Bush: Pulling Out of Iraq Not an Option

In his weekly radio address, President Bush signaled his resolve to continue the course in Iraq.

Bush: Pulling Out of Iraq Not an Option (AP)

President Bush said Saturday that pulling out of Iraq now is not an option, rejecting calls by some lawmakers and many people asked in polls to start bringing U.S. troops home. “The terrorists and insurgents are trying to get us to retreat. Their goal is to get us to leave before Iraqis have had a chance to show the region what a government that is elected and truly accountable to its citizens can do for its people,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. “We will settle for nothing less than victory” over terrorists there, he said later.


Bush acknowledged discontent over his decisions but signaled no shift in policy or timing for the American presence in Iraq. “Some may disagree with my decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but all of us can agree that the world’s terrorists have now made Iraq a central front in the war on terror,” he said. “This mission isn’t easy, and it will not be accomplished overnight.”

Amid continuing attacks and suicide bombings in Iraq, a few Republicans and Democrats — including one GOP lawmaker who voted for war in Iraq — introduced a resolution this week calling for Bush to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by Oct. 1, 2006. There have been nearly 1,100 violent deaths in Iraq linked to the insurgency since a transitional government took office seven weeks ago.

The administration insists no timetable can be set for bringing U.S. forces home from Iraq until enough Iraqi forces have been sufficiently trained to take over the fight against the insurgency. Anything else, the administration argues, would only embolden the insurgency.

Bush also paid tribute to progress seen in Iraq this week. Iraq’s Shiite-led parliament and leaders of the disaffected Sunni Arab minority, which is believed to be the backbone of the insurgency, agreed on a process for drafting Iraq’s constitution. “Time and again, the Iraqi people have defied the skeptics who claim they are not up to the job of building a free society,” he said. “I am confident that Iraqis will continue to defy the skeptics as they build a new Iraq that represents the diversity of their nation and assumes greater responsibility for their own security. And when they do, our troops can come home with the honor they have earned.”

This is all well and good but every operation needs an exit strategy. Announcing a specific pull-out date would be unwise, since it would be a signal to our adversaries that they can simply hold out until then and then resume their efforts once American troops are gone; putting them back in would be nearly impossible politically. That said, there has to be an end state in mind. If “victory” is the standard–and it should be for any cause for which we’re willing to send American forces to die–it must come with a definition. What, precisely, constitutes “victory” in this case?

If “regime change” were the only goal, the definition of “victory” would be clear. Further, it was achieved well over a year and 1500 dead American soldiers ago. If “free and fair elections” is the goal, that, too, has been achieved. If a permanent constitution is the end state, that should come in August.

If the phrase “enough Iraqi forces have been sufficiently trained to take over the fight against the insurgency” defines “victory,” then I’m a bit confused. For one thing, the insurgency was an outgrowth of our invasion, not its cause. Second, it’s a rather amorphous goal. How many is “enough”? How much training is “sufficient”? Are American forces going to stay in Iraq until we’ve trained a force as capable as ours? That could take a while.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. cryinginthewilderness says:

    The timing should be easy to set:

    The Armed Forces should come home from Iraq one year
    after the Armed Forces come home from Germany.
    After all WWII ended 60 years ago.

  2. James Joyner says:

    But American forces stopped fighting WWII in 1945 and stopped being an Army of Occupation by 1949. The troops in Germany were there to deter the Soviets until 1991 and for strategic convenience thereafter.

  3. Jim Rhoads says:

    Having an exit strategy and communicating it (or allowing an active enemy to know about it) are two competely different things.

    I agree wholeheartedly that we need the former, and I would be astonished if there is not one somewhere deep within the bowels of the administration.

    I disagree with anyone who would have that strategy revealed to the likes of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Dick Durban, Teddy Kennedy, a Deep Throat clone or anyone in the MSM.

    Were that to happen, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be known to the Islamic Jihadists of whatever stripe in a trice. That would be a disaster.

  4. James Joyner says:

    But, Jim, we live in a constitutional republic with separation of powers and a free press. As aggravating as Reid, Pelosi, and CNN are they have the right to know America’s goals in a war. Not the battle plans, to be sure, but the strategy.

  5. Mark says:

    I would like to hear a clear statement about what “exit” means: all troops out or will there be permanent bases staffed with coalition troops for the next 20 years?

  6. Jim Rhoads says:


    That’s where we differ. I do not believe the Constitution contemplates that pure military strategy need be shared outside the Executive Branch. That is why the President is constitutionally the Commander In Chief of the armed forces. He is ultimately responsible to the people for the conduct and outcome of a war or military action once authorized by Congress.

    For example, when Harry Truman believed the MacArthur was not willing to adhere to the strategic limits set by the Executive Branch (not Congress) Truman without warning to or consultation with Congress relieved him. This was at great political cost to Truman at the time, because MacArthur was a five star general, a national hero, and one of the few military geniuses in the nation’s history.

    It often becomes necessary for the Executive Branch to share with Congress or the public glimpses of its strategy for political reasons, but I do not believe you will find a Supreme Court case requiring it.

    Surely if certain specifics of a strategy would harm our chances of success if known to the enemy, those specifics need not be shared in such a way as to assure its exposure to that enemy.

    If you disagree, what part of the Constitution do you think requires sharing such specifics?

  7. Finally I can use all that expensive education the Navy has been heaping on my for the last five years!

    There are a two conditions that I can think of off the top of my head that must be met to declare “victory” in Iraq:

    1) Iraqi security forces must be able to adequately maintain the peace for a representative government to operate and remain stable.

    2) An elected, constitutional civilian government must be able to maintain control over the security forces and military and peacefully transfer power from official to official and party to party.

