President Bush’s Speech on the New Iraq Strategy

President Bush addressed the midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy this morning to discuss his strategy for winning the war in Iraq.

Bush Unveils New Iraq Strategy (WaPo)

President Bush, facing increasing impatience with the war in Iraq, went on the offensive today, releasing a detailed strategy plan and then delivering a major speech in an attempt to show the country the administration has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq. The White House released a 35-page “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” this morning, three hours before the president delivered a 50-minute speech on the war at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. It’s the first in a series of speeches Bush will deliver in the run-up to the Dec. 15 elections in Iraq outlining the American political, security and economic strategies there.

The White House offensive comes as continued deadly violence in Iraq and the deaths of more than 2,000 U.S. troops and the wounding of some 16,000 others chip away at Bush’s popularity, now at its lowest level since he became president.

In his speech, Bush outlined the progress Iraqi security forces have made in taking over responsibility for the security of the embattled country. He also discussed successes that Iraq has made on the political front over the past two-and-a-half years.
He repeated, though, that U.S. forces will not be withdrawn from Iraq until the “mission is complete.”

Bush Maps Out Iraq War Strategy (AP)

President Bush, facing growing doubts about his war strategy, said Wednesday that Iraqi troops are increasingly taking the lead in battle but that “this will take time and patience.” He refused to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.

Bush said the U.S. military presence in Iraq is set to change, by making fewer patrols and convoys, moving out of Iraqi cities and focusing more on specialized operations aimed at high-value terrorist targets. “As Iraqi forces gain experience and the political process advances, we will be able to decrease our troop level in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists,” Bush told a supportive audience at the U.S. Naval Academy. “These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington.” Bush’s emphasis on the readiness of Iraqi security forces came at a time when continued violence in Iraq and the death of more than 2,000 U.S. troops have contributed to a sharp drop in the president’s popularity.

Even before Bush finished speaking, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid issued a statement claiming that Bush “recycled his tired rhetoric of ‘stay the course’ and once again missed an opportunity to lay out a real strategy for success in Iraq that will bring our troops safely home.” The Nevada senator charged that Bush failed to meet a call by the Senate to tell Americans the administration’s strategy for success in Iraq.

Upon reading through the entire text of the speech [see Transcript: President Bush’s Speech on the War on Terrorism (WaPo)], though, there does seem to be at least nuanced differences from previous pronouncements.

He dilineates the composition of the enemy forces in a reasonable way:

A clear strategy begins with a clear understanding of the enemy we face. The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists.

The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein. And they reject an Iraq in which they’re no longer the dominant group. Not all Sunnis fall into the rejectionist camp. Of those that do, most are not actively fighting us. Some give aid and comfort to the enemy. Many Sunnis boycotted the January elections. Yet as democracy takes hold in Iraq, they are recognizing that opting out of the democratic process has hurt their interests. And today, those who advocate violent opposition are being increasingly isolated by Sunnis who choose peaceful participation in the democratic process. Sunnis voted in the recent constitutional referendum in large numbers. And Sunni coalitions have formed to compete in next month’s elections — or this month’s elections. We believe that, over time, most rejectionists will be persuaded to support a democratic Iraq led by a federal government that is a strong enough government to protect minority rights.

The second group that makes up the enemy in Iraq is smaller but more determined. It contains former regime loyalists who held positions of power under Saddam Hussein, people who still harbor dreams of returning to power. These hard-core Saddamists are trying to foment anti- democratic sentiment amongst the larger Sunni community. They lack popular support and therefore cannot stop Iraq’s democratic progress. And over time, they can be marginalized and defeated by the Iraqi people and the security forces of a free Iraq.

