Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush's challenge

I just got off the phone with White House Counselor Dan Bartlett -- it was one of those conference calls whereby they try to give 8 or 10 of us out in the provinces the illusion of access, so don't get too excited -- and I'm still unsure just how this speech of President Bush's tonight will go over.

The synopsis Dan (our new best buddy, who took care to call everybody by name when they asked questions) gave us was similar to what has been leaked extensively already. About 20,000 new troops, five brigades to Baghdad and one to al-Ansar province, center of Qaida and Sunni insurgency. Well, not new troops exactly, but more on the ground ready for combat, to be accomplished by keeping some in-country longer than planned, speeding up deployment of others, and issuing stand-by be-ready notices to reserves and National Guard.

Here's the gist of Bartlett's contention. The previous assumption was that progress on the political end by the Iraqi government would lead to reduced violence. That assumption has proven incorrect, so they've done a reall reassessment this time. They now think they need to quell the violence first and that the Iraqi government and military is better prepared and (perhaps more important) more seriously committed to creating a national rather than a sectarian regime. Maliki has been told privately that the U.S. won't stay around indefinitely while they dither. But the U.S. recognizes that the Iraqi military is not quite ready yet to put down the insurgency/sectarian fighting but can do so with more help from the U.S. The U.S. will have several roles: embeds in Iraqi units (an effective force multiplier, Bartlett says), as independent combat units as needed, and as support units, supplying communication, transportation, intelligence, airstrikes, etc.

Bartlett was cagey about the time frame, but it sounded more like months than years. He did say the new resolve by the Maliki government was to go after killers/lawbreakers of all ethnicities, and in response to my question said this meant Moqtada al-Sadr but he wouldn't be mentioned by name.

I'm still skeptical. Successful counterinsurgency traditionally requires a lot more troops and much more time than we're in a position to commit. But Bush might be able to sell "give us one more chance to get it right" or at least to create enough of an impression of a success that the U.S. can save face. But I doubt it.

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