I HAD THE HONOR TO TAKE PART IN A WHITE HOUSE CONFERENCE CALL WITH BLOGGERS TO DISCUSS THE PRESIDENT'S SPEECH ON THE WAY FORWARD IN IRAQ
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and Brett McGurk, Director for Iraq, National Security Council, discussed President Bush's speech on the way forward in Iraq today at 4 PM with a small group of bloggers. Joining me was Austin Bay, Lori Byrd, Wizbang, John Hawkins - RightWing News, Human Events Online, Redstate , NZ Bear among others.
Here's the audio (about 40 minutes) :Download tonysnow110.mp3
Tony stated simply that it is , "essential we succeed."
"Iraqis must be placed in the lead. The Iraqis do not have capacity to safeguard public security in the short run."
Austin Bay is saying if you're gonna win this, you've got to win neighborhoods. Neighborhood by neighborhood.
Concentrating our efforts on the provincial level. Taking a regional approach
"We must enlist neighbors/ friends to contribute to Iraq. We have to engage Iraq's neighbors."
Tony would not go into detail on Iran and Syria although he acknowledged their destabilizing role in Iraq. My question, which I did not get a chance to ask was about the Iranians sponsoring much of the terror in Iraq. And what of those senior members of Iran's elite guard having been captured in Iraq.
Someone else asked about both Iran and Syria and Snow said he would not go into detail on what is going to be done about Iran as it would hit the world press "in a nanosecond."
That for me was the most telling moment of the phone call, Snow's reluctance to discuss Iran in any meanigful way. Something is up. And I am satisfied as long as we have a plan, a counter strategy to Iran's grand, sinister plans in their region. Their serpentice reach extends as far as Hamas, Hezbollah, - all of Iran's foreign legions.
Tony believes we need an open debate about this in from of the American people
Main points: The President's New Iraq Strategy Is Rooted In Six Fundamental Elements:
Let the Iraqis lead;
- Help Iraqis protect the population;
- Isolate extremists;
- Create space for political progress;
- Diversify political and economic efforts; and Situate the strategy in a regional approach.
Key Elements Of The New Approach: Security
- Publicly acknowledge all parties are responsible for quelling sectarian violence.
- Work with additional Coalition help to regain control of the capital and protect the Iraqi population.
- Deliver necessary Iraqi forces for Baghdad and protect those forces from political interference.
- Commit to intensify efforts to build balanced security forces throughout the nation that provide security even-handedly for all Iraqis.
- Plan and fund eventual demobilization program for militias.
- Agree that helping Iraqis to provide population security is necessary to enable accelerated transition and political progress. · Provide additional military and civilian resources to accomplish this mission.
- Increase efforts to support tribes willing to help Iraqis fight Al Qaeda in Anbar.
- Accelerate and expand the embed program while minimizing risk to participants. Both Coalition And Iraqi:
- Continue counter-terror operations against Al Qaeda and insurgent organizations.
- Take more vigorous action against death squad networks.
- Accelerate transition to Iraqi responsibility and increase Iraqi ownership.
- Increase Iraqi security force capacity – both size and effectiveness – from 10 to 13 Army divisions, 36 to 41 Army Brigades, and 112 to 132 Army Battalions.
Establish a National Operations Center, National Counterterrorism Force, and National Strike Force.
Reform the Ministry of Interior to increase transparency and accountability and transform the National Police.
Key Elements Of The New Approach: Political
The Government of Iraq commits to:
Reform its cabinet to provide even-handed service delivery.
Act on promised reconciliation initiatives (oil law, de-Baathification law, Provincial elections). Give Coalition and ISF authority to pursue ALL extremists.
All Iraqi leaders support reconciliation.
Moderate coalition emerges as strong base of support for unity government.
- Support political moderates so they can take on the extremists.
- Build and sustain strategic partnerships with moderate Shi'a, Sunnis, and Kurds.
- Support the national compact and key elements of reconciliation with Iraqis in the lead.
- Diversify U.S. efforts to foster political accommodation outside Baghdad (more flexibility for local commanders and civilian leaders).
- Expand and increase the flexibility of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) footprint. Focus U.S. political, security, and economic resources at local level to open space for moderates, with initial priority to Baghdad and Anbar.
Both Coalition And Iraqi:
- Partnership between Prime Minister Maliki, Iraqi moderates, and the United States where all parties are clear on expectations and responsibilities.
- Strengthen the rule of law and combat corruption.
- Build on security gains to foster local and national political accommodations.
- Make Iraqi institutions even-handed, serving all of Iraq's communities on an impartial basis.
- Key Elements Of The New Approach: Economic
- Deliver economic resources and provide essential services to all areas and communities. · Enact hydrocarbons law to promote investment, national unity, and reconciliation.
- Capitalize and execute jobs-producing programs.
- Match U.S. efforts to create jobs with longer term sustainable Iraqi programs.
- Focus more economic effort on relatively secure areas as a magnet for employment and growth.
- Refocus efforts to help Iraqis build capacity in areas vital to success of the government (e.g. budget execution, key ministries).
- Decentralize efforts to build Iraqi capacities outside the Green Zone.
- Double the number of PRTs and civilians serving outside the Green Zone. Establish PRT-capability within maneuver Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs).
- Greater integration of economic strategy with military effort.
- Joint civil-military plans devised by PRT and BCT. Remove legal and bureaucratic barriers to maximize cooperation and flexibility.
- Key Elements Of The New Approach: Regional
- Vigorously engage Arab states.
- Take the lead in establishing a regional forum to give support and help from the neighborhood.
- Counter negative foreign activity in Iraq.
- Increase efforts to counter PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party).
Coalition: · Intensify efforts to counter Iranian and Syrian influence inside Iraq.
- Increase military presence in the region.
- Strengthen defense ties with partner states in the region.
- Encourage Arab state support to Government of Iraq.
- Continue efforts to help manage relations between Iraq and Turkey.
- Continue to seek the region's full support in the War on Terror.
Both Coalition And Iraqi:
- · Focus on the International Compact.
- · Retain active U.N. engagement in Iraq – particularly for election support and constitutional review.
EXCERPTS FROM THE PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS TO THE NATION
Tonight President Bush will address the Nation from the White House to lay out his plan for a new way forward in Iraq.
On the new strategy:
Tonight in Iraq, the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror – and our safety here at home. The new strategy I outline tonight will change America’s course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror.
On the role of the Iraqis:
Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.
On securing Baghdad:
Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work…and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.
On what Iraq must do:
I have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq’s other leaders that America’s commitment is not open-ended. 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. Now is the time to act. The Prime Minister understands this.
On the economic component:
A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.
On protecting the American people:
The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time … In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy – by advancing liberty across a troubled region.
On what victory in Iraq will look like:
The changes I have outlined tonight are aimed at ensuring the survival of a young democracy that is fighting for its life in a part of the world of enormous importance to American security…The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will … Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship … A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them – and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren.
On bringing our troops home:
[To]step 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. 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 coming home.
The Highlights of the Iraq Strategy Review is now available on the White House website in PDF format here.
Q&A: THE NEW WAY FORWARD IN IRAQ
Q: What is new about the strategy that President Bush is announcing tonight?
· The new strategy that the President is announcing tonight represents a change in course that will help us succeed in the War on Terror and protect Americans at home. The President's new plan is the result of extensive deliberation and consultation with military leaders, members of Congress, and outside experts.
· The President's new plan includes diplomatic, economic, and political elements. The plan includes:
o More Iraqi troops in the lead;
o New rules of engagement that will enable us to prevent extremists from having safe havens in Baghdad;
o Political and economic benchmarks that Iraqis have established; and
o Intensified efforts to counter Iranian and Syrian action that threatens coalition forces.
Q: Why will more troops lead to success in Iraq?
· More troops are required because this will be a different operation, yielding different results.
· Securing Baghdad is a top priority. The President is charting a new course because previous Baghdad security operations had two fundamental flaws.
1. In previous efforts, the Iraqis did not fulfill their commitments on troop numbers. There were not enough Iraqi or U.S. troops to help hold the neighborhoods we had cleared throughout Baghdad. This time, the Iraqis are going to have more boots on the ground. They're going to be the ones knocking on doors. American troops will be there in a key support role embedded with Iraqi troops as trainers, making sure they have the necessary backup combat power.
2. Just as importantly, the rules of engagement governing where troops could and couldn't go were severely restricted by politics in Baghdad during previous operations. Prime Minister Maliki has made clear that this is going to change. The extremists will no longer have safe havens in Baghdad where U.S. and Iraqi troops cannot enter.
· President Bush would not make this commitment if he did not think the preconditions set by the Iraqis would correct previous failures. The President is increasing the number of troops to support this new course.
· We are adding troops because success in Iraq is vital to keeping America safe.
Q: What are the consequences of failure in Iraq?
· The consequences of failure in Iraq could not be graver for our children and grandchildren. The War on Terror cannot be won if we fail in Iraq.
· If we step back now, the problems in Iraq will become more lethal, and make our troops fight an uglier battle than we are seeing today. Increasing troops now will actually hasten the day our troops begin coming home.
· Our enemies throughout the Middle East are trying to defeat us in Iraq. Al Qaeda is fighting us in Iraq. Iran has interests in Iraq.
· A failed Iraq would make America less secure. A failed Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will provide safe haven for terrorists and extremists. It will embolden those who are trying to thwart the ambitions of reformers. It will also give the terrorists and extremists an additional tool besides safe haven – revenues from oil sales.
Q. Is the President acknowledging that we never had enough forces in Iraq?
We had enough forces in Iraq to accomplish the primary mission of training and transitioning control to the Iraq, but events and trends of the past year have shown that the primary security focus must equally emphasize our supporting the Iraqis to secure their population.
That mission will require a strong Iraqi and Coalition presence in key strategic areas – and it is a mission that will require more U.S. forces in Iraq.
Q: How is the President going to get the Iraqis to do what he suggests, especially on the steps needed to secure Baghdad?
· The President and Administration officials have had very frank conversations with Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi government.
· Tonight, the President will make clear that America's commitment is not open-ended and he will be unequivocal that the Iraqis have to step up. The President will hold the Iraqis to clear security, political, and economic benchmarks and milestones.
· The President's new plan will be different from previous efforts because Prime Minister Maliki has made clear not only to President Bush, but also to the Iraqi people in a speech last week, that the Iraqi Army's operations in Baghdad will make no distinction between Shia, Sunni, or other types of illegal militia or illegal activity. Murder is murder, and terrorists will be held accountable.
Q: Why should Americans have faith in the President's new plan?
· The criticism or skepticism we are hearing from Congress and the American people is exactly what the President himself has expressed during this policy review process. President Bush is in the same camp as the vast majority of Americans who are dissatisfied with progress in Iraq.
· Tonight, the President is going to acknowledge that our previous strategy was not working and announce his change in course to fix our strategy.
· There is no magic formula for success in Iraq, but the President believes his new plan is the best way to succeed. It's important for our country to come together in this hour of war and to give the President's new plan an opportunity to proceed.
· All Americans and members of Congress should recognize that the stakes in Iraq are consequential to the security of American people. Q: How does the President respond to the members of Congress and former government officials who oppose his new plan? Was this plan originally opposed by the military leadership?
· Military leaders helped devise this plan and support this plan.
· Military leaders support this plan because they understand that more troops – with a specific mission and Iraqi partners who step up – can yield the political breathing room that Iraqis need to move their country forward. Without security, Iraqis are unable to make political and economic progress.
· The President will continue his ongoing dialogue with members of Congress as this plan progresses. The President will continue seeking input and making changes as needed.
Q: Is America involving itself in the middle of a civil war?
· We are not taking sides in a civil war; we are supporting the Iraqi government and the vast majority of Iraqis who wish to live free and peaceful lives. The fight in Iraq – and through much of the greater Middle East – is a fight between moderates and extremists. America has a direct stake in the outcome.
· The President will make clear tonight that the sectarian violence in Iraq can only be solved by Iraqis. It will be Iraqis that are knocking on doors and leading military missions.
· At the same time, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces need our support at this critical moment.
· Eighty percent of sectarian violence is occurring within an approximately 30-mile radius around Baghdad.
Q: When will the additional forces come home?
· The fastest way home for U.S. forces in Iraq is to ensure a bolder commitment to victory now. We need to muscle up to step back. It may be counterintuitive, but an increase now as part of this new strategy will hasten the day when we can bring troops home.
· By providing security to the capital, Iraqi and Coalition forces will provide the space political leaders need to seal political accommodations that are necessary to sustain the security gains over the long term.
· As General Odierno has said, the intention is to partner with Iraqi forces and ensure a successful "hold" period as "build" projects move in and political progress unfolds.
o This time will also be used to enhance and improve the capabilities of the Iraqi forces. Over time, our forces will be able to step back as Iraqis are able to maintain security. And eventually, our forces will no longer be needed and can come home. Q: Why an addition of 20,000 troops? Where did this number come from?
· General Pace has explained that the number reflects the "troop-to-task" analysis of what it will take to help the Iraqis secure Baghdad and build on recent successes in Anbar.
· Under the new Iraqi security plan, our commanders assessed that in the near term at least three Iraqi Army brigades and two U.S. brigades will be required to clear and begin to hold the nine districts of the capital.
o Three additional U.S. brigades now in the pipeline, together with additional Iraqi forces, will reinforce success in the capital or correct for weaknesses where necessary.
· In Anbar, commanders found that two additional Marine regiments would help build on successes and consolidate recent gains against al Qaeda – to ensure they cannot return to cleared areas or establish a safe haven.
· Force levels are also based on our experience and the assumption that the enemy will prove unpredictable. We must be ready to face contingencies.
Q: How much will the President's new plan cost?
· For this year, the total cost of the troop increase will be $5.6 billion. Commanders Emergency Relief Program (CERP) funds will cost an additional $350 million, Quick Response funds will cost an additional $400 million, and expanding Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) will cost an additional $414 million.
Q: What are the President's metrics for success?
· Operations to secure Baghdad will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks.
· Our enemies will make every effort to ensure that American television screens are filled with images of death and suffering.
· Yet over time, we can expect to see fewer brazen acts of terror, perpetrators brought to justice, and more trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. General Odierno has said he hopes to see these trends and be able to pull U.S. forces to the periphery of Baghdad by the end of this summer.
Q: Is the President's new strategy cast in stone? If it fails, what is the Plan B?
· No. As the President said, if improvements can be made, we will make them; and as circumstances change, we will adjust.
· It is premature to talk about Plan B as soon as Plan A is announced. We are focused on making this new plan work. Q: Why didn't the President implement this strategy sooner?
· Before the Samarra Mosque bombing, the strategy set forth in the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq was the right course.
· Sunnis had voted overwhelmingly in the December 2005 elections (2 percent in Anbar in January versus nearly 80 percent in December) and by February had fully joined the political process.
· The Samarra Mosque attack changed the nature of the fight and created levels of violence beyond the capacity of Iraqi forces alone to diminish.
· We still believed as late as this fall that the new Iraqi government would be able to stabilize the situation – but the violence further entrenched hedging behavior and it became clear that a change of course was needed.
Q: Has the President rejected the Baker-Hamilton Commission recommendations?
No. The President's new plan incorporates all essential elements of Baker-Hamilton – with the exception of a few specific recommendations.
We would not support what the Baker-Hamilton report seems to have in mind with respect to direct engagement between Iran and the United States.
Iran is supplying sophisticated IED material to militant groups who are attacking Coalition forces and killing innocent Iraqis. We do not need to tell Iran to stop this activity. Iran needs to stop.
We are in line with Baker-Hamilton, however, in supporting Iranian participation in regional conferences and in the International Compact. We want Iraq and all of its neighbors to have friendly and peaceful relations.
As for a direct dialogue, the door is open. As Secretary Rice has said: "I'd meet my counterpart anyplace, anytime. All they have to do is suspend uranium enrichment [which is a demand of the international system]."