The third group is the smallest but the most lethal: the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaida. Many are foreigners who are coming to fight freedom’s progress in Iraq. This group includes terrorists from Saudi Arabia and Syria and Iran and Egypt and Sudan and Yemen and Libya and other countries. Our commanders believe they’re responsible for most of the suicide bombings and the beheadings and the other atrocities we see on our television. They’re led by a brutal terrorist named Zarqawi, Al Qaida’s chief of operations in Iraq, who has pledged his allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

Their objective is to drive the United States and coalition forces out of Iraq and to use the vacuum that would be created by an American retreat to gain control of the country. They would then use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks against America and overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East and try to establish a totalitarian Islamic empire that reaches from Indonesia to Spain. That’s their stated objective. That’s what their leadership has said.

These terrorists have nothing to offer the Iraqi people. All they have is the capacity and the willingness to kill the innocent and create chaos for the cameras. They’re trying to shake our will to achieve their stated objectives. They will fail.

The next portion brings the nature of the threat home nicely:

The terrorists in Iraq share the same ideology as the terrorists who struck the United States on September the 11th. Those terrorists share the same ideology with those who blew up commuters in London and Madrid, murdered tourists in Bali, workers in Riyadh and guests at a wedding in Amman, Jordan. Just last week they massacred Iraqi children and their parents at a toy giveaway outside an Iraqi hospital. This is an enemy without conscience, and they cannot be appeased. If we’re not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people.

So, then, how to fight it?

So today we’re releasing a document called the “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.” This is an unclassified version of the strategy we’ve been pursuing in Iraq, and it is posted on the White House Web site, I urge all Americans to read it.

Our strategy in Iraq has three elements.

On the political side, we know that free societies are peaceful societies. So we’re helping the Iraqis build a free society, with inclusive democratic institutions that will protect the interests of all Iraqis. We’re working with the Iraqis to help them engage those who can be persuaded to join the new Iraq and to marginalize those who never will.

On the security side, coalition and Iraqi security forces are on the offensive against the enemy, cleaning out areas controlled by the terrorists and Saddam loyalists, leaving Iraqi forces to hold territory taken from the enemy, and following up with targeted reconstruction to help Iraqis rebuild their lives. As we fight the terrorists, we’re working to build capable and effective Iraqi security forces, so they can take the lead in the fight and eventually take responsibility for the safety and security of their citizens without major foreign assistance.

And on the economic side, we’re helping the Iraqis rebuild their infrastructure, reform their economy and build the prosperity that will give all Iraqis a stake in a free and peaceful Iraq.

In doing all this, we’ve involved the United Nations, other international organizations, our coalition partners and supportive regional states in helping Iraqis build their future.

Most of the rest of the speech focuses on the security side, specifically the training of Iraqi forces. That ground has been well trod.

What this speech does, it seems to me, is re-emphasize that this is not simply an exercise in attrition. While killing terrorists is a useful part of the strategy, it is not the only focus. All wars, if they are to be successful, must aim at achieving political objectives, not simply military ones. Emphasizing the political and economic parts of the plan is necessary and, indeed, I hope he does more of that in future speeches. The security side was reasonable enough focus for the midshipmen.

I haven’t had time to read and digest the “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” yet. Here’s the Executive Summary, via WaPo. (Curiously, I can’t yet find it on the page.)


Helping the Iraqi People Defeat the Terrorists and Build an Inclusive Democratic State

Victory in Iraq is Defined in Stages

* Short term, Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces.

* Medium term, Iraq is in the lead defeating terrorists and providing its own security, with a fully constitutional government in place, and on its way to achieving its economic potential.

* Longer term, Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism.

Victory in Iraq is a Vital U.S. Interest

* Iraq is the central front in the global war on terror. Failure in Iraq will embolden terrorists and expand their reach; success in Iraq will deal them a decisive and crippling blow.

* The fate of the greater Middle East — which will have a profound and lasting impact on American security — hangs in the balance.

Failure is Not an Option

* Iraq would become a safe haven from which terrorists could plan attacks against America, American interests abroad, and our allies.

* Middle East reformers would never again fully trust American assurances of support for democracy and human rights in the region — a historic opportunity lost.

* The resultant tribal and sectarian chaos would have major consequences for American security and interests in the region.

