As has been widely reported, President Bush delivered a major policy speech on Iraq at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Accompanying this speech was the release of a 35 page document called National Strategy For Victory in Iraq, which was prepared by the National Security Council. There are positive things about the speech and the Strategy, but they leave severe doubts about our path in Iraq.
A first reaction to the speech and the accompanying Strategy is that they - or something like them - should have released on the day that President Bush landed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. If not then, certainly by the end of that year, the President should have been ready with a plan - and able to communicate it effectively to the American people.
The Strategy itself is very clearly presented and makes some good points. It discusses the vital US interest in the outcomes in Iraq as well as the consequences of failing to secure a stable peace there. Iraq will become a terrorist haven - even more than it is now - if we do not allow the Iraqi government to gain stable control over the country. Our credibility with our allies and adversaries will be even more seriously damaged than it has been over the past two and a half years. The Strategy also analyzes who our adversaries are, dividing them into "Rejectionists," "Saddamists," and "Al-Qaedaists." It makes "divide and conquer" a key element - a good approach if it can be carried through.
The path to "victory" laid out by the Strategy has three basic tracks: political, security, and economic. The political track would
isolate enemy elements from those who can be won over to the political process...engage those outside the political process...and build stable, pluralistic, and effective national institutions.
The security track would
clear areas of enemy control by remaining on the offensive...hold areas freed from enemy influence by ensuring that they remain under the control of the Iraqi government, and build Iraqi Security Forces and the capacity of local institutions to deliver services, advance the rule of law, and nurture civil society.
The economic track would
restore Iraq's infrastructure...reform Iraq's economy...and build the capacity of Iraqi institutions to maintain infrastructure, rejoin the international economic community, and improve the general welfare of all Iraqis.
The economic track is the least problematic or controversial aspect of the Strategy, but its implementation really depends on the success of the first two tracks.
One major concern about the political track is whether there is sufficient leadership - civilian and military - and local knowledge "on the ground" in Iraq to be effective in isolating the enemy and engaging those outside the political process. Can we be confident that the boots on the ground can make these distinctions well enough to be effective in this regard? The jury is out on this.
The concern about the security track is that we have been on the offensive now for more than two years - and do not yet have much to show for it. Other approaches to the military campaign, such as the "oil spot" strategy or standing down our offensive operations and bringing in Islamic peacekeepers deserve more thought and discussion.
President Bush's speech and the NSC Strategy for Iraq have the virtue of clarity - something missing up to now from the Administration's approach with the American people and the world - unless one takes obstinance as clarity. However, it is doubtful that the strategy so outlined today will work any better than that which has proceeded for the past two years.