I also was thrilled to participate in the blogger conference call with Tony Snow, President Bush’s Press Secretary and Brett McGurk, the Director for Iraq, National Security Council that Lorie mentioned. I wasn’t able to get my question in (and I was going to ask Tony to expand more on how the rules of engagement are going to change), but here’s the outline of Tony’s introductory comments:
We must succeed in Iraq; unfortunately, what’s been going on in the past six months hasn’t worked. This is what we have to do to move forward:
- We have to focus on security and especially in the most violent areas, which are Baghdad and the Anbar province. If we don’t get security under control the all political and economic development will continue to stall.
- We have to put iraqis in the lead when it comes to security. And we have to enhance Iraqi leadership
- At this point, Iraqis don’t’ have the capacity to do the job providing for public security.
- Isolated extremists are causing problems. Others are sitting on the sidelines. We have to make them make a choice. Who will it be the terrorists or the new Iraqi government.
We are going to help the Iraqi’s achieve political progress. These are some benchmarks the Iraqis want to meet:
- The hydrocarbon law; distribute oil revenues throughout the country
- Improve the de-baathification process. For example, one woman who wants to teach can’t because she has a Baath party card, which she was forced to have under Saddam, but she’s not a a terrorist. We need to get these people better integrated into Iraq society.
- Parliament must be addressed because the Sunnis are not represented because they sat out the most recent election.
President Bush is providing five army brigades for Baghdad to help the Iraqi troops secure Baghdad. Al Maliki announced that a new commander is taking over along with two lower commanders. Rather than clearing a city and then leaving, we’re going to stay all day everyday to make sure the cities are really safe and remain under control. Our US forces will support Iraqi troops.
There’s also an economic component, which includes provincial reconstruction teams working with military groups. We want to duplicate the success we’ve had in Mosul but in larger parts of Iraq.
Tony just sent out a press release which provided some excerpts from President Bush’s speech:
On the new strategy:
Tonight in Iraq, the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror – and our safety here at home. The new strategy I outline tonight will change America’s course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror.
On the role of the Iraqis:
Only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.
On securing Baghdad:
Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work…and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.
On what Iraq must do:
I have 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.
On the economic component:
A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.
On protecting the American people:
The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time … In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy – by advancing liberty across a troubled region.
On what victory in Iraq will look like:
The changes I have outlined tonight are aimed at ensuring the survival of a young democracy that is fighting for its life in a part of the world of enormous importance to American security…The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will … Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship … A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them – and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren.
On bringing our troops home:
[To]step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government … Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.
Others who participated in the call:
NZ Bear at The Truth Laid Bear
Erick at RedState
John Hawkins at Right Wing News
Austin Bay at Austin Bay Blog
Rosemary Esmay at Dean’s World
Steve Schippert of Threats Watch
Mark Danziger of Winds of Change
Update: Bruce Kesler at The Democracy Project has even more on what to expect from tonight’s speech.