Bush's course correction: will it work? (updated)

Thomas Lifson
Last night President Bush presented something for everyone. His long-carping critics got an admission of mistakes to crow about. He is sending more troops, in line with the demands of Rumsfeld-haters. He even nodded to James Baker and the Iraq Study Group - not on the major point of selling out Israel and attempting to get Iran to help the Great Satan it wants to destroy, but on one of the lesser of its kitchen sink full of suggestions: increasing the embedding American advisors with Iraqi Army units.

But the real substance of the key changes (the ones which might actually make a difference and work) were touched upon lightly, or even just implied. Honestly, there is plenty of wiggle room here, so I may be over-optimistic in my interpretations. But if read the President correctly, what really matters is:

  1. The rules of engagement for our troops are changing. They will be able to act with more force, upon less provocation, and thereby be able proactively eliminate those who threaten them and Iraq's nascent multi-ethnic democracy.
  2. The Shiite militias are on notice that they will be eliminated, one way or another. They can disarm or requisite force will be applied by both Iraqi and American troops. See point 1.
  3. Baghdad's Shiite forces and al Anbar Province's al Qaeda Sunnis will see the hammer come down hard, and no longer serve as incubators of further resistance. See points 1 and 2.
  4. Syria and Iran will no longer be allowed to supply weapons and other support to the insurgency.
Point four has the largest implications, for they could mean taking the war beyond Iraq's borders. The key two paragraphs of his address are:
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity - and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing - and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
If he really means to succeed (and I think he does, because failure would be so terrible), then "seek out and destroy networks" means attacks on supply lines from Syria and Iran into Iraq. It may even mean attacks within the sovereign territories of Syria and Iran. Thus: "the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region"

For all the humility and the indirect language, and despite the modest number of new troops being deployed, President Bush may be preparing to seriously escalate the conflict, and recognize that we are already in a de facto war with both Syria and Iran. The deployment of carrier groups, the appointment of Admiral Fallon to head CENTCOM, and the pressing need to address Iran's intent to make and use nuclear weapons all argue for a larger war, or at least the threat thereof.

I can't be at all certain this is the correct interpretation. My hopes for aggressive action by the President have been dashed before. But having tried the nice-guy approach to winning hearts and minds and failed, perhaps the President is ready to do what is necessary to win. 

Update:

Jules Crittenden also sees the President getting tough.

The most immediate pitfall I see looming is that enemy has a headsup, and will attempt to melt away, using its advantage as an irregular native force to cache its weapons and stand on the street corner, whistling and acting normal, to bide its time.

This is why there must be provocations to draw them out. For starters, the beseiging and seizure of Moqtada al-Sadr and other criminal leaders, responsible for the murder of thousands. Relentless raids on their stronghold neighborhoods.

It won't be pretty. As he said, there will be bloody days ahead.

Bush also indicated that we can expect action on Iranian and Syrian soil, and he refered to the Stennis carrier group now underway to join the Eisenhower. He suggested this action will be related to the movement of weapons and terrorists harbored by Iran and Syria. As stated before, I strongly suspect they are contemplating stronger action against Iran's WMD sites. But first things first. Take down Iran's proxies in Iraq.
Jules also provides a valuable review of press coverage. Were it not so serious, the AP would be pathetic:

The Associated Press report's lede focused heavily on George Bush admitting mistakes -- something they stress every time he does, as though its something new and exciting. It's here. The president of the United States, addressing the nation on a critical matter of war, was barely allowed to get a few sentences out about what he actually plans to do before the AP jumped into the politics, crowing about his admissions of error and trumpeting the opposition's efforts to thwart him. An important part of the story, no doubt. But I'm sure the Democrats in Congress will be gratified to see the Associated Press is more interested in sideshow politics than it is in the heart of the matter: how do we move forward, for the security of our nation, for the security of the world and the region, in the face of very real threats. 
Update: Last night Michael Ledeen parsed the same wording as I did, and asked similar questions.
I've read that last sentence ["And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."]
 maybe ten times. Those "networks providing advanced weaponry and training" certainly are based in Iran and Syria. It sounds like he said we are going after terrorist training camps and the IED assembly facilities, doesn't it?
 
Update: The BBC reports that

US forces have stormed an Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil and seized six members of staff.

The troops raided the building at about 0300 (0001GMT), taking away computers and papers, according to Kurdish media and senior local officials.

The US military would only confirm the detention of six people around Irbil.

The raid comes amid high Iran-US tension. The US accuses Iran of helping to fuel violence in Iraq and seeking nuclear arms. Iran denies both charges.
This is an act of war, just as the Iranian seizure of the US Embassy was during Jimmy Carter's presidency.

