Last November’s Congressional elections dealt President George W. Bush a sharp rebuff over his Iraq policy. Shortly after the election, the Iraq Study Group offered a bipartisan formula for the gradual withdrawal of United States troops. But Bush rejected this, and persists in speaking of victory in Iraq – though it is unclear what that now means. Perhaps because Iraq will define his legacy, he has proven reluctant to let go at a point when his policy appears to be a disaster.
Now Bush will increase the number of American troops in Baghdad and Anbar Province and try to stabilize both the rising sectarian civil war and the Sunni insurgency. He has removed generals John Abizaid and George Casey, who were skeptical of a troop “surge,” and moved Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, who was supposed to negotiate a political agreement in Iraq.
A number of the Democratic lawmakers who control the new Congress disagree with this approach. Some Democratic activists seek an immediate withdrawal and are pressing for Congress to cut off funding for the war, but that is unlikely. Congress is reluctant to be portrayed as failing to support troops in the field; while they will criticize, they will not block Bush’s plan.
Bush has long claimed that the number of troops in Iraq was a military decision and that he simply followed the advice of his generals, but now this is clearly not the case. Ironically, there may once have been a point at which a large increase in troops might have made a difference. In April and May 2003, polls showed a majority of Iraqis welcoming the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But the Bush administration failed to control rioting, disbanded the Iraqi army, and allowed the security situation to deteriorate.