By Freedom Newspapers
Give President Bush some credit. In his speech Wednesday night he was sober and serious. He was willing to acknowledge past mistakes. He presented a plan to change U.S. strategy in Iraq that seems to take into account unpleasant realities on the ground.
In short, he seemed to know that this plan for Iraq is a defining moment in his presidency.
That said, he was a little like a gambler who has lost one hand doubling down his bet and finding himself with a shaky set of cards.
The key question is whether a renewed emphasis on providing security, with an additional 21,500 troops, some of them directly embedded in Iraqi military and police units, will be able to quell the sectarian violence that has dominated Iraq, particularly Baghdad, since the Shia Golden Mosque in Samarra was blown up last February. We certainly hope so, but the prospects are dubious at best.
A second key question is whether a decidedly non-diplomatic approach with Iran and Syria will make circumstances more dire for the Middle East.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said President Bush, after extensive consultation, sees a new seriousness and a new ability to operate effectively on the part of the fledgling Iraqi government led by prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Maliki faces pressure not only from the United States, Bush said, but from within Iraq to bring the violence under control and to see to it that Iraqi government police and military forces act on behalf of the national government rather than in furtherance of narrower sectarian or tribal interests.
Perhaps so. The president did not specifically mention Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiery anti-American Shia cleric who is both the titular head of the Mahdi Army, a Shia militia, and a key part of the political coalition that put Maliki in office. Can Maliki keep his promise not to provide “a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of sectarian or political affiliation?”
President Bush is asking a lot of a leader who doesn’t have much effective power.
In the face of declining support for the war in Iraq, President Bush has asked for one more chance to get it right this time. The Democratic Congress, despite the threat of a non-binding resolution, will probably give it to him, if only because reducing funding for the troops is a political non-starter.
That suggests it’s time for a fresh look at the possible consequences of withdrawing U.S. troops without achieving a stable democratic government in Iraq. The president’s view is that in such a circumstance “our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people.”
Without a heavy U.S. presence, Iraq might well become more chaotic and bloody and prospects for Middle East stability even less certain. But the likelihood of a regime emerging that would give al-Qaida and other jihadists a safe haven, much as the Taliban regime in Afghanistan supported and provided protection to al-Qaida prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, is open to debate.
The president has offered a serious plan to salvage something resembling success in Iraq. Unfortunately, for America and the Iraqis, his ideas are coming late to the game, and chances of success are slim.