BUSH SENDING 21,500 MORE TROOPS TO IRAQ, SETTING UP CLASH WITH DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS
By Terrence Hunt
Wednesday, January 10, 2007; 9:46 PM
WASHINGTON -- President Bush acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that he erred by not ordering a military buildup in Iraq last year and said he was increasing U.S. troops by 21,500 to quell the country's near-anarchy. "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," Bush said.
The buildup puts Bush on a collision course with the new Democratic Congress and pushes the American troop presence in Iraq toward its highest level. It also runs counter to widespread anti-war passions among Americans and the advice of some top generals.
In a prime-time address to the nation, Bush pushed back against the Democrats' calls to end the unpopular war. He said that "to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale."
"If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home," Bush said. But he braced Americans to expect more U.S. casualties for now and did not specify how long the additional troops would stay.
In addition to extra U.S. forces, the plan envisions Iraq's committing 10,000 to 12,000 more troops to secure Baghdad's neighborhoods -- and taking the lead in military operations.
Even before Bush's address, the new Democratic leaders of Congress emphasized their opposition to a buildup. "This is the third time we are going down this path. Two times this has not worked," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said after meeting with the president. "Why are they doing this now? That question remains."
There was criticism from Republicans, as well. "This is a dangerously wrongheaded strategy that will drive America deeper into an unwinnable swamp at a great cost," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a Vietnam veteran and potential GOP presidential candidate.
Senate and House Democrats are arranging votes urging the president not to send more troops. While lacking the force of law, the measures would compel Republicans to go on record as either bucking the president or supporting an escalation.
Usually loath to admit error, Bush said it also was a mistake to have allowed American forces to be restricted by the Iraqi government, which tried to prevent U.S. military operations against fighters controlled by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a powerful political ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The president said al-Maliki had assured him that from now on, "political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated."
After nearly four years of bloody combat, the speech was perhaps Bush's last credible chance to try to present a winning strategy in Iraq and persuade Americans to change their minds about the unpopular war, which has cost the lives of more than 3,000 members of the U.S. military as well as more than $400 billion.
As Bush spoke for 20 minutes from the unusual setting of the White House library, the sounds of protesters amassed outside the compound's gates occasionally filtered through.
Bush's approach amounts to a huge gamble on al-Maliki's willingness -- and ability -- to deliver on promises he has consistently failed to keep: to disband Shiite militias, pursue national reconciliation, and make good on commitments for Iraqi forces to handle security operations in Baghdad.
"Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents," the president said. "And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have."
He said American commanders have reviewed the Iraqi plan "to ensure that it addressed these mistakes."
With Americans overwhelmingly unhappy with his Iraq strategy, Bush said it was a legitimate question to ask why this strategy to secure Baghdad will succeed where other operations failed. "This time we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared," the president said.
While Bush put the onus on the Iraqis to meet their responsibilities and commit more troops, he did not threaten specific consequences if they do not. Iraq has missed previous self-imposed timetables for taking over security responsibilities.
Bush, however, cited the government's latest optimistic estimate. "To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November," the president said.
Still, Bush said that "America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to at."
Resisting calls for troop reductions, Bush said that "failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States. . . . A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them."
But Bush warned that the strategy would, in a short term he did not define, bring more violence rather than less.
"Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue, and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties," he said. "The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will."
Bush's warning was echoed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading proponent of a troop increase. "Is it going to be a strain on the military? Absolutely. Casualties are going to go up," the senator said.
Bush said he considered calls from Democrats and some Republicans to pull back American forces. He concluded it would devastate Iraq and "result in our troops being forced to stay even longer."
But he offered a concession to Congress -- the establishment of a bipartisan working group to formalize regular consultations on Iraq. He said he was open to future exchanges and better ideas.
Bush's strategy ignored key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which in December called for a new diplomatic offensive and an outreach to Syria and Iran. Instead, he accused both countries of aiding terrorists and insurgents in Iraq. "We will disrupt the attacks on our forces," Bush said. "We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria."
