I almost always avoid watching formal speeches live. You have to listen to a lot of verbiage before getting to the gist. I find it far more efficient to read the transcript afterwards, though that means I miss the nuances that the spoken words provide. But since Bush’s latest speech was highly advertised as showing a new way forward, I tuned in. You can read the transcript here. As far as I can tell, there was little that I would consider ‘new’ but this may be my fault for being a policy wonk and following this topic closely. Maybe others will find it new and hopeful.
The main new development is, as widely reported before the speech, to increase the number troops in Baghdad by 17,500 troops and those in Anbar province by 4,000. He said the reason that this strategy is new is because while earlier the troops could clear areas, they could not keep them clear once they moved on. The new levels will enable them to ‘clear and hold.’ Also, earlier the US troops had too many restrictions on where they could operate. The hope is that these changes will enable the troops to bring the levels of violence down and thus allow development to take place, thus undermining the destabilization strategies of the insurgents. The rest of the speech seemed to consist of dire warnings about the consequences for the US and the world if the US ‘failed’ in Iraq, plus the now-obligatory digs at Syria and Iran.
It seems to me that this ‘clear and hold’ strategy was tried before so it is not really new. Will it now work with the new higher levels of troops? I have no idea. What is not a hopeful sign is that right now there rages a pitched, long battle in Baghdad on a major thoroughfare just 1,000 yards from the Green Zone. If this is the state of affairs in the capital city nearly four years after the invasion and with 140,000 troops in the country, can another 21,500 tip the balance and bring order?
Also, the implication that US troops will now operate with fewer restrictions sounds ominous, since the earlier ‘hearts and minds’ strategy had failed.
Meanwhile the can has been kicked down the road for another year, because Bush has said that the Iraqi government will take full charge of security by November. So presumably we will have to be patient until then to see if the ‘new’ plan has worked.
There have been some disturbing suggestions that the option of escalating troops levels may have been chosen because Bush did not like the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group’s approach and this was definitely something that went counter to their proposals. The Washington Post reports that:
How to look distinctive from the study group became a recurring theme.
As described by participants in the administration review, some staff members on the National Security Council became enamored of the idea of sending more troops to Iraq in part because it was not a key feature of Baker-Hamilton.
Choosing a policy of troop escalation as a means of thumbing one’s nose at the ISG seems extraordinarily childish and irresponsible on a matter of such gravity. Normally such an allegation would be dismissed out of hand. The very fact that a major newspaper finds it worth mentioning indicates how low the opinion has sunk of this administration’s decision-making abilities and motives.
Meanwhile, there is an ominous development in Somalia. News reports say that US special forces are now operating on the ground in that country, operating from their base in Djibouti, the tiny country on the northwestern tip of Somalia, which separates Somalia from Eritrea.
This suggests that the Ethiopian armies might be running into trouble.
POST SCRIPT: If they’d only listen to him. . .
Problems are so simple to solve if you happen to be a neoconservative theoretician. Michael Ledeen (whom I have written about before here and here) in one very brief column tells everybody exactly what they should do to solve the problems the US is facing in the Middle East.
He tells the lazy, shiftless Iraqis that they should get off their butts and start running the country: “[S]omebody should compel the sleepy defense ministry in Baghdad to pay the Iraqi troops. . . Maliki et. al. say they want sovereign authority. Fine. Let them act like a government and pay their employees.”
He tells the lazy, shiftless US soldiers to get off their butts and do some patrolling: “We’ve got lots of soldiers sitting on megabases all over Iraq. They should be out and about, some of them embedded, others just moving around, tracking the terrorists, hunting them down. I don’t know how many guys and gals are sitting in air-conditioned quarters and drinking designer coffee, but it’s a substantial number. Enough of that.”
He tells the lazy, shiftless Cheney/Bush team to get off their butts and start invading other countries: “[T]he only way to demonstrate a will to win is to go after the Iranians and the Syrians, as well as the terrorists already inside Iraq.”
And to top it off, he tells the lazy, shiftless Iranian people to get off their butts and overthrow their government: “We should propose a better solution to the Iranian people: revolution, leading to their freedom.”
He alerts us to the fact that he is going to give us more valuable suggestions in the future because he ends up with “if we want to win, that’s the first step. Anybody ready?” (my emphasis).
And then, exhausted by giving all this advice, Ledeen lay down on the couch in his air-conditioned home, drank some designer coffee, and watched some football.
In future columns, Ledeen is going to solve the problem of global warming (“People should stop doing things that cause global warming”), crime (“Policemen should solve crimes and arrest all the criminals”), cancer (“Researchers should do experiments that will lead to a cure”), dark matter and dark energy (“Physicists should shine some light on it so that they can see it better”), and poverty (“People who are poor should go out and get jobs instead of sitting on their couches, drinking designer coffee, and watching football”).
I can hardly wait.