On January 10, 2007, President Bush presented his new Iraq plan in a nationally broadcast address from the White House library. “The most urgent priority for success in Iraq,” he explained, “is security, especially in Baghdad.” He announced that he was sending more than 20,000 additional troops to Baghdad and Anbar Province. Baghdad would be divided into nine districts and US forces would be embedded with the Iraqi army and police in each of those districts. These forces would monitor the Iraqi units operating in Baghdad, support them with additional firepower, and provide training.
By reducing the violence, Bush hopes to open the door to political reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis. He said he would hold the Iraqi government to a program of national reconciliation that included disarming Shiite militias, a petroleum law guaranteeing the regions of Iraq a fair share of revenues, and a relaxation of penalties for service in the Baath Party. But unlike the Iraq Study Group report, Bush proposed no penalty if the Iraqi government failed to comply.
Bush aimed his toughest language at Iran and Syria, charging that they were allowing terrorists to move in and out of Iraq. The Iranians, he said, were providing material support for attacks on US troops, which he vowed to disrupt. To underscore his determination, he announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, and a few days after the speech, US special forces staged a raid on the Iranian liaison office in Erbil and arrested six Iranian intelligence operatives.
Bush’s strategy is the polar opposite of that proposed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton in their Iraq Study Group report. Where they recommended the withdrawal of combat troops, Bush announced an escalation. Where they urged a diplomatic opening to Iran and Syria, Bush issued threats.
Bush’s plan is laden with ironies. Four years ago, military and diplomatic professionals warned that the US was embarking on a war with insufficient troops and inadequate planning. President Bush never listened to this advice, choosing to rely on the neoconservative appointees who assured him that victory in Iraq would be easy.
In devising his new strategy, Bush again turned to the neoconservatives. The so-called surge strategy is the brainchild of Frederick Kagan, a military historian at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute who has never been to Iraq. And once again, President Bush dismissed the views of his military advisers. General George Casey and General John Abizaid, the commanders in the field, doubted that additional troops would make any difference in Iraq. They were replaced by surge advocates, including Lieutenant General David Petraeus, now the top commander in Iraq.
Petraeus, on whom so much now rests, served two previous tours in Iraq. As the American commander in Mosul in 2003 and 2004, he earned adulatory press coverage—including a Newsweek cover story captioned “Can This Man Save Iraq?”—for taming the Sunni-majority city. Petraeus ignored warnings from America’s Kurdish allies that he was appointing the wrong …