The troop buildup comes two months after elections that were widely seen as a call for the withdrawal of some or all U.S. forces from Iraq. Polling by AP-Ipsos in December found that only 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush's handling of Iraq, his lowest rating yet.
Bush's blueprint would boost the number of U.S. troops in Iraq -- now at 132,000 -- to 153,500 at a cost of $5.6 billion. The highest number was 160,000 a year ago in a troop buildup for Iraqi elections.
The latest increase calls for sending 17,500 U.S. combat troops to Baghdad. The first of five brigades will arrive by next Monday. The next would arrive by Feb. 15 and the reminder would come in 30-day increments.
Bush also committed 4,000 more Marines to Anbar Province, a base of the Sunni insurgency and foreign al-Qaida fighters.
Bush's plan mirrored earlier moves attempting to give Iraqi forces a bigger security role. The chief difference appeared to be a recognition that the Iraqis need more time to take on the full security burden.
Another difference involves doubling the number of U.S. civilian workers who help coordinate local reconstruction projects. These State Department-led units -- dubbed Provincial Reconstruction Teams -- are to focus on projects both inside and outside the heavily guarded Green Zone, and some will be merged into combat brigades. The portion of Bush's plan intended to boost economic aid and job creation was given a price tag of just over $1 billion.
Several Republican senators are candidates for backing the resolution against a troop increase. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon, and Norm Coleman of Minnesota said they oppose sending more soldiers.
Republican Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and John Warner of Virginia also might be persuaded. Warner said he supports the Iraq Study Group recommendations, which strongly cautioned against an increase in troops unless advocated by military commanders.
WITH IRAQ SPEECH, BUSH TO PULL AWAY FROM HIS GENERALS
By Michael Abramowitz, Robin Wright, and Thomas E. Ricks
January 10, 2007
When President Bush goes before the American people tonight to outline his new strategy for Iraq, he will be doing something he has avoided since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003: ordering his top military brass to take action they initially resisted and advised against.
Bush talks frequently of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort and for second-guessing his commanders. "It's important to trust the judgment of the military when they're making military plans," he told the Washington Post in an interview last month. "I'm a strict adherer to the command structure."
But over the past two months, as the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated and U.S. public support for the war has dropped, Bush has pushed back against his top military advisers and the commanders in Iraq: He has fashioned a plan to add up to 20,000 troops to the 132,000 U.S. service members already on the ground. As Bush plans it, the military will soon be "surging" in Iraq two months after an election that many Democrats interpreted as a mandate to begin withdrawing troops.
Pentagon insiders say members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have long opposed the increase in troops and are only grudgingly going along with the plan because they have been promised that the military escalation will be matched by renewed political and economic efforts in Iraq. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the outgoing head of Central Command, said less than two months ago that adding U.S. troops was not the answer for Iraq.
Bush's decision appears to mark the first major disagreement between the White House and key elements of the Pentagon over the Iraq war since Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, split with the administration in the spring of 2003 over the planned size of the occupation force, which he regarded as too small.
It may also be a sign of increasing assertiveness from a commander in chief described by former aides as relatively passive about questioning the advice of his military advisers. In going for more troops, Bush is picking an option that seems to have little favor beyond the White House and a handful of hawks on Capitol Hill and in think tanks who have been promoting the idea almost since the time of the invasion.
"It seems clear to me that the president has taken more positive control of this strategy," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of those pushing for more troops. "He understands that the safety of the nation and his legacy is [sic] all on the line here."
Others familiar with Bush's thinking said he had not been happy with the military's advice. "The president wasn't satisfied with the recommendations he was getting, and he thought we need a strategy that was more purposeful and likely to succeed if the Iraqis could make that possible," said Philip D. Zelikow, who recently stepped down as State Department counselor after being involved with Iraqi policy the past two years.
This impulse may well expose Bush to more criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have sharply condemned him for not listening to Shinseki's counsel in the beginning. "I think a number of our military leaders have pulled their punches, and will continue to pull their punches publicly," Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday.