Last night President Bush presented something for everyone. His long-carping critics got an admission of mistakes to crow about. He is sending more troops, in line with the demands of Rumsfeld-haters. He even nodded to James Baker and the Iraq Study Group - not on the major point of selling out Israel and attempting to get Iran to help the Great Satan it wants to destroy, but on one of the lesser of its kitchen sink full of suggestions: increasing the embedding American advisors with Iraqi Army units.

But the real substance of the key changes (the ones which might actually make a difference and work) were touched upon lightly, or even just implied. Honestly, there is plenty of wiggle room here, so I may be over-optimistic in my interpretations. But if read the President correctly, what really matters is:

  1. The rules of engagement for our troops are changing. They will be able to act with more force, upon less provocation, and thereby be able proactively eliminate those who threaten them and Iraq's nascent multi-ethnic democracy.
  2. The Shiite militias are on notice that they will be eliminated, one way or another. They can disarm or requisite force will be applied by both Iraqi and American troops. See point 1.
  3. Baghdad's Shiite forces and al Anbar Province's al Qaeda Sunnis will see the hammer come down hard, and no longer serve as incubators of further resistance. See points 1 and 2.
  4. Syria and Iran will no longer be allowed to supply weapons and other support to the insurgency.
Point four has the largest implications, for they could mean taking the war beyond Iraq's borders. The key two paragraphs of his address are:
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity - and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing - and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.
If he really means to succeed (and I think he does, because failure would be so terrible), then "seek out and destroy networks" means attacks on supply lines from Syria and Iran into Iraq. It may even mean attacks within the sovereign territories of Syria and Iran. Thus: "the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region"

For all the humility and the indirect language, and despite the modest number of new troops being deployed, President Bush may be preparing to seriously escalate the conflict, and recognize that we are already in a de facto war with both Syria and Iran. The deployment of carrier groups, the appointment of Admiral Fallon to head CENTCOM, and the pressing need to address Iran's intent to make and use nuclear weapons all argue for a larger war, or at least the threat thereof.

I can't be at all certain this is the correct interpretation. My hopes for aggressive action by the President have been dashed before. But having tried the nice-guy approach to winning hearts and minds and failed, perhaps the President is ready to do what is necessary to win. 

Update:

Jules Crittenden also sees the President getting tough.

The most immediate pitfall I see looming is that enemy has a headsup, and will attempt to melt away, using its advantage as an irregular native force to cache its weapons and stand on the street corner, whistling and acting normal, to bide its time.

This is why there must be provocations to draw them out. For starters, the beseiging and seizure of Moqtada al-Sadr and other criminal leaders, responsible for the murder of thousands. Relentless raids on their stronghold neighborhoods.

It won't be pretty. As he said, there will be bloody days ahead.

Bush also indicated that we can expect action on Iranian and Syrian soil, and he refered to the Stennis carrier group now underway to join the Eisenhower. He suggested this action will be related to the movement of weapons and terrorists harbored by Iran and Syria. As stated before, I strongly suspect they are contemplating stronger action against Iran's WMD sites. But first things first. Take down Iran's proxies in Iraq.
Jules also provides a valuable review of press coverage. Were it not so serious, the AP would be pathetic:

The Associated Press report's lede focused heavily on George Bush admitting mistakes -- something they stress every time he does, as though its something new and exciting. It's here. The president of the United States, addressing the nation on a critical matter of war, was barely allowed to get a few sentences out about what he actually plans to do before the AP jumped into the politics, crowing about his admissions of error and trumpeting the opposition's efforts to thwart him. An important part of the story, no doubt. But I'm sure the Democrats in Congress will be gratified to see the Associated Press is more interested in sideshow politics than it is in the heart of the matter: how do we move forward, for the security of our nation, for the security of the world and the region, in the face of very real threats. 
Update: Last night Michael Ledeen parsed the same wording as I did, and asked similar questions.
I've read that last sentence ["And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."]
 maybe ten times. Those "networks providing advanced weaponry and training" certainly are based in Iran and Syria. It sounds like he said we are going after terrorist training camps and the IED assembly facilities, doesn't it?
 
Update: The BBC reports that

US forces have stormed an Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil and seized six members of staff.

The troops raided the building at about 0300 (0001GMT), taking away computers and papers, according to Kurdish media and senior local officials.

The US military would only confirm the detention of six people around Irbil.

The raid comes amid high Iran-US tension. The US accuses Iran of helping to fuel violence in Iraq and seeking nuclear arms. Iran denies both charges.
This is an act of war, just as the Iranian seizure of the US Embassy was during Jimmy Carter's presidency.