Some quick thoughts on President Bush’s speech (transcript here).
It was important that the President demonstrated that he isn’t completely living in a bubble, that he acknowledged the obvious–that the situation in Iraq is “unacceptable” and that prior efforts to secure Baghdad have “failed.” It was also good how he outlined how the new approach will be a departure from the past:
However, the sad part is that the idea of having more troops on the ground to hold neighborhoods and of giving U.S. troops the green light is something that pro-war critics of the Bush administration have been pushing for years, but the President and Sec. Rumsfeld stubbornly refused to institute such a policy. Now, I fear, this shift in tactics and the addition of 20,000-plus troops is too little, too late.
I’m also quite skeptical of basing our strategy on the hopes that Prime Minister Maliki will suddenly become more willing or able to crack down on militias now than he has been over the past several months, especially given how infiltrated the government and the Iraqi security forces have been with the militias, most prominently Moqtada al-Sadr’s. President Bush seems to be adopting a bit of a Democratic approach by saying that he made it clear to Maliki that “America’s commitment is not open-ended” and thinking this will somehow motivate the Iraqi leader to get tough on the militias (again, assuming he’s able). I’ve long been of the opinion that if Maliki knows that America will be leaving Iraq, it will only make him more likely to cut a deal with Sadr, not less. After all, Sadr is the one he’ll have to be dealing with once we’re gone.
Furthermore, I think Bush was being too Pollyannaish when he said victory would bring “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. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them…”
While I’m skeptical that such a modest increase in troop levels and subtle shift in strategy will succeed, I hope I’m proven wrong, because as President Bush made abundantly clear, the consequences of defeat in Iraq would be tragic.