There is little question that more troops for Iraq seemed far from the conventional wisdom in Washington after the beating Bush and the Republican Party took in the midterm elections Nov. 7. Indeed, when Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 30, Maliki did not ask for more American troops as part of a new Baghdad security plan he presented to Bush, U.S. officials said.
Maliki's idea was to lower the U.S. profile, not raise it. "The message in Amman was that he wanted to take the lead and put an Iraqi face on it. He wanted to control his own forces," said a U.S. official familiar with the visit.
Another problem for the administration was the Iraq Study Group, the prestigious bipartisan panel headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III, a Republican, and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.). Soon after Bush returned from Jordan, the group delivered its recommendations, including proposing a high-level dialogue with Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq and setting a goal of early 2008 for the removal of almost all U.S. combat troops.
Although the president was publicly polite, few of the key Baker-Hamilton recommendations appealed to the administration, which intensified its own deliberations over a new "way forward" in Iraq. How to look distinctive from the study group became a recurring theme.
As described by participants in the administration review, some staff members on the National Security Council became enamored of the idea of sending more troops to Iraq in part because it was not a key feature of Baker-Hamilton. One senior administration official disputed that, arguing that staff members were attracted to the "surge" option to address long-standing concern that earlier efforts failed because of insufficient security forces.
A troop increase also dovetailed with ideas being championed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
From only a few months after the start of the war in 2003, McCain has argued that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq is too light, and he and a handful of allies sought to use the post-election policy review to press their case. For three years, their entreaties had been blocked by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, but after Rumsfeld was ousted by Bush the day after the election, they found their message had a more receptive audience at the White House. "There has always been within the armed forces a group of people that believes we never had the right strategy in Iraq, and they have been suppressed," Graham said.
Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute drafted a plan with retired Army Gen. Jack Keane for sending seven more Army brigades and Marine regiments to Iraq to provide greater security. Keane and several other experts met with Bush on Dec. 11.
But from the beginning, the Joint Chiefs resisted. They had doubts that Maliki would really confront the militias controlled by fellow Shiites, notably Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Sadr held 30 seats in Maliki's parliamentary bloc and five ministries in his cabinet.
The Joint Chiefs were also worried that sending more troops would set up the U.S. military for an even bigger failure -- with no backup options. They were concerned that the Iraqis would not deliver the troops to handle their own security efforts, as had happened in the past. They were particularly alarmed about the prospect of U.S. troops fighting in a political vacuum if the administration did not complement the military plan with political and economic changes, according to people familiar with their views.
Pentagon officials cautioned that a modest troop increase could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to flock to Iraq to attack U.S. troops.
Even the announcement of a time frame and mission -- such as for six to eight months to secure volatile Baghdad -- would play to armed factions by allowing them to game out the new U.S. strategy, the chiefs warned the White House.
Then there was the thorny problem of finding enough troops to deploy. Those who favored a "surge," such as Kagan and McCain, were looking for a sizable force that would turn the tide in Baghdad. But the Joint Chiefs made clear they could muster 20,000 at best -- not for long, and not all at once.
The Joint Chiefs came to accept Bush's wishes, especially after new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates traveled to Iraq last month with the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Peter Pace, said a U.S. official familiar with the trip. Gates met with Maliki, who laid out more details about the Iraqi plan for Baghdad.
"That gave them enough to define a mission and its objectives," the official said. "They came back satisfied."
In the end, the White House favored the idea of more troops as one visible and dramatic step the administration could take. One senior White House official said this week the president concluded that more troops are not the only ingredient of a successful plan -- but they are a precondition to providing the security the Iraqi government needs for political reconciliation and other reforms.
Tonight, this source said, the president will explain "that we have to go up before we go down."
--Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
THE RIGHT TYPE OF 'SURGE'
By Jack Keane and Frederick W. Kagan
** Any Troop Increase Must Be Large and Lasting **
December 27, 2006
Reports on the Bush administration's efforts to craft a new strategy in Iraq often use the term "surge" but rarely define it. Estimates of the number of troops to be added in Baghdad range from fewer than 10,000 to more than 30,000. Some "surges" would last a few months, others a few years.