The Enemy Is Diffuse and Sophisticated

* The enemy is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists, and terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaida. Distinct but integrated strategies are required to defeat each element.

* Each element shares a common short-term objective — to intimidate, terrorize, and tear down — but has separate and incompatible long-term goals.

* Exploiting these differences within the enemy is a key element of our strategy.

Our Strategy for Victory is Clear

* We will help the Iraqi people build a new Iraq with a constitutional, representative government that respects civil rights and has security forces sufficient to maintain domestic order and keep Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. To achieve this end, we are pursuing an integrated strategy along three broad tracks, which together incorporate the efforts of the Iraqi government, the Coalition, cooperative countries in the region, the international community, and the United Nations.

* The Political Track involves working to forge a broadly supported national compact for democratic governance by helping the Iraqi government: Isolate enemy elements from those who can be won over to the political process by countering false propaganda and demonstrating to all Iraqis that they have a stake in a democratic Iraq; Engage those outside the political process and invite in those willing to turn away from violence through ever-expanding avenues of participation; and Build stable, pluralistic, and effective national institutions that can protect the interests of all Iraqis, and facilitate Iraq’s full integration into the international community.

* The Security Track involves carrying out a campaign to defeat the terrorists and neutralize the insurgency, developing Iraqi security forces, and helping the Iraqi government: Clear areas of enemy control by remaining on the offensive, killing and capturing enemy fighters and denying them safe-haven; Hold areas freed from enemy influence by ensuring that they remain under the control of the Iraqi government with an adequate Iraqi security force presence; and Build Iraqi Security Forces and the capacity of local institutions to deliver services, advance the rule of law, and nurture civil society.

* The Economic Track involves setting the foundation for a sound and self-sustaining economy by helping the Iraqi government: Restore Iraq’s infrastructure to meet increasing demand and the needs of a growing economy; Reform Iraq’s economy, which in the past has been shaped by war, dictatorship, and sanctions, so that it can be self-sustaining in the future; and Build the capacity of Iraqi institutions to maintain infrastructure, rejoin the international economic community, and improve the general welfare of all Iraqis. This Strategy is Integrated and its Elements are Mutually Reinforcing

* Progress in each of the political, security, and economic tracks reinforces progress in the other tracks.

For instance, as the political process has moved forward, terrorists have become more isolated, leading to more intelligence on security threats from Iraqi citizens, which has led to better security in previously violent areas, a more stable infrastructure, the prospect of economic progress, and expanding political participation.

Victory Will Take Time

* Our strategy is working: Much has been accomplished in Iraq, including the removal of Saddam’s tyranny, negotiation of an interim constitution, restoration of full sovereignty, holding of free national elections, formation of an elected government, drafting of a permanent constitution, ratification of that constitution, introduction of a sound currency, gradual restoration of neglected infrastructure, the ongoing training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, and the increasing capability of those forces to take on the terrorists and secure their nation.

* Yet many challenges remain: Iraq is overcoming decades of a vicious tyranny, where governmental authority stemmed solely from fear, terror, and brutality. It is not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy, able to defeat its enemies and peacefully reconcile generational grievances, to be in place less than three years after Saddam was finally removed from power.

* Our comprehensive strategy will help Iraqis overcome remaining challenges, but defeating the multiheaded enemy in Iraq — and ensuring that it cannot threaten Iraq’s democratic gains once we leave — requires persistent effort across many fronts.

Our Victory Strategy Is (and Must Be) Conditions Based

* With resolve, victory will be achieved, although not by a date certain. No war has ever been won on a timetable and neither will this one.

* But lack of a timetable does not mean our posture in Iraq (both military and civilian) will remain static over time. As conditions change, our posture will change.

We expect, but cannot guarantee, that our force posture will change over the next year, as the political process advances and Iraqi security forces grow and gain experience.

While our military presence may become less visible, it will remain lethal and decisive, able to confront the enemy wherever it may organize.

Our mission in Iraq is to win the war. Our troops will return home when that mission is complete.

