Bush vows troops surge to Iraq hot spots to fix ‘mistake’
President Bush on Jan. 10 concededthathemadeamistakebyfailingtoincreasetroopsinIraqlastyear andcommittedtoboostingmorethan 21,000troops,settingupabattlewith the congressional Democrats, who vowed to fight the new war strategy.
In rejecting the Iraq Study Group’s call to withdraw most combat troops within 15 months, the president will push the U.S. military presence in Iraq to its highest level in more than a year.
His plan, revealed in a primetime address to the nation, came with no timetable, and senior administration officials said the socalled “surge” in troops has no set end.
But the president said the U.S. commitment to help Iraqis secure thewar-tornnationisfinite.Inthe20minute speech, the president demandedswiftactionbythefledgling governmentofIraqiPrimeMinister Nouri al-Maliki, who has refused to crackdownontheShi’itemilitiasresponsible for the recent spike in sectarian violence.
“I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq’s other leaders that America’s commitment is not open-ended.IftheIraqigovernment 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 act. The prime minister understands this,” he said.
The new strategy will increase U.S. troops in Iraq to about 153,500 atanextracostof$5.6billionthrough the rest of this fiscal year.
The first of five brigades will arrive by Jan. 15; the next, a month later, with the rest coming in monthly increments. The bulk of the “new” troops will be soldiers and Marines already scheduled to go to Iraq, but whose deployments will be extended.
Although he has previously acknowledged making mistakes in Iraq, Mr. Bush said he was wrong both in his decision-making and in his assumptions.
“Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me,” he said. “The situation in Iraq isunacceptabletotheAmericanpeople — and it is unacceptable to me.”
But by pushing for an escalation, Mr. Bush runs smack into Democrats, the new majority party in Congress,whosaytheyreflectAmerican voters’ desire to begin bringing troops back home.
“This is the third time we are going down this path. Two times this has not worked,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. “Why are they doing this now? That question remains.”
The president called top Democrats and Republicans to the White House hours before his speech to briefthem.Thelatehourdrewscorn from Democrats, who said that didn’t fit with Mr. Bush’s postelection promise to consult them more.
“The president’s practicing his speech right now,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “We had a conversation todaythathasnoimpactonwhathe’s going to say.”
Congress’ four top Democrats — Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Reid, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland — issued a joint statement after the speech,sayingthattheproposal“endangers our national security by placingadditionalburdensonouralready overextended military” and discourages the Iraqi government from taking “the necessary steps to achieve a political resolution to the sectarian problems.”
SomeRepublicanlawmakerssaid theyalsoareskepticalthatasurgein troops can achieve much.
“The generals who have served there do not believe additional troops alone will help,” said Sen George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, who said he also lacks faith in Mr. al-Maliki “to make the hard choices necessary to bring about a political solution.”
But Mr. Bush said that fighting in Iraq makes the United States safer andthathisplanwillbringthetroops home faster.
“Ifweincreaseoursupportatthis crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home,” he said.
Thepresidentpromisedlawmakers that if they “have improvements that can be made, we will make them,” and took the suggestion of Sen.JoeLieberman,Connecticutindependent,toformanewbipartisan working group to improve relations betweentheadministrationandCongress on the war on terror.
But he also challenged critics to prove how their alternatives would “be more likely to succeed.”
The new strategy sets up a fierce conflictonCapitolHill,onethatcould create a constitutional issue over presidential war powers.
Some Democrats, led by Sen. EdwardM.KennedyofMassachusetts, want to rescind the resolution authorizing the president to use force inIraq.ButDemocraticleaderspreferalessbruisingstrategy,callingfor a nonbinding resolution that would signal Congress’ opposition to the surge in troops.
The president said that despite two previous shifts in strategy that failed, his new plan takes into accountthesourceoftheviolence,and sets “benchmarks” for Iraqis to meet.
Iraqis will take the lead in battling sectarianviolenceasAmericansstep back into a support role, and the young government will deploy three additional Iraqi army brigades — up to 12,000 soldiers — in and around Baghdad, where the administration says80percentoftheviolenceoccurs.
“Only the Iraqis can end the sectarianviolenceandsecuretheirpeople. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it,” he said.
Afternearlyfouryearsofwar,the president redefined what victory in Iraq will look like.
“Victorywillnotlookliketheones our fathers and grandfathers achieved.Therewillbenosurrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship,” he said, alluding to the end of WorldWarII.“AdemocraticIraqwill not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them — and it will help bring a future of peace and security forourchildrenandgrandchildren.”
But he also was grim about the coming year in Iraq, which he predicted would be “bloody and violent” and bring “more Iraqi and American casualties.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a proponent of increasingU.S.forces,agreedwiththat forecast: “Is it going to be a strain on the military? Absolutely. Casualties are going to go up.”
The president’s speech also was uncharacteristicallyequivocalwhen he sought to assure Americans that his plan will work.
“Thequestioniswhetherournew strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will,” he said.
‘Now is the time to act’: President Bush, in a Jan. 10 prime-time address from the White House, said continued U.S. commitment to Iraq depends on the government’s willingness to crack down on the sectarian violence that threatens the nation.