Bush Offers Nothing New Except Prison
a new effort to stem the plummeting loss in public confidence in
his Iraq policy, U.S. President George W. Bush reiterated his commitment
to bringing "freedom" and self-government to Baghdad and
warned that US failure will "only mark the beginning of peril
a respectful and unusually restrained group of mid- and senior-level
officers at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Bush
stressed that the stakes in Iraq, which he called "the central
front in the war on terror," were extremely high while suggesting
that US occupation forces may be more likely to seek political solutions
than to resort to military force against suspected rebels or other
the US Marines' recent agreement to permit an all-Iraqi force, including
senior officers of the dissolved Revolutionary Guard, to take responsibility
for security in Fallujah, Bush made clear that he fully endorsed
such an arrangement despite complaints, particularly from neo-conservative
and right-wing hawks, that the Fallujah deal amounted to "appeasement."
soldiers and Marines could have used overwhelming force," he
said. "Our commanders, however, determined that massive strikes
against the enemy would alienate the local population and increase
support for the insurgency."
we have pursued a different approach. We're making security a shared
responsibility in Fallujah," he said, adding later, "We
want the Iraqi people to know that we trust their growing capabilities,
even as we help build them."
he reiterated US support for U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's
efforts to put together members of an interim government, the naming
of which Bush said Brahimi hoped to announce later this week.
UN envoy has also come under strong attack, particularly by neo-conservatives
who charge that he has a pro-Sunni agenda aimed at restoring power
to Arab nationalists.
fully supports Mr. Brahimi's efforts, and I have instructed the
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to assist him in every way
possible," Bush declared, effectively confirming that power
within his administration has shifted to the "realists"
who have long supported a much bigger role in Iraq for the United
who spoke for roughly 30 minutes, announced no concrete new initiatives
in Iraq, other than the construction of a "modern maximum-security
prison" which upon completion will house detainees who are
currently held at Abu Ghraib prison, the site of the now-notorious
photos of physical and sexual abuses committed by US soldiers against
Iraqi detainees. "Under the dictator (Saddam Hussein), prisons
like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture," he said.
"That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by
a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded
the new prison's construction, he added: "We will demolish
the Abu Ghraib prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning."
whose public approval ratings fell to a record low of 41 percent
in the past week, was clearly trying to move the media and public
spotlight on recent setbacks, such as Abu Ghraib and recent reports
that the Pentagon's long-standing pick to rule Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi,
may have been working for Iran, in a more future-oriented and hopeful
that end, he made a rare admission that some things had not gone
according to plan, notably that "our commanders had estimated
that a troop level below 115,000 would be sufficient at this point
in the conflict."
the recent increase in violence," he said, "we will maintain
our troop level at the current 138,000 as long as necessary."
He added that more troops would be sent to Iraq "if the commanders
said they were needed."
for explicitly endorsing the strategy pursued by the Marines in
Fallujah, however, Bush did not suggest any major change in course,
as some observers have argued is necessary to regain the confidence
of both the U.S. public, and, more important, Iraqis, 90 percent
of whom, according to the most recent survey obtained by the Chicago
Tribune over the weekend, now consider U.S. troops to be "occupiers"
rather than "liberators."
Iraqi public opinion so hostile, some analysts had hoped that Bush
would make a dramatic announcement Monday, such as his intention
to withdraw all U.S. forces no later than the end of next year,
or to renounce any intention of retaining U.S. military facilities
or rights to access to bases on Iraqi territory after the occupation
Bush kept largely to the script that has been developed over the
last six weeks and laid out a five-step plan to "help Iraq
achieve democracy and freedom," including "handing over
authority to a sovereign Iraqi government; help establish security,
continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure; encourage more international
support; and move toward a national election that will bring forward
new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people."
sent American troops to Iraq to defend our security, not to stay
as an occupying power. I sent American troops to Iraq to make its
people free, not to make them Americans," he declared in one
of his bigger applause lines.
said the interim government will "exercise full sovereignty"
until national elections are held by the end of next year, but did
not define sovereignty. He stressed that "American military
forces in Iraq will operate under American command as a part of
a multinational force authorized by the United Nations."
also noted that the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which is supposed
to become the world's largest US embassy with a staff of more than
2,000, will have "regional offices in key cities (that) will
work closely with Iraqis at all levels of government."
the same time, Bush's tone was significantly less smug and contemptuous
than in other recent speeches, particularly with respect to the
United Nations and his praise for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,
which Washington still hopes will decide to assume a substantial
security role in Iraq at next month's Istanbul Summit.
Bush dispensed with the word "evil" or "evildoers"
in the address, although he still posed the conflict in black-and-white
terms, accusing "terrorists" of trying to "impose
Taliban-like rule country by country across the greater Middle East."
seek the total control of every person in mind and soul," he
said. "It is a totalitarian political ideology pursued with
consuming zeal and without conscience."
of using another phrase that he and his top aides have frequently
deployed to describe their determination, "Stay the course,"
he called on the public to "keep our focus" and "do
was an interesting change, prompted no doubt by the fact that retired
Central Command chief, Gen. Anthony Zinni, had mocked the phrase
in a story featured on the most widely viewed public-affairs television
show, CBS "60 Minutes" Sunday night. "(T)o think
we are going to stay the course; the course is headed over Niagara
Falls," he said in a sentence that was also widely quoted in
the newspapers Monday morning.
some ways, the choice of the Army War College to deliver the speech
was also curious due to the fact that retired army commanders like
Zinni, Gen. Wesley Clark and the most recent army chief of staff,
Gen. Eric Shinseki, have been furious with the way the administration
has treated their overstretched service since the Iraq War.
officers attending Monday's speech appeared respectful, but uncharacteristically
subdued toward a sitting Republican president, applauding less than
10 times in the course of a speech that contained dozens of applause
himself occasionally paused during his delivery in apparent anticipation
of applause, but, hearing none, forged ahead with his text
a fitting metaphor, perhaps, for the situation he faces in Iraq.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service