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US Papers Thursday: Bush's Iraq Strategy
Or Old Wine in New Bottles: The Debate Continues
By SETH SMITH 01/11/2007 02:10 AM ET
The wait is finally over. President Bush's speech and reaction dominate Thursday coverage. The basics: 17,500 new troops in Baghdad and 4,000 in Al Anbar; US$1 billion in new aid for reconstruction and job creation; and Iraqi officers rather than U.S. generals will be put in charge of each of Baghdad's nine districts. Iran and Syria received stern warnings, and additional Patriot missile batteries will be deployed to counter the threat the administration believes to be emanating from Iran. No benchmarks for success were included in the speech.

The NYT has President Bush returning to his old contention that failure in Iraq would have grave domestic consequences. The article also notes that increased casualty rates are almost assured. Perhaps most interesting are two exchanges Bush had with Congressional leaders earlier in the day: “ said to Maliki this has to work or you’re out.” When questioned about why the current plan will work where others have failed, Bush responded, "Because it has to." The WP goes high with Bush's mea culpas about past failures in Iraq, and his placing responsibility for future success on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. The fact that Al Maliki has been uncooperative in the past is duly noted. USA Today plays it straight. Perhaps most interesting, it relays the news that Al Maliki has told Shia militias to turn in their weapons or face the combined wrath of the U.S. and Iraqi armed forces. The WSJ leads with Bush between the perennial rock and a hard place: an uncooperative government in Iraq and uncooperative Congressional Democrats at home. Everyone mentions semi-prominent Republican Senator and presidential aspirant Sam Brownback's coming out against the Bush plan.

The WP frames the debate over troop increases historically, setting it up as "the most significant confrontation between the White House and Congress over military policy since the Vietnam War." The article has an account of a raucous caucus meeting held Wednesday in which the House leadership gave the go-ahead to start looking at ways to cut off funding for a troop increase. USA Today provides additional details on Representative John Murtha's maneuvers to restrict funding. The NYT recaps previous reporting on the Democrats planned response to the troop increase plan. A non-binding resolution condemning the plan gets top billing, forcing Republicans on the record as supporting or opposing Bush's plan.

The NYT has the prepared text of Bush's address. The WP provides a pdf copy of briefing slides pertaining to the new strategy, put together by the National Security Council.


Sabrina Tavernise and John F. Burns outline the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's and other prominent Shia objections to U.S. troop increases. Al Maliki himself has not publicly opposed an increase. The article also provides an excellent analysis of the new plan's different proposals with regards to transfers of power, including some that will allow the Iraqis more autonomy and others that will tie that government's hands.

Michael R. Gordon analyzes the military aspects of the plan, writing that it hinges on the idea that Iraqi leaders are in fact committed to creating a multisectarian and multiethnic state. Like others, Gordon stresses that the Shia government's attachment to this idea is by no means assured. In fact much evidence points to the opposite conclusion.

An unsigned editorial accuses President Bush of failing the U.S. and Iraq, and wishing to force the next president to deal with the fallout from his failures. For the first time, the paper appears to call for a quick end to the war barring the unlikely appearance of a new and workable strategy.


Thomas E. Ricks and Ann Scott Tyson weigh in with a military analysis. Any troop increase for more than a few months will put major strains on the already overstretched military, and will lead to increases in battle deaths. Confronting the Mehdi Army, nominally loyal to Moqtada Al Sadr, is expected to be one of the most difficult tasks to be carried out during the new offensive. The militia is now considered stronger than the Iraqi Army by some Pentagon analysts. Some planners believe that the military has other means of countering the militias influence, such as economic incentives.

Joshua Partlow runs down Wednesday's violence in Iraq, including two busloads of Shia pilgrims returning from Hajj being killed and the announcement of two U.S. troop deaths. Other noteworthy news includes a Wednesday meeting between Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffaq Al Rubaie and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani. Al Sistani was briefed on Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's new Baghdad security plan. According to Al Rubaie, Al Sistani "was receptive" but did not give explicit approval.

Peter Baker compares Bush's cocksure manner on the 2004 campaign trail, when he could not think of any mistakes he had made, to Wednesday's admission of serious errors in the war's prosecution. Baker makes clear, however, that Bush's saying sorry for past mistakes in no way signaled a conciliatory mood.

Glenn Kessler harks back to a classified memo written by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley in early November and reported on later that month as the base of many ideas included in Bush's new plan. Kessler notes that the memo excited controversy at the time for its harsh appraisal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, but it can now be seen as a harbinger of the administrations new policy.

Dana Milbank examines politicians' use of the "prebuttal" to preempt the speeches of opponents by rebutting what they are expected to say.

An unsigned editorial faults Bush for not adopting a plan that would speed up training for Iraqi forces. The editorial also recommends a cessation of troop increases if the Iraqi don't live up to their commitments on a number of issues.


Susan Page takes a look at what is at stake for the White House in taking a gamble that its latest step will simultaneously improve conditions in Iraq and rally public opinion.

A compare-and-contrast chart is provided showing Bush's recommendations and the Iraq Study Group's recommendations side-by-side.

An unsigned editorial says that Bush's new plan has only a slim chance of succeeding. The editorial makes clear that the current plan, like past plans, relies heavily on rosy assessments of situations over which the administration has little control.


Philip Shishkin and Jafar Juhi have a compelling story about the effect of Baghdad's sectarian violence on its youngest residents. The celebration of sectarian killings framed as revenge or self-defense has inevitably captured the imaginations of the young.

An unsigned editorial applauds Bush's plan to send more troops while worrying that more will be necessary to stop the persistent violence.

A second editorial lambasts Democrats for their supposedly criticizing the president's proposals without offering up substantial alternatives.

Former Proconsul L. Paul Bremer has a guest editorial in which he offers apologies for mistakes he made while administering Iraq, and commends the president for not moving to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.


Gail Russell Chaddock explains how Congress has the ability to stop a troop increase in Iraq. Details about the three main proposals for blocking or impeding an escalation, from Representative John Murtha, Representative Ed Markey, and Senator Ted Kennedy, are included.

Howard LaFranchi has a piece questioning whether any member of President Bush's new Iraq team has the wherewithal to force the Iraqis to reconcile their differences.


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