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January 10, 2007
The Last Best Chance

President Bush will take to the airwaves tonight to unveil his new strategy in Iraq, attempting to build enough support to shift more troops for at least a limited engagement against sectarian militias that threaten to undermine the Iraqi government. In preparation, Bush spent hours polishing his speech and meeting with lawmakers of both parties to ensure he strikes the right tone:

President Bush spent hours Tuesday practicing in front of cameras, preparing to make his case for increasing the U.S. military commitment in Iraq in a prime-time address to the nation tonight, even as congressional Democrats readied legislation to block any increase in the number of troops.

Members of Congress who met with Bush said he appeared to understand that, after years of upbeat rhetoric and positive assessments that belied a lack of progress inside the country, his credibility was on the line.

"He told us what he planned to say tomorrow," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), one of about a dozen House members who met with the president and his top advisors for more than an hour Tuesday afternoon. "In terms of tough moments in his presidency, this is it." ...

In the White House meeting, Bush gave a rundown of the speech to House Democrats, who gave him a tepid response. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said no lawmaker in his meeting supported the new policy. "We were more in a question-and-answer mode, but a fair amount of skepticism was voiced," Smith said.

"It was not a confrontational meeting," said Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Alamo), who said she emphasized the importance of the Iraqi government making political progress. "I think he understands that, at some level, this is the last best chance."

To no one's surprise, the strategy envisions sending 20,000 more troops, probably primarily in the Baghdad and Anbar areas. In exchange, Nouri al-Maliki has agreed to meet benchmarks for political progress, likely focusing on reducing Moqtada al-Sadr's grip on the Ministry of the Interior and other key agencies. He has already replaced the generals who insisted that no troop increase would be necessary to accomplish the mission, and the new commander, General David Petraeus, supports this new policy. The Los Angeles Times does not mention it, but the speech will almost certainly also unveil a new jobs program to help rebuild Iraqi infrastructure, a key component of any plan to reduce violence in Iraq as well as to raise the standard of living.

Also to no one's surprise, the Democrats wasted no time in opposing Bush's new strategy even before he has a chance to announce it. Democrats debated methods of blocking troop transfers in Congress, a move that even their own people warned would be an unconstitutional infringement on the powers of the commander-in-chief. Once authorized to conduct a war, Congress has no authority to dictate troop movements or even an end to hostilities. Ted Kennedy practically twisted an ankle in his rush to the podium to declare Iraq as Bush's Vietnam.

I'd like to hear the strategy before passing final judgment on the idea. While I'm not sold on the use of "surge" to describe a sustained increase of 20,000 troops, it's ridiculous to compare that to the massive escalations of the Johnson administration in Vietnam. If the mission has explicit definitions and targets and the rules of engagement allow the troops to accomplish it, then it makes sense. It is in our interests and those of Iraq to put an end to the sectarian violence in Baghdad and Anbar. A concentrated clear-and-hold that relies on American troops in a primary position could give enough of an opportunity for calmer heads to prevail, and for serious rebuilding and jobs efforts to have a soothing effect on the divide.

I do agree that this may be Bush's last, best chance to change directions in support of victory in Iraq. If it doesn't succeed, then the Democrats will likely force his hand towards defeat and retreat.

NOTE: I will live-blog the speech this evening in a new post.

UPDATE: Mitt Romney joins John McCain in supporting the surge.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 10, 2007 6:27 AM

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