Tonight, President Bush delivered his speech on Iraq. The speech had three main components. First, he explained the link between success in Iraq and our national security. Second, he described the success of the surge. Third, he announced that he has accepted the recommendations of General Petraeus with respect to troop withdrawal — 2,200 out of Iraq this month; 5,700 out by Christmas, and 20 combat brigades expected to be reduced to 15 by the middle of next year.
The speech was solid, although I think Bush should have supported his case for the surge’s success with quotes from General Petraeus and with more statistical evidence. People have largely made up their minds about the importance (or lack of importance) of succeeding in Iraq. The open question is can we succeed and to what degree are we succeeding now.
In a sense, though, Bush’s speech is anti-climactic and almost superfluous. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker appear already to have done enough to buy the administration’s policy six more months. Indeed, the Democrats aren’t seriously disputing that the surge has achieved substantial military success. In his response to Bush, Senator Jack Reed did not deny anything Bush said on this score. Instead, he focused on the acknowledged lack of political success. He also maintained that the Democrats have a better plan for Iraq, but never described it. He certainly didn’t openly advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by any date certain. Moveon.org must be beside itself.
The key to the future of Iraq, then, is what transpires there between now and March, when Petraeus issues his next report. If he and Crocker can report continued military progress, substantial improvement in Iraqi forces, and real political progress, and can recommend deeper cuts in U.S. troop levels, then Bush should be able to fend off the Democrats until the end of his term. And the war might just gain enough popular support to permit the election of a president who will sustain our effort beyond the Bush presidency.
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