President Bush recently outlined U.S. plans for operations in Iraq. What are the details of the president's "strategy for victory" and are its goals attainable?
U.S. involvement in Iraq began with strong Congressional and public support. But now, more than two years later, the casualties and costs have caused many Americans to question the country's continued presence there.
Last month, Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania offered a proposal calling for U.S. troops in Iraq to start coming home. Although it received little support, many analysts say it caused the White House to respond.
Bush: "Nothing Less Than Complete Victory"
President Bush refuted those calls for troop withdrawals in a speech on Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy. "Most Americans want two things in Iraq. They want to see our troops win and they want to see our troops come home as soon as possible. And those are my goals as well," he said. "I will settle for nothing less than complete victory."
The White House also issued a 35-page document called "A National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." Along with a vow to defeat terrorists and insurgents there, the plan includes turning over the country's security to Iraqi forces as soon as they can be trained and put in place. But the President's plan set no timetable for the hand-over or the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Bush Speech Reassuring to Europe
Steven Twigg, Director of the Foreign Policy Centre, a private research group in London, says the president's speech has a spillover effect across the Atlantic Ocean. "This was very much a speech aimed at the domestic audience in the United States," he says. "But I think there will be a very strong body of opinion here in Europe that would agree that it would be a big mistake to withdraw now, or to withdraw soon, or even at this stage to set a timetable for withdrawal."
President Bush says withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq before achieving complete victory would embolden extremists who would believe America would "cut and run in the face of adversity."
Laith Kubbah, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, agrees. "Total victory is defeating the al-Qaida operations in Iraq and defeating Saddam's [Hussein] remnants who are trying to have some influence over the process or some sort of comeback. By denying them that and empowering an elected Iraqi government is ultimately the victory that we all wanted," he said.
U.S. Force Cutbacks Linked to Iraq Taking Over Security
For President Bush and many analysts, America's troop withdrawal depends on the ability of Iraq's military and police forces to fight terrorism and maintain security in the country.
But Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute here in Washington says that judging by the number of terrorist attacks in Iraq in recent months, the presence of U.S. forces is not speeding up the security process. He adds that setting a definite timetable for the withdrawal of American forces would give the Iraqi government incentive to bolster its readiness.
"I would prefer it be in a year or so from whenever we announce it, maybe immediately after the elections in December, for example. And then say to them in that intervening year-long period, 'We will work together to transition security responsibilities with the understanding that within one year's time, you will have a genuine sovereignty over your country,'" he says.
But Ruel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington says success will come slowly and that he doesn't expect any change in America's military presence in Iraq during the next 12-to-18 months. "I don't think it is likely that President Bush is going to tolerate any type of significant withdrawal until he sees progress with the counter-insurgency," he said. The biggest concern is that it's possible that you will develop a view in the American military, I think it is already developing, that the objective here is to hand-off the insurgency to the new Iraqi army as opposed to defeating that insurgency [ourselves]."
Mr. Gerecht adds that victory in Iraq should not mean stopping every Sunni extremist or terrorist, but ensuring security in key areas like the Sunni Triangle and Baghdad.
Iraq Security Handover Compared to "Vietnamization"
But some observers see a disquieting resemblance between developments in Iraq and America's involvement in Vietnam 30 years ago.
Retired U.S. Lieutenant General William Odom, a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute says the United States proposed a similar plan for handing over the fighting to the South Vietnamese. "Vietnam is very instructive. Remember, [President Richard] Nixon had a plan -- 'Vietnamization.' We were going to train the Vietnamese army [to defend itself]. What happened? We stayed years longer than we had to. Vietnamization worked in some places and didn't work in others, and it eventually collapsed."
Many analysts, including General Odom, argue that conditions in Iraq are not going to be changed favorably by a prolonged American presence.
Would Withdrawal Timetable Aid Insurgents?
The White House says a fixed date for the withdrawal of U.S. forces would give terrorists and insurgents a timetable in which to regroup.
But Cato Institute analyst Christopher Preble contends that would be unlikely. "The insurgents will have a very, very different explanation or target once we are gone. And once they are seen as targeting just genuinely patriotic Iraqi people, they will be seen for what they are, which is not truly supportive of the wishes of Iraqis and therefore, I expect, the Iraqi people will turn on them."
A public opinion poll taken shortly after the President's speech found that a majority of those surveyed, 55 to 41 percent, doubted whether Mr. Bush indeed had a strategy for victory in Iraq, although most Americans contacted for the survey had not heard the President's address when they responded.
In an effort to further define his Iraq strategy, Mr. Bush is expected to give several more speeches prior to Iraq's parliamentary elections on December 15th -- an event, many analysts say, that will be crucial in the democratic development of the country and the withdrawal of American forces.
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