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November 29, 2005

Another Bush Speech
Posted by Derek Chollet

Another week, another curtain-raiser for one more “major” Bush speech on Iraq.  So far these speeches have fallen relatively flat -- doing little more than fuel the partisan war in Washington – and have not foreshadowed any new policies. 

But tomorrow’s speech at Annapolis seems to be different – and will be the most important speech Bush has given on Iraq since the debate exploded last June, when the President had to scramble to the prime-time airwaves to steady his course.

As the LA Times first reported over the weekend (and the Wall Street Journal writes today), tomorrow’s speech will be the beginning of the pivot on Iraq – laying the groundwork for a gradual troop withdrawal starting next year.  Bush will apparently praise the training of Iraqi troops, talk about the progress they’ve made, and move beyond his standard “as they stand up we’ll stand down” rhetoric, giving a little more detail to convince people that he really means it.

There are a lot of thoughtful folks who have already outlined what we should be listening for tomorrow (not on the politics, but on the policy), and their questions are worth pondering.  They challenge the Administration, but since they raise questions that all of us who are trying to find a responsible way forward in Iraq are trying to answer, they also challenge us.

For example, CAP’s Brian Katulis (co-architect of the influential “strategic redeployment” strategy that has driven a lot of the debate about what to do within progressive circles) raises important questions that will certainly help poke holes in what Bush says: Are his troop training numbers credible?  How many Iraqis that we say are trained actually work for militias, not the state?  Are we failing to give the Iraqis we are training the equipment they need?  If what we’re doing is working, then why isn’t the insurgency getting smaller?   

But perhaps more important are the questions on Fred Kaplan’s mind, which go to the larger strategic plans (and risks) of a Bush withdrawal:

“How does he plan to do it? Which troops will come out first? How quickly? Where will they go? Under what circumstances will they be put back in? Which troops will remain, and what will they do? How will they keep a profile low enough to make the Iraqi government seem genuinely autonomous yet high enough to help deter or stave off internal threats? Who will keep the borders secure, a task for which the Iraqi army doesn't even pretend to have the slightest capability? What kinds of diplomatic arrangements will he make with Iraq's neighbors—who have their own conflicting interests in the country's future—to assure an international peace?

“More to the point, does the president have a plan for all this? (The point is far from facetious; it's tragically clear, after all, that he didn't have a plan for how to fight the war if it extended beyond the collapse of Saddam.) Has he entertained these questions, much less devised some shrewd answers? If he's serious about a withdrawal or redeployment that's strategically sensible, as opposed to politically opportune, we should hear about them in his speech Wednesday night.”

Let’s hope so.  But don’t hold your breath.


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