The war in Iraq

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George W. Bush was uncharacteristically feisty and self-confident in his press conference today. The buzz is that he held it to get conservatives to support his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. But he did a couple of other things worth mentioning. He showed that he was on top of the issue of avian flu. And he provided a context in which to consider what most of the mainstream media presents as unending violence in Iraq.

Well, what is happening in Iraq is the following: More and more Iraqis are able to take the fight to the enemy. And that's important to achieve our goal. And the goal is for a stable, democratic Iraq that is an ally in the war on terror.
Right now there are over 80 army battalions fighting alongside coalition troops. Over 30 Iraqi – I say, army battalions – Iraqi army battalions. There are over 30 Iraqi battalions in the lead. And that is substantial progress from the way the world was a year ago.
Success in Iraq is really important for our future. And to succeed in Iraq, we have a dual-track strategy. On the one hand, there's a political strategy, a constitutional process, and then elections in December. And the other one is the security strategy that you described.
American troops are – have got two missions. One is to track down the Zarqawis and his affiliates and bring them to justice. We had success doing that, as you might recall, with the fellow in Baghdad. And the second mission is to train Iraqis, and we've got several ways we're doing that. One is, obviously, kind of your basic training route. The other is to embed our troops with Iraqi forces to teach them not only how to fight, but how to have a proper command and control structure.
Remember a Rose Garden press conference a while back – I think it was a Rose Garden press conference – where you might have asked me this very type of questions. I said one of the concerns we have is the capacity of the Iraqis to develop command and control. In other words, it's one thing to have people able to march; it's another thing to have the capacity to send them into battle in an organized way. One of the things that our folks measure is whether or not that's taking place. And the answer is, there is progress. There's obviously more work to be done, more units to be stood up, but we've got, as I said, over 30 battalions in the lead, and that's positive progress.

One task of a wartime president is to help the public understand where we are in the war and how we plan to get from where we are to success. I don't think Bush has done a particularly good job of this in the last several months. Today he did much better. The mainstream media will always tend to cover Iraq as a quagmire—unending violence to no good purpose. Bush needs to use the bully pulpit more to get his point of view across.

For more on the course of the war, check out Bill Roggio's blog The Fourth Rail on Operation River Gate.