Democratic Leaders’ Letter to Bush on Iraq

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have sent a letter to President Bush--and everyone else--arguing against a "surge" of forces in Iraq.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have sent a letter to President Bush–and everyone else–arguing against a “surge” of forces in Iraq.

Some excerpts and commentary:

The American people demonstrated in the November elections that they don’t believe your current Iraq policy will lead to success and that we need a change in direction for the sake of our troops and the Iraqi people

While the polls do seem to show that, it’s hardly the case that the elections “demonstrated” this. Indeed, it’s generally hard to say that midterm elections demonstrate much of anything in the aggregate since they’re a series of one-on-one match-ups. While there was a general “we need change” motif to the campaign, there was hardly a coherent platform. For that matter, not every Democrat who won the election supports the Pelosi-Reid position on the war.

Despite the fact that our troops have been pushed to the breaking point and, in many cases, have already served multiple tours in Iraq, news reports suggest that you believe the solution to the civil war in Iraq is to require additional sacrifices from our troops and are therefore prepared to proceed with a substantial U.S. troop increase.

That our “troops have been pushed to the breaking point” is hardly an established “fact.” As to many of them having served multiple tours, it is, after all, their job to fight their country’s wars.

Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed.

Although I’m willing to be sold, I think a surge at this point is a bad idea. Still, it’s silly to argue that it has “already [been] tried and that has already failed.” In the early days of the war, critics were complaining that Bush and company had sent too few troops. When, exactly, did we try a surge?

Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake. They, like us, believe there is no purely military solution in Iraq. There is only a political solution. Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain.

Uh, isn’t the military already stretched to the breaking point? You just said so, remember?

And the fact that there is no purely military solution–the administration’s view as well–does not mean there isn’t a military component to the solution. It’s far from clear that adding troops will only put troops in danger; it’s conceivable that a well-executed use of force would lower the risk.

And it would undermine our efforts to get the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future.

But making someone else “take responsibility” for cleaning up a mess we helped create is problematic, no?

In a recent appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General John Abizaid, our top commander for Iraq and the region, said the following when asked about whether he thought more troops would contribute to our chances for success in Iraq: “I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the Corps commander, General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no. And the reason is, because we want the Iraqis to do more. It’s easy for the Iraqis to rely upon to us do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.” [ You should probably either have included this passage OR the paragraphs above where you said exactly the same thing. -ed.)]

Yet these commanders have been in charge on the ground without the surge. How is that working out for them?

Rather than deploy additional forces to Iraq, we believe the way forward is to begin the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months, while shifting the principal mission of our forces there from combat to training, logistics, force protection and counter-terror. A renewed diplomatic strategy, both within the region and beyond, is also required to help the Iraqis agree to a sustainable political settlement . . In short, it is time to begin to move our forces out of Iraq and make the Iraqi political leadership aware that our commitment is not open ended, that we cannot resolve their sectarian problems, and that only they can find the political resolution required to stabilize Iraq.

Kinda like the Iraq Study Group suggestions that pretty much everyone else has dismissed? And isn’t the principal mission of our forces already training, logistics, force protection, and counter-terror?

FILED UNDER: 2006 Election, Congress, Iraq War, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    When, exactly, did we try a surge?

    Specifically, I believe we “surged” (read: left in-country several extra months after they were supposed to rotate home) about 30k troops around the time of the famous “purple finger” elections. IIRC, though the elections occurred, the violence levels weren’t any better…

  2. legion says:

    Kinda like the Iraq Study Group suggestions that pretty much everyone else has dismissed?

    Also, I believe the main reason the ISG suggestions were dismissed by so many people was because Bush himself derided anything that didn’t sound like “get a bigger hammer” before the panel even finished. The suggestions weren’t dissed because they were bad, they were dissed because everyone already knew Bush would never even consider them.

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    Why are we allowing this war by committee to continue? I can think of no worse way to establish strategy than to publicly air every different point of view from congress. Can’t they do anything in private? I guess not when political dividends are to be had.

    There is a way to formulate policy with many different viewpoints in private. Why not allow the elected commander in chief do what he was elected to do?

    Doing it this way further endangers our troops in Iraq and elsewhere.

  4. Patrick McGuire says:

    This should prove interesting! A showdown over two branches of government about which one runs the military and foreign policy. I believe that Congress has oversight power but not the power to dictate to the President. It will be interesting to see what Bush does in this circumstance.

  5. Jim Henley says:

    Still, it’s silly to argue that it has
    “already [been] tried and that has already failed.” In the early days of the war, critics were complaining that that Bush and company had sent too few troops. When, exactly, did we try a surge?

