WASHINGTON - While many in Congress are pushing President Bush to alter
course in Iraq by September if not sooner, his new status report on the war
strongly implies that the administration believes its military strategy will
take many more months to meet its goals.
The report cited no specific timeframe,
but its language suggests what some US commanders have hinted at recently: The
troop reinforcements that Bush ordered in January may need to remain until
A US soldier walks by check point with display an Iraqi flag
during patrol in Baghdad on July 11, 2007. [Reuters]
That's a military
calculation at odds with an emerging political consensus in Washington on
bringing the troops home soon.
The disconnect between the military and political views on the best way
forward is a symptom of four-plus years of setbacks in Iraq - not only missteps
by the US government but also by Iraqi political leaders, who have fallen far
short of their stated aim of creating a government of national unity.
In the view of some members of Congress - and not just Democrats - the time
has long passed for the Iraqis to show that they can parlay US-led military
efforts into progress on the political front.
"That government is simply not providing leadership worthy of the
considerable sacrifice of our forces, and this has to change immediately," Sen.
John Warner, R-Va., said after the White House delivered its war report to
Congress on Thursday. Warner was the author of legislation requiring the report.
Hours after the report's release, the House, on a 223-201 vote, approved a
Democratic measure requiring US troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by spring.
House Democrats pursued the vote despite a veto threat from Bush.
The president apparently has made the calculation that he can ward off
political pressure to change course before the next required progress report,
set for mid-September. That's when Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in
Iraq, plans to lay out his assessment of whether the counterinsurgency strategy
he launched in February is working and recommends to Bush whether to stick with
it into the coming year.
By extending troop deployments in Iraq from 12 months to 15 months, the Army
has made it possible for Bush to maintain the troop buildup until about April
2008. But if he wanted to go beyond that it would require some even more painful
moves by the Army, at the risk of reaching a breaking point.
Although the war is increasingly unpopular, Bush does have support in some
prominent quarters for continuing his current military strategy, not only for
the remainder of this year but into 2008. John Keane, a retired four-star Army
general, said this week that security progress, though slow, is gaining
"The thought of pulling out now or in a couple of months makes no sense
militarily," Keane said.
Between now and September the battle for Baghdad will intensify, likely
costing hundreds of American troops' lives, and the Iraqi government of Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be pressured to do more to weed out sectarian
influences in the Iraqi security forces and to pass legislation designed to
The US casualty rate has increased in recent months, and total US deaths in
Iraq since the war began in March 2003 now exceed 3,600.
Petraeus hopes that by September the US-led counteroffensive will have
reduced the level of violence enough to create an atmosphere in which political
progress can be made, while Iraqi security forces move measurably closer to the
point where they can sustain the security gains made by US forces.