Bush fights to control Iraq strategy
A rising chorus in Congress to cut short the 'surge' has mobilized the administration.
Caught off guard by a rapid deterioration in support for the Iraq war, the White House is scrambling to give the president's "surge" strategy the time he thought it had – and to preserve executive-branch control of Iraq policy.Skip to next paragraph
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President Bush had expected Congress to hold off on any judgment of the strategy involving a US force buildup in Iraq until the delivery of a comprehensive report on the strategy's performance in September. But with an interim assessment demanded by Congress arriving by the end of this week – and coinciding with deliberations over a defense authorization bill – it's suddenly September in July in Washington.
With Mr. Bush at risk of seeing a restive Congress begin to place limits on Iraq policy, the administration is fighting back. The president has gone on the stump, saying he, too, has plans for eventually drawing down the number of troops in Iraq, but warning of the consequences for America's security if the US changes the current course too soon. The White House is focused on shoring up support among Senate Republicans, with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley visiting Capitol Hill this week.
The pushback is following two lines of attack: one, that the presence of some 30,000 additional troops is beginning to bear fruit, even if not among the "benchmarks" set by Congress when it approved Iraq funding in May; and that members of Congress are allowing political motivations to trump long-term security priorities.
"American forces are winning, the enemy is on the run, but here in Congress, in Washington, some members seem to be on the run – chased, I fear, by public opinion polls," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, a staunch Iraq "surge" policy advocate, in a Senate floor statement Tuesday.
In a town-hall-style speech in Cleveland the same day, Bush focused on two points he hopes will stop wavering Republicans from joining Democrats in demanding a drawdown of troops beginning this year. He said the troop buildup, announced in January, has only recently reached its full numbers, and he warned that cutting short the US military offensive would have repercussions for US security down the road.
"Failure in Iraq would have serious consequences for the security of your children and grandchildren," Bush told the audience. Iran and "extremists" would be emboldened if America showed signs of backing down from the fight, he said.
As for the additional troops, who have been arriving gradually since February, the president said, "They just showed up – and in Washington, people are saying, 'Stop!' " He then said, "Congress ought to wait for Gen. [David] Petraeus," the US commander in Iraq who is to deliver a comprehensive assessment of the strategy in September, "before they make any decisions."
The key to improving conditions in Iraq remains security, with some analysts backing the president in arguing that the additional US troops haven't yet had enough time to show what their presence can do. "Any negotiations [among the Iraqis] will be meaningless unless some workable security environment is in place," says Robert Lieber, a foreign-policy expert at Georgetown University in Washington.
Yet the force buildup was supposed to pave the way for Iraqi action, and that is what critics of the strategy say is not happening.