Bush Defends Troop Surge Strategy Amid New Criticism

July 7, 2008 - 8:32 PM

(CNSNews.com) - While President Bush is looking for signs of success in Iraq, congressional Democrats -- and even some Republicans -- this week were seeing mostly failures.

"The last of the reinforcements arrived in Iraq earlier this month -- and the full surge has begun," President Bush said Thursday in a speech at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

"And there are hopeful signs, the president added.

For example, Bush mentioned the recent killing of two senior al Qaeda leaders north of Baghdad; a decline in sectarian murders in Baghdad; a drop in car bombings and suicide attacks; the accelerated discovery of arms caches; and more Iraqis who are coming forward with information on the whereabouts of terrorists.

He also mentioned that coalition forces are going into areas such as Anbar and Ramadi "where they couldn't operate before," and they're driving al Qaeda out of those areas.

"On the ground, our forces can see the difference the surge is making." Bush said. He quoted General Petraeus as describing "astonishing signs of normalcy" in Baghdad.

Bush said General David Petraeus is executing a "well-conceived plan," developed by "smart military people," adding that Americans "owe them" the time and support the military needs to succeed.

While the President expressed frustration with the slow-pace of Iraq's parliament in passing key "benchmark" legislation, he also made a point of describing the difficulty of Iraq's situation.

"[In] a democracy, the head of government just can't decree the outcome...Even in a long-established democracy, it's not easy to pass important pieces of legislation in a short period of time. We're asking the Iraqis to accomplish all these things at a time when their country is being attacked," he said.

But members of Congress are growing increasingly impatient.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee heard testimony Wednesday critical of what the Bush administration has called its "new way forward in Iraq."

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who chairs the panel, called for a "sober assessment" of the troop surge and the situation in Iraq. He also described President Bush's new strategy as "a categorical, catastrophic...[and] abject failure." The administration's policy objectives in Iraq are "plainly delusional," Lantos said.

Lantos' comments follow what some war critics described as a "turning point" in the war - a speech Monday by Sen. Richard Lugar, who said it's time to start pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.

"In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved," said Lugar, who normally toes the Republican line. "Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term."

One day later, on Tuesday, Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican from Ohio, also called for the U.S. to start pulling out its troops. Press reports were quick to seize on the idea that the two Republican had turned against Bush's war strategy.

Retired Major General John Batiste, who helped plan the Iraq war and later criticized Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld's wartime leadership, testified before Lantos' committee on Wednesday. He agreed that "the current 'surge' in Iraq is too little, too late," and "lacks strategic focus."

Batiste also criticized the administration's broader efforts, saying, "Our Army and Marine Corps are at a breaking point with little to show for it...our nation has yet to mobilize to defeat a very serious threat which has little to do with Iraq, and it is past time to refocus our national security strategy and begin the deliberate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq."

Batiste called the Bush administration's goal of establishing freedom and democracy in the Middle East "noble, but completely unrealistic.

"Democracy is inconsistent with the tribal and religious culture in the region," he said.

Frederick Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose report "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq" served as the basis of the new counterinsurgency strategy, gave a cautiously positive evaluation of the surge in his testimony before Lantos' committee.

"It is now beyond question that the Bush administration pursued a flawed approach to the war in Iraq from 2003 to 2007," Kagan said. But "to say that the current plan has failed is simply incorrect....Indications on the military side strongly suggest that success -- in the form of dramatically reduced violence by the end of this year -- is quite likely."

Kagan said it would be a "very grave error indeed to rush now to abandon the first strategy that offers some real prospect for success."

Kagan added that though President Bush announced his new strategy in January of this year, and reinforcement brigades began arriving in Iraq over the winter and spring, the operations that are designed to clear out insurgent activity in Baghdad have not yet begun in earnest.

Kagan testified that "a successful clear-and-hold operation...will probably begin in late July or early August within Baghdad itself." He said that operation will be the one to bring lasting security to Iraq's capital -- creating "the space for political progress that we all desire."

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, told Cybercast News Service that although it's too soon to call the troop surge strategy a failure, it's also "too soon to call the surge a success."

He also criticized the idea of withdrawing troops because of the possibility that such a scenario would result in "genocidal civil war...fueled internally by the competition for control of oil, and drawing in neighboring countries."

General David Petraeus, head of the multi-national forces in Iraq, will give a comprehensive review of the war effort in September, and his findings are expected to determine whether the United States begins to withdraw forces from the nation.

digg_skin = 'compact'

Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article.

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Evan Moore

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.