting in a Nov. 8 memorandum that the president should ask the Pentagon and General Casey to recommend whether more forces were needed in Baghdad.
Mr. Hadley believed from the start of the review that the administration’s approach through much of 2006 — that political reconciliation would lead to stability — was not working. “You have this Catch-22 element,” Mr. Hadley said in a conversation in his office before he took his late-October trip to Baghdad. “You can’t have security without political and economic progress, but it’s hard to have political and economic progress without security.”
One senior official involved in the discussions said that Mr. Bush’s instinct toward the start of the review process — and that of others — was to consider a withdrawal from Baghdad, allow Iraqi-vs.-Iraqi fighting to settle itself, and dedicate United States forces to focus on pursuing Qaeda fighters. “As you peel that back and look at it, it just doesn’t war-game out for you,” said the official. “You’re supposed to go flying through Baghdad looking for Al Qaeda, and when you see ethnic cleansing going on look the other way?”
In the end, the official said, Mr. Hadley’s teams concluded that an American withdrawal from Baghdad would “crater the government.”
Another option discussed was to try to steer the Iraqi government toward a political realignment that would essentially depose Mr. Maliki, and put a stronger figure in place. By elimination, those discussions led Mr. Bush’s top advisers back to the idea of a troop increase. According to an account by one senior official, General Pace traveled to Crawford, Tex., to meet with Mr. Bush after Christmas and took with him a recommendation calling for two more American brigades in Baghdad, with three more American brigades on call, along with two additional American battalions for Anbar.
According to a senior administration official, Vice President Dick Cheney was among those who wanted a bigger force. Ultimately, Mr. Bush concluded that General Pace’s initial request was too small and should be augmented by three more American brigades for Baghdad. General Pace said that General Abizaid, who is retiring this year, had opposed the idea of a troop increase. But General Abizaid came around, General Pace said, when he saw that the additional American combat forces would be accompanied by a “political and economic surge.”
David S. Cloud contributed reporting.

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