January 11, 2007

Bush's Speech: A first incoherent response

Some of the highlights are here- The full text is here.

The plan can be summed up simply in these bullet points
1. 20,000 US Troops to be dispatched to Iraq- the majority to Baghdad to supplement 18 brigades of the Iraqi army to seek out terrorists with a more aggressive attitude than before.
2. 4,000 American troops dispatched to Anbar province which the President feels is the heart of Al-Quaeda operations in Iraq.
3. Iraqi troops to be more closely aligned with coalition troops
4. A reconstruction envoy to be appointed
5. The Iraqi government is put on warning that American commitment is not openended and may be withdrawn at some point in the future.

I don't want to respond instantaneously to this- instant responses are often unwise responses. But there are some interesting points that are worth drawing out- firstly the President is exceptionally hostile to Iran and Syria, he said that

Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops.

We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria.

And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

opening up a Cambodia option. That's definitely the belief of prominent neo-conservative thinker, Michael Ledeen and of the Democrat blogger Markos Moulitsas. Secondly Bush talks about limits upon US troops in seeking out and killing insurgents in various sectors of Baghdad- these limits he says were 'political'- the President does need to answer what those political imperatives were and why they were convincing months or years ago and why they aren't so convincing now. Some conservatives are already developing that critique In addition thirdly why was there nobody in charge of reconstruction before now- why is it only now that Condi Rice is sending someone out to do that job, should that have happened earlier. Fourthly if the President accepts that the Iraqi and American troops have not been integrated well enough and training has not proceeded well enough, why did it take him this long to notice, why did it take the Pentagon this long to notice. Some of these points may be answered within this document released by the National Security Council titled, Highlights of the Iraq Strategy Review which argues that the challenge in Iraq has changed- from a Sunni insurgency to a near civil war though even within that document there are notable contradictions- on page 7 we are told that dialogue with insurgent groups has not stopped violence and yet on page 10, outreach to insurgent groups is made one of the main methods of pacifying the country.

Bush's speech is obviously going to be assessed over the next few days by many people more expert than me. It leaves several questions unanswered- maybe they were impossible to answer in a speech of that length and maybe answers will emerge over the next few days. There are problems and contradictions in there- one can only hope that they are problems and contradictions the White House knows about and has thought about- or else...

Oh and by the way, one last point as testament to the outstanding British influence in Washington- is anyone suggesting that there is any aspect of Bush's speech that was influenced by Tony Blair- thought not.

Andrew Sullivan has posted his response here, Carl Connetta of the Project for Defence Alternatives here, Juan Cole here, Bloggingheads TV did a program with Wright and Kaus on this as well here, other responses no doubt have been posted and other comments will come in over the next few days which will supply more information. I just would like to note that the speech leaves questions to be answered about America's past and future policy in Iraq. Rather than ending a debate and moving us all forward on the basis of unity across the coalition, I suspect the truest line from President Bush within the speech is that

In our discussions, we all agreed that there is no magic formula for success in Iraq.

I suspect the President is right- there seem to be no good options here- I only hope the President has chosen the least bad one. Whether he has or not many people more qualified than me will no doubt discuss and events will no doubt demonstrate.

The American Enterprise Institute talk by Frederick Kagan and General Jack Keane, the main ideological instigators of the plan is worth looking at but they envisaged not roughly 20,000 extra troops but more than double that, 50,000 extra troops. So just a last question- why does Bush think that a surge will work without the troops that its advocates wanted?

Cheers to the Guardian who a couple of days ago made this a best of the web article.