A preview of tonight’s presidential address on Iraq

Tony Snow conferred by telephone with conservative bloggers this afternoon to preview what President Bush will say tonight. Essentially, the president plans to send an additional 20,000 troops or so troops to Baghdad and about 4,000 additional troops to Anbar province. Baghdad will be divided into nine districts. We will station one batallion (about 600 troops) in each district. The Iraqis will station one brigade (a larger unit) in each. We will have a presence in the neighborhoods on a 24/7 basis. This is a switch from the approach we’ve been using, under which we roll our folks into the neighborhoods in the morning and return them to their barracks at night.
The rules of engagement will allow us to go after everyone we need to go after. The Mahdi army, for example, will not be off limits. Snow pointed to statements from Iraq’s president confirming that the Iraqi government is on board with this.
In Anbar, our additional forces will try to consolidate recent gains. According to Snow, tribal leaders there have turned strongly against al Qaeda, and want us to send in more forces with which to rout them. President Bush will oblige.
The president will also address Iran and Syria in his speech. However, it does not appear that he’ll get very specific tonight. Similarly, he will mention but not focus on securing the border with Syria.
Brett McQuirk, the president’s national security point man on Iraq, said that the administration considered the approach I have advocated — focusing on killing bad guys in the western areas and leaving Baghdad largely to the Iraqis to police (or not). It rejected that approach for two main reasons. First, the administration fears a humanitarian disaster. Second, the administration fears that sectarian violence against Sunnis in Baghdad will cause Sunnis in the western provinces to tllt towards al Qaeda, making it far more difficult for us to take that outfit on there.
There was much more. You can find it, I’m confident, on other leading conservative blogs.
I’ve been skeptical about the prospects that this sort of surge will succeed over the long-haul. However, the decision has been made, and not lightly. So we must hope not only that this action succeeds but that it is perceived as successful. And, perhaps most importantly, that the our domestic politics are such that we can sustain the effort needed to make sure that success isn’t temporary.
JOHN adds: The changes strike me more as tactical tweaks than a fundamental change in direction. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, but they certainly could have been implemented without the fanfare that is accompanying them. I have the impression that a lot of what is happening here is driven by the administration’s recognition that so far, it has lost the public relations war, and most Americans now think we are losing–or even, have already “lost”–in Iraq. So I think these changes are being packaged as a radical departure in part to reshuffle the deck and give the administration something close to a fresh start with the public.
Will it work? I hope so. The truth is that we haven’t been doing so badly in Iraq. The same news media whose relentlessly negative coverage has driven public perceptions of the war will cover the President’s speech and future events, and their coverage isn’t going to change much, if at all. But maybe if the American people are willing to take a fresh look at what is happening in Iraq going forward, they will find that things aren’t as grim there as they had been led to believe.
PAUL adds: I think the changes are more than tweaks; I probably failed to convey their true scope in my brief description. There seems now to be a real commitment on our part to policing the tough neighborhoods on an ongoing basis by leaving the barracks and embedding with Iraqi forces. Whether that’s a good idea and, relatedly, whether the Iraqis are up for this new partnership remains to be seen.

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