Bush Adds Troops In Bid To Secure Iraq

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
January 11, 2007
Pg. 1

By David E. Sanger
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 — President Bush embraced a major tactical shift on Wednesday evening in the war in Iraq when he declared that the only way to quell sectarian violence there was to send more than 20,000 additional American troops into combat.
Yet in defying mounting pressure to begin troop withdrawals, the president reiterated his argument that the consequences of failure in Iraq were so high that the United States could not afford to lose.
In a speech to the nation, Mr. Bush conceded for the first time that there had not been enough American or Iraqi troops in Baghdad to halt the capital’s descent over the past year into chaos. In documents released just before the speech, the White House acknowledged that his previous strategy was based on fundamentally flawed assumptions about the power of the shaky Iraqi government.
Mr. Bush gave no indication that the troop increase would be short-lived, describing his new strategy as an effort to “change America’s course in Iraq,” and he said that “we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties” in the course of more intensive round-the-clock patrols in some of Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
But Mr. Bush rekindled his argument that a withdrawal would doom to failure the American experiment in Iraq, touch off chaos throughout the Middle East, provide a launching pad for attacks in the United States, and embolden Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
In making that argument, the president rejected strategies advocated by newly empowered Democrats, restive Republicans and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, describing them as a formula for deepening disaster. “To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government,” Mr. Bush said from the White House library, a room that officials said had been chosen to create more of a sense of a conversation with an anxious American public, rather than the formal surroundings of the Oval Office.
“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,” Mr. Bush said. “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 also offered his most direct acknowledgment of error in an American-led war that has lasted nearly four years and claimed more than 3,000 American lives. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me,” he said.
Yet for the first time, Mr. Bush faces what could become considerable political opposition to pursuing a war in which 132,000 Americans are already committed, even before the increases announced Wednesday.
Democrats in Congress are drawing up plans for what, at a minimum, could be a nonbinding resolution expressing opposition to the commitment of more forces to what many of them say they now believe is a losing fight. They will be joined by some Republicans, and may attempt other steps to block Mr. Bush from deepening the American commitment.
Not since Richard M. Nixon ordered American troops in Vietnam to invade Cambodia in 1970 has a president taken such a risk with an increasingly unpopular war. “For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said in repeating an argument that he has used for nearly four years — that a retreat from the country before a decisive victory is won would provide terrorists a place in which to conduct new attacks on the United States and American targets.
As part of a campaign to market the new strategy, Mr. Bush’s aides insisted that the plan was largely created by the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Yet Mr. Bush sounded less than certain of his support for the prime minister, who many in the White House and the military fear may be intending to extend Shiite power over the Sunnis, or could prove incapable of making good on his promises. “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people,” Mr. Bush declared.
He put it far more bluntly when leaders of Congress visited the White House earlier on Wednesday. “I said to Maliki this has to work or you’re out,” the president told the Congressional leaders, according to two officials who were in the room. Pressed on why he thought this strategy would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Mr. Bush shot back: “Because it has to.”
In his 20-minute address to the nation, Mr. Bush said that for the first time Iraq would take command-and-control authority over all of its own forces, and that while more American ground troops were being put into the field, they would take more of a background role. He said the Iraqi government had committed to a series of “benchmarks” — which included another 8,000 Iraqi troops and policemen in Baghdad, passage of long-delayed legislation to share oil revenues among Iraq’s sects and ethnic groups, and a $10 billion jobs and reconstruction program, financed by the Iraqis.
Until the summer, Mr. Bush had used the phrase “stay the course” to describe his approach in Iraq, and his decision to describe his new strategy as an effort to “change America’s course” appeared intended to distance himself from that old approach. An earlier plan unveiled in November 2005 had been titled “Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” but Mr. Bush used the word “victory” sparingly on Wednesday night, and then only to diminish expectations.
“The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success,” he said. “I believe that it will,” saying that if it is successful it would result in a “functioning democracy” that “fights terrorists instead of harboring them.”
In some of his sharpest words of warning to Iran, Mr. Bush accused the Iranian government of “providing material support for attacks on American troops” and vowed to “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies.”
He left deliberately vague the question of whether those operations would be limited to Iraq or conducted elsewhere, and said he had ordered the previously reported deployment of a new aircraft carrier strike group to the region, where it is in easy reach of Iranian territory.
Mr. Bush also announced that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would leave Friday for the region to build diplomatic support for the American effort in Iraq.
Robert M. Gates, who replaced Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary, is among the new members of the Iraq team whom Mr. Bush has brought in to execute the new strategy.
In the past week, Mr. Bush has speeded up the removal of the American commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who is to become the Army chief of staff, and replaced him with a counterinsurgency specialist, Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus , who has embraced the new plan. A new American ambassador has been nominated to Baghdad as well, to replace Zalmay Khalilzad, a Sunni of Afghan heritage, who has been nominated to represent the United States in the United Nations.
While Democrats and some Republicans who attacked Mr. Bush’s plan in advance of the speech have questioned sending more troops, others question whether the Bush plan is too small — and falls short of the numbers needed to make a difference in a violent capital of six million.
Nonetheless, one of Mr. Bush’s top advisers said at the White House on Wednesday that he expected that Senator John McCain, who has championed a significant, long-term increase in troops, would embrace the plan.
The adviser cited a section of the Iraq Study Group’s report that had said the bipartisan commission could “support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the training and equipping mission.”
But on the same page, the report warned that “adding more American troops could conceivably worsen those aspects of the security problem that are fed by the view that the United States presence is intended to be a long-term ‘occupation.’ ” Similarly, the group urged direct engagement with Iran and Syria; Mr. Bush rejected that approach.
Mr. Bush, one of his top aides said in an interview on Wednesday, simply concluded that “the Iraqi government was running out of time” and would collapse without additional help. Yet at the core of Mr. Bush’s new strategy, his own aides said, lies a tension between two objectives: Mr. Bush’s commitment to staying in Iraq until the country is a stable, self-sustaining democracy, and his vague threat to Mr. Maliki that the American presence would be cut short if Americans believed that the effort was failing.
His aides hinted that the administration had already come up with a “Plan B” in case the latest strategy failed, with one saying “there are other ways to achieve our objective.” But he would not describe that strategy, or say if it involved withdrawal, containment or the breakup of the country into sectarian entities.
The five-brigade increase in American forces will be accomplished by speeding up the deployment of four units already scheduled to go to Iraq, and by sending one additional brigade that was not scheduled to go. The total increase of American troops in Iraq amounts to roughly 20,000, including 4,000 marines who will be stationed in Anbar Province, the stronghold of elements of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the Sunni insurgency. The increase in Iraqi troops and policemen amounts, officials said, to about 8,000.
The units heading into Iraq begin with a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, now in Kuwait, expected in Iraq before the end of the month, followed by a brigade of the First Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., probably next month.