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Bush recasting the war as not just about Iraq

His recent speeches cite Iran and Al Qaeda as reasons the US must not pull out.

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A number of other reports Congress will begin to take up this week conclude that few political goals have been met by Iraqi political leaders since the troop buildup began. Some even cast doubt on the extent to which violence has been reduced.

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Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq, and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will offer a comprehensive review of Iraq to Congress Monday. Also, a White House report to be delivered by Sept. 15 is expected to conclude there is only limited political progress, but less violence in areas where the US has boosted its presence and significantly enhanced cooperation with Sunni tribal leaders.

In the run-up to the imminent focus on Iraq, signs are growing that Bush's change in emphasis has borne fruit, both in Congress and with the general public. Some polls show support for the war effort has rebounded, in particular after recent speeches Bush has given on the dire consequences he sees of a quick withdrawal form Iraq. And after what may have been a high-water mark for "change the course" and "set a timetable for withdrawal" advocates in July, the White House appears more confident that Congress will go along with a continuation of the troop buildup into early next year.

Other ways of looking at it

But Mr. Beers – who served on the National Security Council in four administrations including the current one before leaving in 2003 over the Iraq invasion – says that while the concerns with Al Qaeda and Iran are certainly legitimate, it is less justifiable to argue that continuing the "surge" is the only or even the best way of addressing those two challenges.

"The president's argument doesn't say what else we might do or what might be more likely to happen to address these threats. It's as though all we would be doing is withdrawing," Beers says. "But you can also argue that by drawing down in Iraq, we're going to be able to go after Al Qaeda in its headquarters in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

As for Iran, he says, a drawdown of the military buildup could be accompanied by a "diplomatic surge" focusing on all Iraq's neighbors, including Iran.

Mr. Dobbins says the Al Qaeda argument is "unexceptionable" because the goal of reducing the terror network's reach in Iraq is an obtainable objective.

"It probably is feasible to, if not eradicate, then significantly diminish Al Qaeda's hold in the Sunni parts of Iraq, and it's hard to argue with that objective," he says.

The one problem he sees is that "one can also make the argument that the best way to achieve that is by us leaving," since the argument of US "occupation" would have less appeal.

But Dobbins says the reasoning to keep large numbers of US troops in Iraq to contain Iran is more problematic, simply because Iran is a major regional influence and will play a role – positive or negative – in Iraq.

"The Iran argument has considerable appeal in terms of American attitudes," he says, "but it is in fact inconsistent with stabilizing Iraq." Dobbins, who as a Bush envoy to Afghanistan in the early part of the administration worked with Iranians on stabilizing that country, says Iran's considerable influence in Iraq will mean the US will have to make a choice.

"The dilemma for the US will be either we focus on stabilizing Iraq or we try to contain Iran," he says. "But it can't be both."