(by Eli Lake, NYSun.com) – President Bush is beginning to assert his authority to set the number of troops to be deployed in Iraq with his surprise visit to the country, ahead of the coming battle with Congress over troop levels.

Addressing soldiers at Al-Asad Air Base in Anbar province yesterday, the president said he and the commanders in Iraq – not Congress – would make decisions on the pace of withdrawal of American troops.

The announcement was the first time since the start of the military surge and new strategy in Iraq that Mr. Bush has said he is considering a troop withdrawal, the top priority for the Democratic leadership since voting to confirm General David Petraeus as the commander of multinational forces in Iraq. The general is scheduled to give his recommendations on Iraq strategy to Congress before the mandated deadline of September 15.

“I want to tell you this about the decision, about my decision about troop levels,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground, not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media. In other words, when we begin to draw down troops from Iraq, it will be from a position of strength and success, not from a position of fear and failure.”

Those words are most surely directed at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat of California, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, a Democrat of Nevada. Both leaders announced on September 1 a raft of hearings that will begin in the Senate today to unveil a Government Accountability Office report expected to criticize the new military strategy for its failure to result in any progress toward political reconciliation at the national level.

A draft of the report said 13 of 18 political benchmarks Democrats attached to the bills to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not met, the Washington Post reported last week. The Pentagon has asked the GAO to soften the final report.

The hearings this week come in advance of the presentation from General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker to Congress scheduled to begin in the Senate on September 11, the sixth anniversary of Al Qaeda’s attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

Mr. Bush’s visit to Anbar yesterday appeared to be aimed at blunting the coming Democratic push against the war. To start, Mr. Bush brought the beleaguered Shiite Iraqi premier, Nouri al-Maliki, to Anbar to meet with the leadership of the Sunni Arab Anbar Awakening, the political arm of the salvation front that Mr. Bush and General Petraeus credit with driving Al Qaeda from one of the terrorist group’s bases.

“When you stand on the ground here in Anbar and hear from the people who live here, you can see what the future of Iraq can look like,” Mr. Bush said. “That’s why members of Congress from both parties who have visited Iraq have come back encouraged by what they have seen. For all the differences over the war, we can agree on what’s working.”

It was Mr. Maliki’s second visit to Anbar to meet with Sheik Abdul-Sattar al-Rishawi, whom he has deputized as a leader of a counterterrorism force in Anbar.

For General Petraeus and Mr. Bush, the stability of Anbar is the reason American troops can begin to come home. A year ago, Anbar was described in bleak prose by the Marine colonel in charge of intelligence for the province, Peter Devlin.

In a classified memo from August 2006, Colonel Devlin said the local Sunnis in Anbar had turned to Al Qaeda for protection from Shiite “pogroms.” Yesterday, Mr. Bush said the province was “one of the safest places in Iraq.”

The success in Anbar is also one of the key rhetorical points the administration will make to fend off any attempts from Congress to mandate a withdrawal date from Iraq. After the release last month of a National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq that also held out dim prospects for national political reconciliation, the White House and the Pentagon observed that the estimate, commissioned in February, failed to account for the local progress toward reconciliation in Anbar.

While some Democrats have acknowledged the progress in Anbar, the party’s leadership remains skeptical. Over the weekend, the Washington Post published an interview with Mr. Reid in which he said his party would begin reaching out to Senate Republicans this month to craft a compromise withdrawal bill that would still leave many troops in Iraq.

That strategy diverges from Mr. Reid’s favored tack earlier this summer and in late spring. In April, May, and June, Mr. Reid endorsed a series of bills and amendments that fixed a hard deadline for withdrawal, a condition that wavering Republicans said they could not support.

Democrats are also under pressure from their party’s base. To coincide with the arrival of Mr. Crocker and General Petraeus in Washington, anti-war groups are planning a march on Washington for September 15. The sponsors so far include Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, the Answer Coalition, and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation. Advertisements for the march promise that a mock funeral will be held for dead American soldiers featuring a 21-gun salute and the reading out of names.

Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.


1.  On what Iraq issue do President Bush and Congress disagree?  Be specific.

2.  a) Who is the commander of the multi-national forces in Iraq?
b) When will the General be speaking to Congress?
c) What will be the purpose of his presentation?

3.  What is assumed to have been the purpose of President Bush’s visit to Anbar Province yesterday?

4.  Why have members of Congress from both parties who have visited Iraq (regardless of their view on the war) come back encouraged by what they have seen, according to President Bush?

5.  a) What overall progress has been made in Iraq since the surge began?
b) What area has not seen much progress in Iraq?

6.  Why has Senate Majority leader, Democrat Senator Harry Reid, changed his attempt to fix a hard deadline for troop withdrawal from Iraq?

7.  Re-read paragraph 4.  What do you think of President Bush’s statement on troop levels?
(Read the President’s full speech at whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/09/20070903-1.html)


For a map of Iraq (in PDF format), click here.

Visit the Multi-National Force website at mnf-iraq.com

Read the perspective of a reporter embedded in Iraq at jeffemanuel.blogspot.com

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