President George W. Bush, for the first time, admitted a mistake in his conduct of his failed Iraq war, then returned to the same old rhetoric in a vain attempt to rationalize compounding his many errors.
“Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me,” Bush said, a rare admission from a President who does not acknowledge his mistakes.
However, the President’s plan to send 21,500 additional troops is viewed by military experts as too little too late and a strategy doomed to fail.
“The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people and it is unacceptable to me,” Bush said. In reality, American voters in the November mid-term elections made it clear that what is unacceptable is Bush’s conduct of the war and public opinion polls show only 16 percent of Americans support sending in more troops.
Bush continued: “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.”
Actually, polls show the Iraqi government does not enjoy support of the American people now so it is unclear how Bush can threaten Iraq with a loss of support that it does not enjoy.
The military increase puts Bush on a collision course with the new Democratic Congress and pushes the American 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.
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,” he said.
In addition to extra U.S. forces, the plan envisions Iraq committing 10,000 to 12,000 more troops to secure Baghdad’s neighborhoods.
Even before Bush’s address, the new Democratic leaders of Congress renewed 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.”
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.
Besides the expected Democratic opposition, Bush is losing the support of an increasing number of Republicans. On Wednesday, GOP Senators Sam Brownback and Richard Lugar joined other Republicans who have announced opposition to Bush’s troop surge. GOP leaders acknowledge that at least 10 Republican senators have jumped ship along with many others in the House.
Bush tried to offset this by announcing a “bipartisan effort” group of member of Congress that he said will meet with him on a regular basis to advise him on the war. But the effort, he said, was developed with former Democrat, now Independent, Senator Joe Lieberman, who lost the Democratic primary in his home state of Connecticut because of his support of the Iraq war and then won the general election with backing from the White House.
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 Muqtada al-Sadr, a powerful political ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The president said al-Maliki had assured him that “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.
Bush’s approach amounts to a huge gamble on al-Maliki’s willingness Ã¢â‚¬â€ and ability Ã¢â‚¬â€ 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.”
Bush said that under his plan, U.S. forces will work alongside Iraqi units and be embedded in their formations.
Responding to concerns from U.S. commanders, Bush said American troops will have a clearly defined mission to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, assist in the protection of the local population and “to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs.”
While Bush is putting the onus on the Iraqis to meet their responsibilities and commit more troops, Bush 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.
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.”
Pentagon leaders do no share Bush’s optimism. The Joint Chiefs of Staff oppose the troop surge and call it a “hail Mary” pass in football terms.
Other military experts are less charitable, calling Bush’s plan a disaster before it was even announced and they predict American casualties will escalate sharply.
(Includes information from the Associated Press)