From the full document, here’s the key bit for those looking for an exit strategy:


As the central front in the global war on terror, success in Iraq is an essential element in the long war against the ideology that breeds international terrorism. Unlike past wars, however, victory in Iraq will not come in the form of an enemy’s surrender, or be signaled by a single particular event — there will be no Battleship Missouri, no Appomattox. The ultimate victory will be achieved in stages, and we expect:

In the short term:

* An Iraq that is making steady progress in fighting terrorists and neutralizing the insurgency, meeting political milestones; building democratic institutions; standing up robust security forces to gather intelligence, destroy terrorist networks, and maintain security; and tackling key economic reforms to lay the foundation for a sound economy.

In the medium term:

* An Iraq that is in the lead defeating terrorists and insurgents and providing its own security, with a constitutional, elected government in place, providing an inspiring example to reformers in the region, and well on its way to achieving its economic potential.

In the longer term:

* An Iraq that has defeated the terrorists and neutralized the insurgency.

* An Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country.

* An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region.

These goals are not completely measurable, to be sure. But at least they provide a launching point for analysis.

Update: OIF and OEF vet Kris Alexander heard the speech and believes it “one of the better speeches of his administration.” He adds,

The middle part of the speech was the real meat of what he had to say, and he told me some things that I did not know about what the Iraqi security forces have accomplished. And that̢۪s a problem. I̢۪m a fairly well informed person. I should know these things. If the Iraqi security forces are doing as well as the president says, the administration better figure out a way to start showing that progress in order to instill confidence in both the Iraqi and American people. Why are there no embeds in Iraqi military units? We ought to be publicly pressuring media outlets like Al Jezzera to start showing what is happening. What the president had to say has an interesting juxtaposition to James Fallow̢۪s story in this month̢۪s Atlantic.


My main fault with the president (hope I’m not violating the UCMJ here) is why did it take so long to start making these speeches? Why did it take so long for them to publish a public “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq� Maybe the political bruising that they’ve taken in the last few weeks has convinced the administration to finally engage with American people over this issue.

I would argue that Bush has given dozens of speeches on the topic. Still, Kris is right: for whatever reason, the message has not gotten through. Reasonable people can disagree over whether the war was worth it or even whether it’s worth continuing the course; but it’s the president’s job to ensure that they at least do so understanding the mission and the plan.

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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. odograph says:

    We are pretty much damned if we do, and damned if we don’t … and the president has made his choice on which “damned” we get.

    Question, for those who pull the “support the troops” card, to really support the Whitehouse … are you going to call for a draft?

    Or are you going to force the troops you “support” to repeat tours indefinitely?

  2. anjin-san says:

    Has anyone noticed that the only places the President speaks in public now are military bases, gop fund raisers and at federal installation’s?

  3. LJD says:

    Can you blame him for wanting to avoid pie and salad dressing throwing idiots?

    Nice of you to acknowledge our troops support for the mission, though.

  4. Reporter for Doody says:

    Whats new ?

    The President, like a lone voice in the wilderness continues to say the same thing that he has from day one – the Iraqis are being trained to take over their own security.

    The Iraqi will also choose their own destiny in the December election. They may choose at that time to ask the coalition government to leave and they would set the time table.

    Our initial goal of regime change was accomplished. Now it is up to Iraqis to decide their new government.

  5. odograph says:

    I thought the beauty of the military audiences was that their rules for conduct at such events do not allow any public display, pro or con. They are there in uniform remember, and not on their own time, or in mufti(*).

    And of course the “GOP” events are not just “GOP.” Despite being a Republican, I’m sure my view rule me out. No, they are “invitation only.”

    * – amusing that the word “mufti” has its origins as a “mulsim attorney who can deliver a fatwa” and then became “civilian dress, especially when worn by one who normally wears a uniform” by way of the British Empire. When history doesn’t repeat, it echos.

  6. anjin-san says:


    You are right, its not hard to understand why the President is afraid to face the American people in light of his administrations record.