Bush asks for patience in Iraq —again

From Bush’s final State of the Union address, via the New York Times:

Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated…

Our enemies in Iraq have been hit hard. They are not yet defeated, and we can still expect tough fighting ahead. Our objective in the coming year is to sustain and build on the gains we made in 2007, while transitioning to the next phase of our strategy. American troops are shifting from leading operations to partnering with Iraqi forces and, eventually, to a protective overwatch mission. As part of this transition, one Army brigade combat team and one Marine Expeditionary Unit have already come home and will not be replaced. In the coming months, four additional brigades and two Marine battalions will follow suit. Taken together, this means more than 20,000 of our troops are coming home.

Any further — any further drawdown of U.S. troops will be based on conditions in Iraq and the recommendations of our commanders. General Petraeus has warned that too fast a drawdown could result in, quote, “the disintegration of the Iraqi security forces, Al Qaeda-Iraq regaining lost ground, and a marked increase in violence.”

Members of Congress, having come so far and achieved so much, we must not allow this to happen.

The Times itself noted in an accompanying editorial:

[Bush] was not even able to assure Americans that there is an end in sight to the Iraq war. Instead, he made the same empty promise he has made every year: When Iraq can defend itself, American troops will come home. Iraq’s defense minister told The Times recently that his forces would not be able to fully keep the peace and defend their country until 2018.

The Associated Press helpfully provides an outline of US troop levels in Iraq to help deconstruct Bush’s optimism. They stood at 143,000 when Baghdad fell in April 2003, and were down to 121,100 by December of that year. They reached a low of 108,900 in January 2004, but were back up to 150,200 in December of that year. They’ve been climbing, albeit not steadily, since then. They peaked at 170,000 in October 2007, and currently stand at 157,000. They are projected to drop down to 135,000 by July—in other words, as we have pointed out before, exactly where they stood when Bush declared “mission accomplished” in May 2003 (when the official plan was to bring home 100,000 troops over the next four months). Additionally, the US Politics website estimates 10,815 non-US coalition troops in Iraq.

Does this seem like a temporary “surge” to you?

See our last posts on Iraq and the politics of escalation.

  1. But significantly…
    From Open Democracy Security Briefings, Jan. 30:

    Dropping adjectives, the Bush way
    Andrew Cochran, in the conservative Counterterrorism Blog, expresses his horror that President George W. Bush did not use the words “Islamic” or “Islamist” in his State of the Union address earlier this week. In the 2007 and 2006 iterations of the speech, Bush clearly singled out “radical Islam”, “Sunni” and “Shia” extremists as the targets of the “war on terrorism”. Cochran bemoans Bush’s “retreat from the obvious”.

    Another sign of the tilt away from the neocons.