I’m disappointed at President Bush’s address on Iraq. But I guess that isn’t surprising. The President didn’t really say anything that we haven’t already heard. At first I was encouraged by how he began his address. The President acknowledged that the insurgents’ tactics have worked. He said that “the situation in Iraq is unacceptable” and that “the responsibility [for the situation] rests with me.” The President was also much clearer than he has been in the past about the challenges that lay ahead in Iraq. He acknowledged that the “new strategy will not bring an immediate end” to problems in Iraq, but that “over time things will change – this will take time.” He acknowledged that the year ahead will be bloody and violent. That is not good news, but at least the President is being honest with us. But that’s about where the encouragement ended.
I was surprised to hear him mention the Iraq Study Group because its recommendations were basically dismissed and the report was sidelined. Most of what the President discussed seemed to have more to do with what the Iraqi government is going to do and less about what the United States is going to do. Iraqis do need to take more responsibility for the violence in Iraq, but I’m not sure that the President gave us a clear picture of how things will change based on his planned surge of 20,000+ troops. How long with those extra troops stay in Iraq?
I also think I heard the President mention a timeline without acknowledging a timeline. The President said that the Iraqis will be primarily responsible for security in all provinces by November of this year. Does that mean that American troops will start withdrawing by then? Does that mean that American troops will not withdraw until November? It is unclear. It is also unclear what will happen if the Iraqis are not prepared to take over by November. Given the rate at which Iraqis have been trained in the past, it is not clear that November is viable. And then what? We don’t know because he didn’t tell us.
One of the recommendations from the Iraq Study Group [and numerous politicos and commentators] is that we should open up a dialogue with Iran and Syria. Unfortunately, the only mention of Iran and Syria in the President’s speech was to say what the United States would do to protect Iraq from insurgents coming from those two countries. That was a missed opportunity. Dialogue with Iran and Syria will not be easy. The two countries are hostile to the United States and American interests, but ignoring them will not make things better. It will make things worse.
The President also mentioned that he is forming a new bi-partisan working group. Why? The Iraq Study Group was a bi-partisan group, and it presented dozens of recommendations that have been virtually ignored. Is another group really necessary? What are they going to do? Will anybody listen to them this time?
The President said that “failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.” He mentioned that Iraq could turn into a safe haven for terrorists, a refuge for extremists, and give Iran overwhelming influence in the Middle East. I make some of these same arguments in, “Do We Still Owe Iraq?,” a piece that will be published in ACS’s Harvard Law & Policy Review later this month. But as the violence in Iraq gets worse, as more Iraqis and Americans die, I am not sure that we still owe Iraq. What I am sure of is that the President owes the American people more than what he gave us in his address.
Labels: Article II