    Operation Forward Together. Or Together Forward. Or Advancing Forward Together. I saw all three names used at various points. It was a “surge” of US troops into Baghdad to end sectarian violence. It started in June, but they later announced it AGAIN as starting in August. Regardless, it, like the letter says, failed.

  6. Billy says:

    This is only being argued in public because Bush has demonstrated with ineptitude piled on ineptitude that he is so woefully out of touch that he won’t listen to anyone in private who isn’t telling him what he wants to hear.

    This is the first salvo of the oncoming appropriations battle. The difference between this and ISG is that, whereas the ISG was merely a bunch of greybeards telling the president what he ought to do, Congress weilds the power of the purse. Not exactly the same context.

  7. legion says:

    Spot-on. Generals have been fired in the past by Presidents when they weren’t running the war right/successfully. But what is there to do when the President himself is the problem?

    Steven may be upset that Congress is attempting to interfere in an Executive function, but if the President refuses to follow all rational advice, and continues to press forward down a path detrimental to national interests, he can only be removed by Congress – unless we can afford to wait another 2 years…

  8. Steven Plunk says:

    How can the President be accused of not following “all rational advice” so many rational opinions are being bandied about? Rational arguments can be made for increasing troop strength and decreasing troop strength. Rational arguments can be made for many contrary approaches to the war.

    Different generals have different ideas about what should or should not be done. How can we listen to all of them and do what they want? There will always be those who’s ideas are rejected and used by the political opposition as “proof” the President is incompetent.

    We have an active undermining of the confidence in our war time leader by people who politically oppose him and look to damage his party as well. This is not good for our country.

    As too many cooks spoil the broth we can expect too many generals to spoil the plan. We can also expect too much open discussion of war plans to weaken whatever plan is chosen.

    Failure to succeed does not necessarily mean ineptitude. The difficulties of Iraq may be such that no plan will ever succeed but yet a plan must be put forward. Plans also have to be adjusted or discarded throughout the process.

    I find it hard to believe that our President is not listening to many advisers and working hard to remedy a tough situation. I also find it hard to believe people are still calling every move he makes wrong. That’s what is not rational.

  9. freelancecritic says:

    James, gotta say… as a regular reader, this is one of the most treadbare and petty critiques you’ve posted in a long time.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Yea James, those troops who have done 3 tours, its their JOB to fight in this war against a country that threatend us in no way. Spoken like a true armchair warrior, dude.

  11. anjin-san says:


    This President is pretty much of a legend for only hearing what he wants to hear. Why exactly do you find it hard to believe that he does not listen to contrarian advice?

  12. anjin-san says:


    The more I think about your remarks, the more laughable they become. There was near universal agreement going in to the election that it was all about Iraq. The well funded, well trained GOP organization, with a huge spending advantage and complete control of the government, got their heads handed to them. It was not “one on one” it was a near tidal wave. Ask Richard Pombo. I think we all know how often incumbent members of congress lose in years when it really is an election based on local issues.

    As for midterms not meaning much, well what happened in ’94? Did Newt just have a good day at the track, with no larger context?

    How about 2002? After Rove B-slapped the Democrats, did you go around telling everyone how little it meant?

    While you are at it, why not blow a little smoke up our asses about “the six year itch”? Funny how it did not seem to affect Clinton and Reagan, who actually did a good job leading the country while in office.

    I guess its no surprise you support Bush. You both dwell in some strange pocket universe where reality seems to play very little role.

  13. djneylon says:

    This is what happens when the imperial Congress that has been building since the mid-60s finally gets drunk with power…they micro-manage nearly every executive responsibility with incredibly detailed legislation and endless hearings, they have hijacked foreign policy which is not in their job description (see the Constitution, then explain how the War Powers act, resolutions on Central America, demands for input in trade negotiations, and constant harping on first and second Gulf wars comply), and their endless efforts to tell us poor benighted knuckle-dragging taxpayers that we are too stupid to know what we should drive, where we should live and what we should eat, along with what our children should learn, what our morals should be and what we should do with our money. Now they are smarter than combined wisdom of the Department of Defense, the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the White House. Let’s put the wisdom of congress to good use and ask them to cure cancer or AIDS or global warming or poverty while we’re at it. It’s good to know that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have all the answers. Now I can sleep at night.

  14. floyd says:

    pelosi&reid wrote a letter? That’s the incredible part of this. C’mon who really wrote it for them?

  15. An Interested Party says:

    Certainly it couldn’t have been the same person who wrote that WSJ editorial for President Bush…