National Security Network

Bush Iraq Decision: A Shift That's Too Little Too Late

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Press Release Washington, D.C. 9 September 2008

Afghanistan Afghanistan Afghanistan iraq President Bush

The President's announcement today that the U.S. will begin a modest redeployment of American forces from Iraq to Afghanistan - a recommendation progressives have been advocating for years - is a welcome shift. But the redeployment is so modest and will take so long to arrive that, effectively, the President remains fixated on Iraq - regardless of the larger implications for U.S. national security. The Bush administration's myopic focus on Iraq has overstretched our military, cost U.S. tax payers $10 billion per month while Iraqi leaders have sat on a massive oil surplus, and failed to facilitate the necessary political reconciliation among Iraq's leaders required for long term stability. Meanwhile our mission in Afghanistan has never been accomplished - seven years after the invasion, the terrorists that attacked us on 9-11 continue to plot against the United States in the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and the Taliban insurgency is growing in strength. The need for additional troops and resources in Afghanistan could not be more urgent. The foreign policy of the last eight years has been a disaster for United States. Instead of more of the same, the United States needs to finally change course and adopt a comprehensive approach that focuses on addressing the greatest danger to the United States.

"The announcement of meager troop withdrawals is much ado about nothing," said Brian Katulis  senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. "The biggest myth President Bush put forward in his speech today is that 'Political reconciliation is moving forward.'  Rather than advancing Iraq's political transition, the surge has produced an oil revenue-fueled, Shia-dominated central government with close ties to Iran, and these ruling parties in Iraq have shown few signs of seeking to compromise and share meaningful power with other Iraqis."

The President announced a very modest withdrawal from Iraq, but passes the buck on big decisions about future U.S. presence.  "President Bush will announce today that the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq will remain steady until after he leaves office, deferring any further decisions about troop withdrawals to his successor." When the next President takes office, there will be more troops in Iraq than there were six months after the invasion and one month before the surge strategy was introduced in 2007. 
[Washington Post, 9/9/08.
Iraq Index, 9/04/08]

Finally increased attention is being paid to Afghanistan, but Bush's speech shows no recognition of the deteriorating situation and fundamental change in strategy.  Commentators say that a "troop reshuffle" is not enough to achieve success in Afghanistan.  "The insurgency will only be defeated over the long-term if the legitimacy and writ of the Afghan state increase and if the population's support for the insurgents diminishes. This will require bolstering Afghan's institutions, rooting out corruption, and improving the state's ability to provide services. It will also mean providing economic opportunities for Afghans so that they do not turn to opium or the insurgency for employment. Again, U.S. involvement in Iraq has meant less attention and resources for meeting these important objectives in Afghanistan."  In today's speech, Bush lauded the U.S.' recent assistance pledge of $10 billion for Afghan development, yet this is "less than what is spent in a month of military operations in Iraq."  [BBC, 9/9/08. CAP, 7/04/08.
President Bush, 9/9/08]

Bush rediscovers Afghanistan in speech, but only further demonstrates Administration's myopic focus on Iraq.  In today's speech, the President confirmed his Administration's damaging fixation on Iraq, and their complete inattention to other pressing national security priorities.  Bush suggested that Afghanistan's woes were a recent phenomenon, one tied to his Administration's success in Iraq:  "As al Qaida faces increased pressure in Iraq, the terrorists are stepping up their efforts on the front where this struggle first began - the nation of Afghanistan." Yet, Afghanistan has been in peril for some time, confirmed by the State Department's terrorism report for 2006, which warned that "terrorist attacks" were up "53 percent in Afghanistan," from the year before. Afghanistan's troubles are in part a result of President Bush's focus on Iraq, and his choice to make "contingency operations and the needs of the Army and the Marine Corps" secondary to the effort there.  [President Bush, 9/9/08.  State Department, 4/30/07.  Washington Post, 9/9/08]