Wednesday, January 10, 2007

In Speech to Nation, Bush Admits Errors in Iraq

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 — President Bush will announce tonight that he is sending more than 21,000 American troops to Iraq to quell the violence there, and he will tell the American people that a troop increase “at this crucial moment” will bring American forces home faster and help assure survival of the young democracy.

While conceding for the first time that he provided neither enough troops nor enough resources to control the chaos in Iraq last year, the president reasserts that the struggle in Iraq “will determine the direction of the global war on terror,” and thus directly affect Americans’ safety at home, according to excerpts of his speech released in advance by the White House this evening.

“The new strategy I outline tonight will change America’s course in Iraq and help us succeed in the fight against terror,” Mr. Bush says.

Mr. Bush will also use the speech to warn the Iraqi government that the American commitment to the country “is not open-ended,” according to a senior administration official who described the speech. To re-enforce the theme, Mr. Bush will declare: “Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.”

But the administration official said that Mr. Bush would make no explicit linkage between Iraq’s progress toward reaching new “benchmarks” — from political reconciliation to the provision of long-promised additional Iraqi combat brigades — and Mr. Bush’s commitment to a rapid escalation of the American presence.

The addition of the more than 21,000 over the next four months has already raised a political furor in Congress, and represents a huge bet by Mr. Bush that he can rescue a mission in Iraq that the White House now admits is failing. A top aide to Mr. Bush acknowledged that “there is a lot of skepticism” both in the United States and in Iraq about the ability of the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to deliver what he has promised.

But Mr. Bush says that pulling back now “would force a collapse of the Iraqi government.”

“Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer and confront an enemy that is even more lethal,” Mr. Bush says. “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 to come home.”

Mr. Bush’s speech, which will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, will include a stark new warning to Iran against what the administration says are its efforts to promote violent attacks in Iraq against American targets.

“I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq’s other leaders that America’s commitment is not open-ended,” Mr. Bush says. “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people — and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.”

Mr. Bush and his top advisers are acutely aware that their new strategy, only 13 months after they unveiled a “Plan for Victory” that was never executed, marks the last chance that the president may have to get Iraq right. He is committing more troops at a moment that almost all Democrats in Congress, and some Republicans, are openly opposing an increase in the number of American forces. Not since President Richard M. Nixon escalated the war in Vietnam, over public opposition, has a president taken such a risk with an increasingly unpopular war.

It comes after weeks of turmoil in Washington, in which Mr. Bush has overturned his Iraq strategy team, even as he was rewriting the plan. A new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, was brought in to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld, who opposed key elements of the strategy the president will describe tonight. He sped the removal of the American commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, and has replaced him with a counterinsurgency specialist, Gen. David Petreaus, who has embraced the new plan. A new American ambassador has been nominated to Baghdad as well, to replace Zalmay Khalilzad, a Sunni of Afghan heritage, who will represent the United States in the United Nations.

But the plan described by White House officials today, and by other administration officials in recent days, may fall short of what many experts inside and outside the government believe may be necessary.

Mr. Bush will announce that five additional American combat brigades will be available for securing Baghdad, with the first two arriving within the next month. They are supposed to be met, White House officials said, by an Iraqi brigade that is scheduled to be in place by Feb. 1, and two more by Feb. 15. He will also send additional troops to Anbar Province in western Iraq.

Mr. Bush will argue in his speech that the Iraqis are in the lead in the effort to secure their own capital, and that each Iraqi brigade will be accompanied by a battalion of Americans, about 600 to 700 strong. But it is unclear whether those Iraqi troops, who have been promised before, are prepared to take on the Shia militias, which the president will acknowledge constitute the biggest source of violence and instability.

Mr. Bush, the administration official said, will acknowledge that the hopes he invested in his “Plan for Victory” strategy at the end of 2005 “were dashed in 2006, as sectarian violence got out ahead of the Iraqi forces, and got out ahead of the American forces.”

He will embrace the Iraq Study Group’s finding that the situation in the country is “grave and deteriorating,” a far cry from Mr. Bush’s claim, just before the Nov. 7 election, that “absolutely, we are winning.” But he will argue, the aide said, that “American cannot afford to fail.”

Click for more on this story

No comments: