January 11, 2007

President Bush Speaks - FAQ

Hatched by Dafydd

(With a cool nod towards Dean Barnett, who does this sort of thing a lot on Hugh Hewitt's blog.)

Q: Didn't Bush seem really nervous last night?

Somewhat; I wouldn't say "really." My guess is that he and his national-security team were working on the speech right up until the day of delivery, so the president had no time to thoroughly rehearse some parts of it.

But how he delivered the speech is less important than the content: the new plan sounds a lot better than the old plan.

Q: What makes you think this will work? Adding more troops never worked before!

Although it gets all the headlines, "adding more troops" is not the most important change in strategy enunciated last night.

The big-box media would love to have Americans believe that all we're doing is "adding more troops." Put it that way, and you get substantially negative reactions ranging from disappointment among Republicans to outright frothing at the ears by Democrats. AP-Ipsos and ABC/Washington Post polls found that large majorities -- weighted heavily towards Democrats, as usual -- opposed "sending more troops to Iraq" and thought it wouldn't work. While the polls are fundamentally flawed (see next post), it's clear that if we were merely sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq, nothing would change.

The more important changes are:

  • A redeployment of troops -- 18 Iraqi brigades (more than 60,000 soldiers) and five American brigades (17,500 soldiers and/or Marines) -- within Iraq to be able to capture and hold strategic chokepoints within Baghdad; and an additional 4,000 American forces and an unknown number of Iraqis into Anbar Province, home of the Sunni terrorists, including al-Qaeda, to work with local tribal sheikhs -- who have recently turned strongly against al-Qaeda -- in sealing the border with Syria;
  • A committment to "hold" captured territory much longer than before, up to 18 months, to prevent the return of enemy forces; this provides the critical middle section of "capture, hold, release": take control of territory used by the enemy; hold it for a significant period time to thoroughly scour it of enemy presence; release the territory to local Iraqi forces to maintain security and keep the enemy from returning;
  • A committment (probably written) from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that no combatants are off-limits, including Shiite militias (e.g., the Badr Brigades and the Mahdi Militia);
  • A significant loosening of the rules of engagement (ROE) against those combatants.

Without these changes, simply adding 21,500 soldiers under the old rules and understandings would indeed be futile. Fortunately, George W. Bush and his military advisors are not utter fools, as the Democrats imagine they are (simple projection, I assume).

Q: What are "rules of engagement?"

Rules that govern when a military (or police) unit is allowed to use force, and what level of force is allowed under what circumstances. Such ROE can range from absolutely restrictive -- as in our Beirut deployment as "peacekeepers" in 1983, where even the sentries were unable simply to fire upon a vehicle for trying to run the barrier -- to almost wide open, as in a "free fire zone," where American forces are permitted to open fire on any identifiable enemy soldiers, no matter what they're doing (except surrendering), without receiving specific permission first.

Until now, we have operated under a frighteningly restrictive ROE. For example, we were not allowed to attack known armed militia forces merely because they appeared in public heavily armed; we had to wait until they did something, then apply to the Iraqi government for permission (unless they attacked us, of course).

I don't know how loose they will now be; but I suspect that Bush put it pretty harshly to Maliki in their recent 2-hour video conference: if Maliki wants to remain prime minister, he will have to get over his love affair with Muqtada Sadr and actually give us license to fight this war as a real war.

The troop "surge" will take at least a month or so (we'll probably bring the new troops in from Kuwait, where they're already sitting); but the change in ROE can happen immediately.

If we shortly begin hearing about many more engagements with first Sunni terrorists, then Shiite militias, it will be a very, very good sign.

Q: What difference do rules of engagement make anyway? Can't we already attack anyone who atttacks us or attacks Iraqi civilans?

Not necessarily. Under the current ROE, we need permission from the Iraqis to undertake virtually any sustained operation. Worse, as Tony Snow just explained it on Hugh Hewitt, we can be in the middle of an operation -- for instance, when we had cordoned off Sadr City, the Mahdi Militia's neighborhood of Baghdad, and were going house to house to root them out -- and suddenly, the commander receives a cell-phone call from the Minister of the Interior or some high-ranking member of parliament saying "I'm getting complaints... stop what you're doing and back off," or "you just arrested an insurgent, but he's my third cousin... release him at once!" -- and we would have to do it.

