Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


INSS Insight: How New is Bush’s “New Course”?

INSS Insight – Editor Mark A. Heller
January 14, 2007 No. 7

How New is Bush’s “New Course”?

Roni Bart

President George W. Bush announced a “new strategy” in Iraq: a substantial improvement in the security situation in order to provide time for political arrangements to stabilize the country. The main points in his program are:

  • Making security the most urgent priority, especially in Baghdad. Only the Iraqis themselves can deal with this problem, and their government has prepared an aggressive program to deal so while avoiding a repetition of previous mistakes – too few troops and political limitations (i.e., a pro-Shi’ite tilt) on their employment.

  • Reinforcement of the Iraqi force to be deployed in Baghdad with about 17,500 American troops. Their mission is clear: to help the Iraqi forces take control of the city, to guarantee the security of its residents and to ensure long-term control.

  • Making it clear that “the American commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not meet its obligations, it will lose the support of the American people.”

  • Insisting that the Iraqi government carry out the headline goals it has set for itself: assuming security responsibility for the whole country by November, enacting an Oil Law that will provide for a relatively equal allocation of revenues to the different ethnic and confessional groups, holding local elections during the year, rescinding the law that bars former Ba’th Party members from working in the public sector, and passing constitutional amendments as promised to the Sunni minority.

  • Posting an additional 4,000 American troops to predominantly Sunni Anbar Province.

  • “Disrupting and destroying” support networks sending men and weapons from Syria and especially Iran.
  • According to President Bush, the more popular alternative of reducing American force levels in Iraq would bring about the collapse of Iraqi government, cause more bloodshed, and make it necessary for the American army to remain even longer. At this critical juncture, he insists that support must instead be increased in order to break the cycle of violence. The coming year will undoubtedly see much violence, but, he argues, the new strategy will ultimately succeed. Any victory will not resemble tactical victories of the past. However, it will produce a democratic Iraq, certainly not perfect in every respect but one that can nevertheless fight terrorism rather than serve a sanctuary for it. “The challenge in the Middle East,” says Bush, “is the decisive ideological struggle of our time,” and the new strategy is meant to ensure the future of an emerging democracy in region of critical importance to the United States.

    What the President did not say was that the troop reinforcement will be brief. Nor did he set out a rigid timetable for the achievement of the headline goals by the Iraqi government. Nor did he specifically warn that failure to meet them would lead to the withdrawal of US forces. Bush did not stipulate that the response to Syrian and Iranian activities would be confined to Iraq and he did not repeat the well-worn phrase that “failure is not an option,” referring instead to “victory” only in the context of lowering expectations.

    Is this really a “new course”? The program does shift the main military effort to Baghdad and it does intensify the effort to transfer the main burden to the Iraqis. It also makes clear, for the first time, that the American commitment is not open-ended. Nevertheless, little in the strategy is really new. During the past three years, there have been several operations to clean out Baghdad (and other centers of violence). All these have failed. What the new program promises is basically more of the same. Bush was aware of this and has therefore argued that the chances of success are better this time because the Shi’ite-dominated government is showing a determination to fight violent elements in both confessional camps and is allocating enough forces to do so.

    However, there are still two major obstacles to success. The first is opposition by the Democrat-controlled Congress. The Congressional leadership, backed up by voters, has demanded that the President not send more troops to Iraq. But while Democrats are united in their opposition to Bush, they do not agree on an alternative policy. The moderates among them will settle for non-binding resolutions and critical hearings in committee; a few may also try to delay the program with oversight and control measures. More radical opposition forces, however, have already suggested trying to block Bush by passing legislation or wielding the “power of the purse” (the program will cost about $7 billion). Because the Constitution gives the President considerable discretion in using armed force, and because most Democrats won’t want to risk be labeled as “unpatriotic,” the President will probably prevail over Congress.

    The second and more serious obstacle is the Iraqi government, on which the success of the program actually rests. Bush hopes that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will now have both the will and the capacity to act forcefully against all the sources of violence in the country. That is a very optimistic expectation, since it implies that the Iraqi government will not only confront the Shi’ite militias but also act to conciliate the Sunni minority by implementing the headline goals largely intended to cultivate its acquiescence. Thus far, the government has shown no sign of doing either. In fact, even the decision to send more American troops to Baghdad appears not to be favored by the Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi government – because it views an American buildup and a tightening of American security control as contradicting its own desire to gain sole authority over Iraq as quickly as possible. Besides, many Iraqi units are actually part of the problem rather than part of the solution. In brief, Bush will almost certainly discover that the Iraqi government is a very weak reed on which to lean.

    Although the President has staked everything on a bet that Iraqis do want to coexist peacefully under a government determined to transcend confessional considerations, there is little evidence that his reading of Iraqi reality is more accurate now than it was when the US first took control of the country in March 2003.


    INSS Insight is published
    through the generosity of
    Sari and Israel Roizman, Philadelphia

    © Scoop Media

    Top Scoops Headlines


    Julian Assange: A Thousand Days In Belmarsh
    Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days. On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul... More>>

    Binoy Kampmark: The Mauling Of Novak Djokovic
    Rarely can the treatment of a grand sporting figure by officialdom have caused such consternation. Novak Djokovic, the tennis World Number One, has always had a tendency to get under skin and constitution, creating a large following of admirers and detractors. But his current treatment by Australian authorities, and his subsequent detention as an unlawful arrival despite being granted a visa to participate in the Australian Open, had the hallmarks of oppression and incompetent vulgarity... More>>

    Binoy Kampmark: Voices Of Concern: Aussies For Assange’s Return

    With Julian Assange now fighting the next stage of efforts to extradite him to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 of which are based on the brutal, archaic Espionage Act, some Australian politicians have found their voice. It might be said that a few have even found their conscience... More>>

    Forbidden Parties: Boris Johnson’s Law On Illegal Covid Gatherings

    It was meant to be time to reflect. The eager arms of a new pandemic were enfolding a society with asphyxiating, lethal effect. Public health authorities advocated various measures: social distancing, limited contact between family and friends, limited mobility. No grand booze-ups. No large parties. No bonking, except within dispensations of intimacy and various “bubble” arrangements. Certainly, no orgies... More>>

    Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But
    The focus placed on the first couple of Question Time exchanges between the new leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister will have seemed excessive to many but the most seasoned Parliamentary observers. Most people, especially those outside the Wellington beltway, imagine Question Time is exactly what it sounds... More>>

    Gasbagging In Glasgow: COP26 And Phasing Down Coal

    Words can provide sharp traps, fettering language and caging definitions. They can also speak to freedom of action and permissiveness. At COP26, that permissiveness was all the more present in the haggling ahead of what would become the Glasgow Climate Pact... More>>