    “Withdrawl” in the case of Iraq would not necessarily mean the departure of all U.S. combat forces from Iraq, it would mean that a majority of U.S. combat forces depart and Americans no longer have responsibility for maintaining the peace in Iraq.

    Whether the U.S. military remains in Iraq after the “withdrawl” is up to the Iraqis, and though I’m not privy to any official U.S. policy, I bet we’d stay if we’re invited – and there are probably some people in the U.S. government that are hoping the Iraqis will ask.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Jim: The Constitution invests with the president only the authority to command. Congress is vested with the power to decide whether to go to war, to ratify treaties related to the war, to raise and army and a navy, with budgetary authority, etc. It seems rather clear that the president owes Congress, not to mention the American public, a clear statement of what it is we’re trying to achieve.

    Allowing the executive unfettered decisionmaking power over the most important matter a nation can have, let alone not expecting him to share basic information with the public and the legislature, is tantamount to tyranny.

    Lincoln was pretty clear on what the end game was in the Civil War as was Roosevelt with WWII. Surely, Bush can do the same in Iraq.

  9. Jim Rhoads says:


    Unless I am missing something, I think the President has been clear on what he has in mind as the end game. That is, a freely elected, functioning and stable Iraq which can be an example for other middle east countries.

    Of course, there are a number of constituencies that think that is an improper or foolish or badly mistaken end game. The President, however,I believe it is safe to say, has been nothing if not consistent on voicing that endgame. Stubborn, stiff necked, implacable, chimplike, ostrichlike, are some of the adjectives his critics from many quarters are using to describe his attitude on this issue.

    But how many troops to deploy, what type of troops, what tactics they should use, how long they should stay, what roles they should play and the like are the types of decisions that the Executive Branch can, if necessary keep close to the vest.

    Using familiar WWII history for illustration, I am sure the scope and details of the invasion of Normandy in 1944, and of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945 were shared by few outside those actually involved and the highest levels of the Executive Branch. Indeed with Normandy, there was much deception employed to assure Rommel and the rest of the German officers guarding the Fortress Europe would not know where and when the invasion was coming from.

    Even V.P. Truman was unaware on April 12, 1945, when he took the office of the Presidency, of the ultimate endgame strategic weapon, developed by the Manhattan Project. Truman was not a stranger to the war government when he was nominated as Vice President. He was relatively senior Democratic Senator who made his reputation chairing a Senate Committee investigating wartime graft and corruption in the defense industry. Yet he had to be briefed on all of the existing war plans for conducting less than one month in the war with Germany and the five months left of the war with Japan.

    How to get to the President’s ambitious endgame (which he has shared ad nauseum) is the strategy we are discussing and which I think need not be shared.

    Other questions sort of work their way around these issues. What if we fail? What is our exit strategy if it is clear we cannot reach our objective? When will we know? What will the indicia be? What actions should we take and when?

    In my mind, this type of discussion definitely need not and should not be shared until the Commander In Chief decides that surrender is near.

    But I think the Constitutional contours of power and the actual application of that power are always subjects of interesting discussion.

    A great way to pass a Saturday afternoon watching the US Open on my brand new Father’s Day recliner.

  10. spencer says:

    Assume the goal is a peaceful country with a freely elected government.

    Second, what resources do we need to achieve that objective.

    So far the administration has massively underestimated the resources needed to
    achieve that goal. As a consequence the US military is being slowly depleted and the
    insurgency has had a chance to establish
    itself with an every expanding base.

    In short, the US is losing the GWOT because
    of the misjudgements of this administration.

    So the question is now what resources do we need to achieve our goal, and how do we convince the American public to provide those resources — ie
    it probably would require a large tax cut.

  11. spencer says:

    correction — tax increase not tax cut

  12. Warmongering Lunatic says:

    I would set it at

    “When a government has been formed by a parliament elected under the permanent constitution, the U.S. and Iraq will jointly evaluate whether any continuing insurgency is domestic or a result of Syrian government activity. If the former, there will be a phased withdrawal over eighteen months.

    “If the latter, the United States will ask Iraq to choose whether or not it will declare war on Syria. If it will not, the U.S. will withdraw anyway; the U.S. cannot save an Iraqi government unwilling to confront its enemies. If war is declared, U.S. forces will invade Syria with the assitance of Iraqi forces; our goal in Syria will be the adoption of a permanent native democratic constitution, and we will withdraw from Syria over eighteen months from the formation of the first government under that constitution.”

    A threat to overthrow Syria if the insurgency is percieved as being a Syrian operation will give Syria a big incentive to reduce its current level of support, and make stabilizing Iraq easier. An overthrow of the Syrian government, while costly, would create a solid block of democratic states from the Mediterranean and Black Seas to the frontier of Iran, inherently more stable than the current situation and placing serious pressure on regional pseudodemocracies to properly democratize.

    Either way, we would not only have clear victory conditions, but we’d win an actual victory.

  13. James Joyner says:

    What is it that would lead you to conclude that the insurgency is sponsored by Syria? Al Qaeda is not a state sponsored group and Zarqawi is Jordanian.

  14. Al says:

    Yankee Sailor has got it exactly right. Why hasn’t James addressed that post?

    Also, Mark has it exactly right (what does James mean by “exit”?) – why hasn’t James address that point either?

    And: “Lincoln was pretty clear on what the end game was in the Civil War as was Roosevelt with WWII.” Roosevelt has clear what the end-game in WWI was? REALLY? Did his end-game include American troops in Germany for 60 more years? Did he make THAT clear to the American public in 1945? And Lincoln told everyone that his “exit strategy” included Nothern troops in the South for more than a decade afterwards? Really?

    The “exit strategy” idea is a myth. No war has an “exit strategy” that is meaningful.