Thoughts on the President's Speech Last Night

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Near the beginning Bush noted that sectarian violence increased markedly after the bombing of the Samarra mosque early in 2006. In retrospect, that probably should have prompted the rethinking that has gone on since the November election. Evidently Gens. John Abizaid and George Casey and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld didn't think so at the time. Military history is full of examples of mistakes; this appears to be one of them.

I was struck by the way Bush portrayed the new strategy—actually, new tactics—as having been initiated by the Iraqi leadership. And I was especially struck by this passage:

I've 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. Here is what he told his people just last week: "The Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation."

This sounds like a threat that we will withdraw unless the Maliki government gives us carte blanche to go after Shiite militias, including the Sadr militia. That threat was reinforced by Sen. Dick Durbin's response, in which he said that our commitment was not only "not open-minded" but that as far as the Democrats were concerned it should be ended pretty soon. That will probably be reinforced by the votes on the nonbinding resolutions on Bush's policy that the Democratic leaders have said they will hold. Opponents will presumably prevail.

That won't doom Bush's policy; remember when Speaker Dennis Hastert failed to get a majority vote supporting Bill Clinton's policy in the Balkans? But it should alert the Iraqis to the real possibility that some time in the 2007–08 cycle this Democratic Congress might move to shut off or limit funds for our forces in Iraq.

What we're seeing is a version of the good cop, bad cop routine. Bush is the good cop to Maliki, promising him support but reminding him it's contingent on his own behavior. Durbin, representing the congressional leadership, is the bad cop, telling him he'd like to cut off support very soon and suggesting he may well do it later.

Bush noted that he is sending another carrier force to the Persian Gulf and addressed the nearby Sunni powers thusly:

Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the gulf states need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists and a strategic threat to their survival. These nations have a stake in a successful Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors, and they must step up their support for Iraq's unity government.

This should be read in light of this interesting column by Edward Luttwak in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Luttwak's conclusion: "The Iraq War has indeed brought into existence a New Middle East, in which Arab Sunnis can no longer gleefully disregard American interests because they need help against the looming threat of Shiite supremacy, while in Iraq at the core of the Arab world, the Shia are allied with the U.S. What past imperial statesmen sought to achieve with much cunning and cynicism, the Bush administration has brought about accidentally. But the result is exactly the same." A pretty hopeful perspective from a usually gloomy observer.

To Iran and Syria, the president sent the following message:

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

This leads Michael Ledeen to ask, "Did we just declare war on Iran and Syria?"

I was very pleased to see the following:

To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.

As faithful readers know, I've been calling for creation of something like the Alaska Permanent Fund in Iraq for a long time now. Is it possible that this will actually happen?

More thoughts later. In the meantime, for more commentary you can follow the links on these Instapundit posts from yesterday and today.