By JOHN HALL
Media General News Service
December 05, 2005
Instead, what the nation got was a strategy report of some importance. "Victory in Iraq," a 35-page document from the White House National Security Council, is as candid and heavy a read as Washington has produced since the war began.
The NSC said the United States cannot fail in Iraq, but suggested that so many things were stacked against it there that many years will be needed to achieve victory.
The report accompanied Bush's speech to the Naval Academy, which focused on all the things that have turned around in Iraq and how well everything is going there.
The tone of Bush's Annapolis address was "Can Do." The tone of the NSC report was: "How are we going to do that?"
The administration has tied everything to the ability of the Iraqis to establish and maintain their own security force. It was clearer than ever that the achievement will be the most vital component of the administration's definition of victory. Without it, U.S. forces cannot be withdrawn in significant numbers next year.
The NSC report said that matter was out of American hands.
"... While we can help, assist and train, Iraqis will ultimately be the ones to eliminate their security threats over the long term," the report said.
And even if recruiting, training and equipping an Iraqi military force is successful, it doesn't appear to mean that all U.S. forces will be coming home. The NSC report notes that U.S. and allied forces, once they turn over combat responsibilities to the Iraqis, will stay on "to hunt, capture and kill terrorist leaders and break up their funding and resource networks."
Iraqis have signed up for military duty in increasing numbers, particularly in Sunni areas that had resisted cooperation. But the NSC said a multitude of challenges to Iraq's security will prevent American forces from leaving.
Those challenges included:
- slowing down Iraqi militias and armed groups still outside the formal security structure;
- neutralizing neighboring countries like Syria and Iran that are providing comfort and support to terrorists in Iraq;
- guarding against infiltration by elements whose loyalties are to "institutions other than the Iraqi government";
- and stopping intimidation by "enemies whose tactics are unconstrained by law or moral norms."
It is one of the most daunting and sobering mission lists on Iraq yet put out by the White House.
"Victory will take time," the report said. "Iraq is overcoming decades of a vicious tyranny, under which governmental authority stemmed solely from fear, terror and brutality ... Terrorism and insurgencies historically take many years to defeat, through a combination of political, economic and military tools ... The neighborhood is inhospitable ..."
In sum, this report does not read the way it was characterized - as the administration's plan for victory and withdrawal. It could also be read as a plan for staying a long time.
Bush wanted to talk about the progress that had been made.
Last year, he said, there were "only a handful of Iraqi battalions ready for combat." Now more than 120 Iraqi army and police combat battalions are in the fight and "helping to turn the tide of the struggle in freedom's favor."
Maybe so, but it was not enough of a tide to make any withdrawals of troops possible. In fact, Bush said he was increasing troop levels in Iraq in time for an expected surge of violence during the parliamentary elections Dec. 15.
The NSC said "no war has ever been won on a timetable," and - indeed - what attracted most of the attention to this strategy document and Bush's speech was Rep. John Murtha's demand for a withdrawal from Iraq at the earliest possible date.
Murtha, D-Pa., a hawkish former Marine, has attracted more attention than political support for his idea. Although House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California claims a majority of her caucus supports Murtha, most of the leading Democrats in the hunt for the 2008 presidential nomination have not.
The administration has treated Murtha's proposal as an idea that must be stamped out immediately and Bush's speech and report were a start to that effort.