We need to cut through the confusion. Bringing security to Baghdad -- the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development -- is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.
The key to the success is to change the military mission -- instead of preparing for transition to Iraqi control, that mission should be to bring security to the Iraqi population. Surges aimed at accelerating the training of Iraqi forces will fail, because rising sectarian violence will destroy Iraq before the new forces can bring it under control.
Any military strategy must of course be accompanied by a range of diplomatic, political, economic, and reconciliation initiatives, but those alone will not contain the violence either. Success in Iraq today requires a well-thought-out military operation aimed at bringing security to the people of Baghdad as quickly as possible -- a traditional counterinsurgency mission.
Of all the "surge" options out there, short ones are the most dangerous. Increasing troop levels in Baghdad for three or six months would virtually ensure defeat. It takes that long for newly arrived soldiers to begin to understand the areas where they operate. Short surges would redeploy them just as they began to be effective.
In addition, a short surge would play into the enemy's hands. Both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias expect the U.S. presence to fade away over the course of 2007, and they expect any surge to be brief. They will naturally go to ground in the face of a short surge and wait until we have left. They will then attack the civilian population and whatever Iraqi security forces remain, knowing them to be easier targets than U.S. soldiers and Marines. They will work hard to raise the level of sectarian violence in order to prove that our efforts have failed.
We have seen this pattern so many times before that we can be virtually certain the enemy will follow it in the face of a short surge. The only cure is to maintain our presence long enough either to root out the hiding enemy or to defeat him when he becomes impatient. A surge that lasted at least 18 months would achieve that aim. It would also provide time to bring Iraqi forces up to the level needed to fight whatever enemy remains.
The size of the surge matters as much as the length. Baghdad is a large city. Any sound military plan will break the problem of bringing security to the Iraqi capital into manageable parts. But there remains a minimum level of force necessary to make adequate progress in a reasonable time.
U.S. forces working with Iraqi troops can clear neighborhoods fairly quickly. Unfortunately, past endeavors such as Operation Together Forward relied too much on that ability. We sent forces into the city that were large enough to clear a few neighborhoods at a time but not large enough to maintain the security they had established. Any plan for bringing security to Baghdad must include forces for the "hold" phase as well as the "clear" phase.
Clearing and holding the Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in the center of Baghdad, which are the keys to getting the overall levels of violence down, will require around nine American combat brigades (27 battalions, in partnership with Iraqi forces, divided among some 23 districts). Since there are about five brigades in Baghdad now, achieving this level would require a surge of at least four additional combat brigades -- some 20,000 combat troops. Moreover, it would be foolhardy to send precisely as many troops as we think we need. Sound planning requires a reserve of at least one brigade (5,000 soldiers) to respond to unexpected developments. The insurgents have bases beyond Baghdad, especially in Anbar province. Securing Baghdad requires addressing these bases -- a task that would necessitate at least two more Marine regiments (around 7,000 Marines). It is difficult to imagine a responsible plan for getting the violence in and around Baghdad under control that could succeed with fewer than 30,000 combat troops beyond the forces already in Iraq.
It is tempting to imagine that greater use of Iraqi forces could reduce the number of U.S. troops needed for this operation. The temptation must be resisted. We should of course work with the Iraqi government to get as many trained and reliable Iraqi troops as possible into Baghdad, and we should pair our soldiers and Marines with Iraqis as much as we can. But reducing the violence in the Sunni and mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad is the most critical military task the U.S. armed forces face anywhere in the world. We cannot allow that mission to fail simply because some Iraqi units don't show up, aren't at full strength or are less reliable than we had hoped.
The United States faces a dire situation in Iraq because of a history of half-measures. We have always sent "just enough" force to succeed if everything went according to plan. So far nothing has, and there's no reason to believe that it will. Sound military planning doesn't work this way. The only "surge" option that makes sense is both long and large.
--Jack Keane is a retired Army general. Frederick W. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.