As of right now, that's finished: we forced agreement from Maliki that no terrorist, combatant, or lawbreaker is off-limits... including Muqtada Sadr himself; and that we don't have to get permission for every operation first. Even if Maliki later tries to back out of that agreement, we can simply ignore him or other interfering ministers, because we already have a binding agreement.

Q: But will this so-called "new strategy work?" None of Bush's other plans have worked!

I cannot possibly say that it will; but it has a much great chance of working than any previous strategy we have used: it's different in many ways from previous strategies.

We tried strategy A; when it didn't work, we tried B; when that didn't work, we tried C. Now we're trying D: the naive approach is to assume that three failures means that all subsequent attempts must likewise fail (it's a trend!) But this is an infantile projection: every plan is different; the failure of one doesn't mean another won't succeed.

This is a very different plan specifically developed after careful analysis of previous failures; it clearly has a better chance of success by definition.

Q: Then why the heck didn't we do this in the first place? Why didn't Bush just skip A, B, and C and jump directly to the working strategy, D?

Because there is no way to know, before trying a strategy, that it won't work. It's easy in hindsight to say that obviously, A, B, and C were doomed to failure. But unless your Magic 8-Ball works better than mine (mine is stuck on "Ask again later"), you know that precisely because they were tried and didn't work.

Q: Wait -- doesn't that mean we don't know for sure that this new strategy will work any better?

Yes, it means that. There is no certainty this side of the grave. But we have a pretty good idea what will happen if we fail... so unless you have a better strategy to win the war, I'm uninterested in hearing your complaints about other people's strategies.

Q: Hasn't this war been a complete failure from beginning to end? Shouldn't we just admit that we have been defeated and bring our boys home?

Let me quote from one expert analyst of what Bush has accomplished so far in the Iraq War:

And we have given the Iraqis so much. We have deposed their dictator. We dug him out of a hole in the ground and forced him to face the courts of his own people. We've given the Iraqi people a chance to draft their own constitution, hold their own free elections and establish their own government.

We Americans, and a few allies, have protected Iraq when no one else would.

This speaker is not exactly a Bush lover; but he is quite correct: each of these events he describes was a tremendous victory -- achieved against all the dire democratic predictions of doom and defeat.

Now the Democrats are making dire predictions of doom and defeat for this new strategy, as well. If anybody has a really, really bad record on such predictions... it's the Democrats, not the administration.

Q: When did you become a paid shill for the Repuglicans under Herr Bushitler?

On October 11th. That's when I received my first check for $87,000. I have received regular checks in that same amount every month since then... though I'm getting a little impatient for this month's check. Hey, Bushitler -- what the heck is going on with your accounts payable department?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 11, 2007, at the time of 4:12 PM

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The following hissed in response by: DrMalaka

How do I get a check for 87 large each month?

Lets hope this one works. The ROE have been idiotic fromt he beginning. This is war, not a police action. Considerably more Iraqi civilians are currently dying becuase of the ROE than if we made Bagdad a free fire zone. We can not possibly kill as many people by accident than the current sectarian strife is killing by targeting the civilian population.

So lets see, hypothetically it's better that 5,000 civilians die each month at the hands of their own people than have us kill 3,000 per month by accident. Who cares who kills them, that is still 2,000 fewer casualties. Yes, we don't want to kill anyone we don't have to, I am not advocating free killing at will, but we have to understand that the more we restrict our ROE the more terrorists slip by and get to kill innocents. Simple cost benefit analysis here. Should we avoid killing five people and let one bad guy get away if that bad guy kills ten people?

D, you did not mention anything about Iran, we need to get to them too. So long as Iran and Syria keep killing our troops and civilians this will not improve. We need to mass troops on the border and destroy anything comming in, no questions asked. Consider the border closed as of today, anyone sneaking in does so knowing that it is a free fire zone. 24/7 Predator Drone territority!

The above hissed in response by: DrMalaka [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 11, 2007 5:00 PM

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