My wife and I listened to the President’s speech on Iraq as we returned from puppy training last night. The full text of the speech is here. There’s a slideshow version of the Iraq Strategy Review. I think the Washington Post’s summary is a fair one:
President Bush appealed directly to the American people last night to support a renewed campaign to pacify Iraq, saying it is necessary to add new troops so that the beleaguered Iraqi government can regain control of the streets of Baghdad and revive the process of political reconciliation and economic rebuilding.
In a nationally televised address, Bush acknowledged for the first time that he had not sent enough troops to provide security in Iraq last year. Standing in the library of the White House, he described the situation in Iraq as “unacceptable” to the American people and to himself. “Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do,” he said. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.”
Bush said he will order more than 20,000 soldiers and Marines to help the Iraqi government provide security in Baghdad and fight the Sunni insurgency in Anbar province. But he emphasized that Iraqi soldiers will take the lead in the new fighting, and he said that the focus of American troops will be to advise and support Iraqi forces, with the additional U.S. troops embedded in Iraqi units.
He also emphasized the need for the active participation of the Iraqi government in pacifying Iraq and promised development funds.
Of course, the failure of these periodic efforts may be due to an inability to revisit a key assumption upon which the present US effort is based: that strong states tend to form naturally if provided the right minimalist conditions. I believe the opposite is true: that states, once broken, tend to remain hollow and in perpetual failure. The reason is that in the current environment minimalist conditions yield social disintegration…
What I saw in the president’s speech last night was more the realization that jobs are the ultimate exit strategy, thus the first enunciation of something very close to what Steve DeAngelis and I have been advocating for a while with Development in a Box (right down to the infrastructure czar).
Hat tip to James Joyner for both links.
I lean more to Robb’s view but for somewhat different reasons. I believe that the President’s understanding of both the American experience and human nature, while consistent with his own experience and beliefs, are flawed.
I don’t necessarily see “social disintegration” in Iraq. What I see is the foreseeable consequences of the re-assertion of remaining institutions there.
After 30 years of Saddam’s rule in Iraq only a handful of institutions remained: Saddam, the government bureaucracy, the military, and tribal and sectarian ones. Saddam had swept viable political opposition away. There was, basically, nothing in the form of liberal democratic institutions in the country. Individuals with those aspirations, yes, but not much in the way of institutions.
When Saddam fell and the government bureaucracy and the Iraqi military evaporated in short order (de-Ba’athification was the last straw in this process), the institutions that remained were those of tribe and sect. And, as the President acknowledged, there has been a concerted effort to pit those institutions against one another that have been largely successful. Elections in Iraq have merely been a facade of democratic process behind which those remaining institutions have re-asserted themselves.
A month or so ago Gen. John Abizaid said something to the effect that, given infinite time and infinite resources, the present strategy would succeed. That may well be true for reasons I’ve touched on before. Eternity is a long time.
But, unfortunately, however plentiful money and manpower may be (why we haven’t engaged in a military build-up five years into the War on Terror is a subject worth discussing at another time), there are multiple clocks merrily ticking away. There is the clock of the patience of the new Congress, now controlled by Democrats and that of the American people who, while possibly still willing to give the President some benefit of the doubt, are clearly dubious of the value of the present strategy and, indeed, the objectives in Iraq to which last night’s speech added only a little becoming humility. There’s also the clock of the last years of President Bush’s term in office. Those who predict an end to the need for a substantial U. S. military commitment to Iraq before that term expires are becoming fewer and fewer. Much to the consternation of Congressional Republicans.
There’s also the Doomsday Clock that measures the time until our species destroy itself. North Korea and, presumably, Iran are determinedly pushing the minute hand of that clock towards midnight.