Bush's Iraq plan: Is it enough?
Doubts rise over the impact of a modest increase in US troops and whether the Iraqi government is up to the task.
The first of 21,500 additional American troops are set to arrive in Iraq as early as next week – a prospect that could allow President Bush to blunt congressional opposition to his new plan while reassuring allies in the region that the US is not about to give up the fight.Skip to next paragraph
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But what had been billed ahead of Mr. Bush's speech as a major strategy shift is turning out to be more a set of tactical adjustments for addressing Iraq's deteriorating security.
More US troops, primarily in Baghdad, will do the job of providing security to Iraqi civilians that the Iraqi Security Forces have not been able to do. That is supposed to give the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki breathing room to deliver on a set of crucial political and economic policies to foster national reconciliation.
Yet doubts have surfaced quickly over whether a relatively modest rise in US troops in a society already deeply divided along sectarian lines will do anything other than expose them to greater danger; or whether Mr. Maliki can or wants to deliver on the "benchmarks" that Bush has laid out.
"Basically, it's old wine in new bottles," says Ted Galen Carpenter, a national- security expert at the Cato Institute in Washington who was to testify on Iraq before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday. "It's some new tactics and things on a slightly larger scale, but it's certainly not a new strategy."
With his speech to the American people Wednesday night, Bush addressed a skeptical audience that has grown weary of the war. The public had been led to believe – the president acknowledged as much – that US involvement would be winding down by now. Although Bush said the stepped-up commitment and the addition of troops and funding are not "open-ended," the plan essentially deepens US involvement in Iraq at a time when Bush had expected to be drawing it down.
An ABC/Washington Post poll done after the president's speech found that nearly two-thirds of Americans reject the "troop surge" plan, while a new high – 57 percent – said the United States is losing in Iraq.
But Bush stood firm on his vision of a secure and democratic Iraq denying a base to Islamic terrorists – and thus on his depiction of "success" of the mission there being key to US national security. Reminding the American people that on 9/11 they "saw what a refuge for terrorists could bring to our own cities," Bush placed the war in Iraq at the center of "the decisive ideological struggle of our time."
Many experts agree with the president that American failure in Iraq and a quick withdrawal would be a disaster – for regional stability, for the war on terror and the boon it would provide to Al Qaeda, and for Sunni Arab allies fearing a "surge" of a political and influential sort by Iran – not to mention for the Iraqi people who would be very likely to face a full-blown civil war.
"Al Qaeda is salivating as they look at Iraq. They see it as an opportunity for them to re-create the cozy environment in which they operated in Afghanistan, and the president rightly emphasized that," says Danielle Pletka, a foreign-policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.