Much Ado About Nothing: Previewing Bush and Cheney Speeches on Iraq

 

A busy week in our country’s Iraq debate comes to a close this week with a speech by President Bush Thursday night, when he will reportedly announce that 30,000 U.S. troops might come home next summer, followed by speeches Friday by the president and Vice President Dick Cheney—all part of a media blitz aimed at trying to convince a skeptical American public to give his Iraq policy more time.

These efforts are not likely to shift most Americans’ opposition to the current policy as more than seven in ten Americans oppose the president’s handling of the war in Iraq. The reason: there is no real news in the announcement of U.S. troops possibly leaving Iraq next summer.

President Bush is making a virtue out of necessity and stating what must happen. Unless he decides to extend the tours of duty of the Army to 18 months or calls up more Reserves, the level of U.S. forces in Iraq must go down. The growing military readiness crisis amid still chaotic conditions in Iraq is forcing President Bush to announce this drawdown. This is nothing more than the regular rotation of forces out of Iraq, as the Center for American Progress outlined in its recent report, “Beyond the Call of Duty.

So President Bush’s speech does not represent a fundamental change in policy. It is merely a sign of more of the same, with the possibility of returning U.S. troop levels to where they were at the end of last year.

Nor has the situation in Iraq changed substantially. Numerous reports during the past few weeks and more than 12 hours of Congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker revealed one clear bottom line: The fundamental objective of the surge has not been achieved. Iraq’s leaders are no closer to national reconciliation and power-sharing agreements needed to stabilize the country.

What’s more, the notion that the surge is achieving bottom-up reconciliation has proven hollow. Thursday morning’s killing of Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a Sunni tribal leader who met with President Bush last week, is yet another sign that the initiative to work with Sunni tribal forces will not likely result in sustainable security inside of Iraq.

In addition to ongoing Sunni-on-Sunni violence in the Anbar and Diyala provinces, Iraq is experiencing increased tensions between Shi’a elements in the southern part of the country, as well as continued battles between Shi’a and Sunnis in the center and Arab-Kurdish tensions in the north. In the north, the south, the east, and the west, Iraq continues to experience high levels of violence, most of which is tied to a vicious struggle for power.

The country’s leaders are clearly no closer to a resolution on power-sharing and national reconciliation amid all this warfare. Which leads to important questions people should ask when they hear President Bush and Vice President Cheney speak:

  • What do the president and vice president hope to achieve by keeping the same level of U.S. troops in Iraq at least through next summer?
  • What are the next steps that they plan to take to help Iraq’s leaders settle their internal disputes peacefully?
  • What steps will the Bush administration take to motivate Iraq’s neighbors to play a more constructive role in stabilizing Iraq?

Even after numerous reports and hours of testimony this week, clear answers to these important questions are still missing in action. In the end, a shift in military tactics and the possibility of minor adjustments in troop levels in six months will not make the United States any more secure against the terrorist enemies who continue to threaten our shores from safe havens along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan

Instead of passively waiting for Iraq’s leaders to make a series of power-sharing decisions, the United States should adopt a more active stance to advance its interests in our struggle with global terrorist networks in Iraq and in the Middle East. For far too long, U.S. security has remained hostage to Iraq’s stalled political transition. The United States needs to reclaim control and implement a Strategic Reset aimed at using U.S. power to advance our national security interests in the Middle East.

Brian Katulis is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and an author of the new report “Strategic Reset: Reclaiming Control of U.S. Security in the Middle East.”

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