Today George Bush announced that he would send 21,500 more US troops to Iraq to try to reduce sectarian violence. This would bring the total number of US troops to 153,500.
Until now he has continued to claim that the US could win the war in Iraq but in a surprising moment of honesty he admitted that the US strategy had been a failure and claimed that the US had not expected such a large rise in sectarian violence. If he had actually listened to his own military advisors and critics of his war, this may not have been such a surprise. The temptation to scream "told you so" is almost unbearable.
Bush admitted "The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people - and it is unacceptable to me..." (he did not comment on whether it was acceptable to the Iraqi people) and ´fessed up "Where mistakes have been made the responsibility rests with me". Well of course it does, you are the President after all.
While Bush did acknowledge the findings of the Iraq Study Group led by former secretary of state James Baker, he completely ignored its central recommendation (a phased withdrawal) and instead decided to send in more troops arguing that a withdrawal now would lead to more violence. "To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale...If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home."
His announcement is clearly aimed at the new Democratic majority in congress who are against sending more troops. Now he will have to wait with baited breath for the vote in congress next week. Public opinion is against him, and many Republicans also want to resist committing further troops, so the result is by no means guaranteed to favour the president.
Bush also claimed that he had a new commitment from Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, to prevent any sectarian or political interference as they try to identify and subdue the militias. Quite how al-Maliki is supposed to achieve this amazing feat is unclear. Maybe he will just ask them nicely. It is also unclear why Bush thinks more troops can solve the problem, particularly as the presence of US troops is one of the causes of violence. The invasion discredited the US, and the reports of torture by armed forced have done little to recommend their position as peace-keepers. Now they have announced that the rules of engagement will be amended to let US troops take more aggressive action they are unlikely to be received as the saviours of Iraq. Many middle-class and moderate Iraqis fled Baghdad to escape the violence leaving behind many with good reason to hate the US. In fact, the US itself is complicit in the sectarian violence because US troops have regularly looked the other way as Shia death squads have taken revenge on Sunni Muslims. It is incredibly naive to think that you can simple overwhelm an unwilling population by force rather than deal with the root causes. Britain attempted exactly that approach in Northern Ireland over forty years ago and the problem has still not gone away.
Again George is acting unilaterally and in contradiction to his "friends". Bush did not mention the plans for a regional diplomacy being promoted by Blair, made only hostile references to Iran and Syria (tempting some to say that the troops are actually there to prepare the way for the invasion of Iran), and completely ignored the impact of the problems between Israel and Palestine. More worrying for Blair, is the concern that an increase in US operations in Baghdad are likely to drive Shia militia attacks southwards against British troops in Basra.
Of course, Tony is not worried (honest). Margaret Beckett this morning insisted that the American decision was a "joint effort" with the Iraqi administration and refused to confirm or deny rumours that the British presence around Basra could be cut by between 3,000 and 7,200. Beckett said that a withdrawal of troops would depend on improvements in the security situation in Basra.
William Hague, shadow foreign secretary, said he was "sceptical" that sending extra troops would improve the situation and noted that "Last year´s attempt to control Baghdad with more US troops was not successful...There is a risk that the insurgency can be fuelled, as well as contained, by the presence of foreign troops."
Meanwhile Sir Menzies Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrats, noted that Bush´s plan did not have public support and that it was "a strategy that Tony Blair should not follow or endorse....it is essential that the prime minister asserts independence with regards to British policy in Iraq.
Of course, we all know that will never happen, so we can look forward to an escalation in violence and the troops may as well get comfortable. Bush has shown again that he fails to understand the complexity of the problem and that he still believes "might is right".