All the papers lead with President Bush’s nationally televised address where he announced that troop levels in Iraq will increase by 21,500. “The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people, and it is unacceptable to me,” Bush said. Everyone notes up high that, for the first time, the president acknowledged he did not send enough troops to Iraq. Bush issued several warnings to members of the Iraqi government saying they must take firm steps to bring peace and unity to their country. “America’s commitment is not open-ended,” he declared.
The Los Angeles Timessays Bush’s speech “was short on specifics” while the New York Timesemphasizes that the president “gave no indication that the troop increase would be short-lived.” The president did warn that Americans should expect more casualties in the coming months. The Washington Postdeclares, “Bush’s new plan acknowledges that security must be the priority of the mission—not political reform, as many in the U.S. military have argued.” Democrats and some Republicans started criticizing the plan before the president’s address. USA Todayquotes Republican Sen. Sam Brownback saying he opposes the increase in troops because “Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution.” The Wall Street Journal points out it is not clear whether the new plan has any chance of success because “the administration’s ability to control events on the ground in Iraq is rapidly diminishing.”
Most of the additional troops will be sent to Baghdad, while a smaller number will go to Anbar province. The president said Iraqi forces will be taking the lead, and U.S. troops will provide support. The LAT gets word that the military plans to create “gated communities” in Baghdad. The idea is to seal off areas of the city, remove the insurgents, and then have troops present to ensure no fighting breaks out. The paper notes the tactic was tried in Vietnam (at the time they were called “strategic hamlets”) but it ended up being a “spectacular failure.”
Several of the papers draw up parallels to Vietnam, especially when they mention how President Bush is increasing America’s involvement in an unpopular war. In a particularly blunt Page One analysis, the NYT declares: “perhaps no president since Richard M. Nixon has so boldly expanded an unpopular war.” The paper quotes Nixon’s explanation for invading Cambodia in 1970 when he acknowledged most Americans were in favor of withdrawing forces, and the similarities are striking. “The action I have taken tonight is indispensable for the continuing success of that withdrawal program,” Nixon said. The Post talks to some who were in the government during the Vietnam war and who say Bush is making the same mistakes.
Everyone notes Bush made it clear that economic assistance to Iraq would also increase. “A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations,” the president said. This means diplomatic efforts will also increase, and to that end, he announced Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the region on Friday.
In an analysis in its inside pages, USAT is direct: “except for the troop increase, none of the ideas is new. All are familiar parts of the administration’s strategy in Iraq and Bush’s prior speeches defending it.”
The WP fronts current and former military officials warning that this new phase of the war will probably be more dangerous as soldiers in Baghdad can expect more fighting in the streets. When planning the invasion, the military wanted to avoid exactly this sort of “urban fight” but it now seems unavoidable. None of the officials the Post talks to is very optimistic the plan will work.
The Post fronts word from senior House Democrats that there seems to be increasing support for trying to block funding for any type of troop increase. If it goes through, the ensuing fight “could become the most significant confrontation between the White House and Congress over military policy since the Vietnam War.” The idea currently under discussion by Democrats is to attach many conditions to the funds for new troops. This would, in effect, make it almost impossible for the administration to spend the money without going against Congress. But so far, no decision has been made on how far they will go in opposing the president’s plan beyond passing a nonbinding resolution.
The LAT goes inside with a look at how the administration is not going along with the Iraq Study Group’s proposal to open up a dialogue with Iran and Syria. In fact, Bush decided to go the opposite route. “We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria,” Bush said. He added that U.S. troops “will seek out and destroy” the networks that are providing weapons to insurgents in Iraq. The NYT notes the president was vague about whether this fighting would only take place within Iraq’s borders.
The Post’s Glenn Kessler notes that even though word from the White House was that Bush’s plan came together after weeks of internal debate, much of what was announced yesterday had been in a memo by national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. When the memo was leaked and published in the NYT, most media attention focused on its criticism of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But, in reality, the memo was filled with recommendations on how to proceed in Iraq.
Much of the plan’s success depends directly on Maliki, and his government, who, everyone reminds us, has failed many times in the past to fulfill its promises. The LAT says that if the Iraqi prime minister fails to bring stability to Iraq, the United States “may look for a different leader as its partner in Iraq.” (Slate’s John Dickerson says Bush is “asking the country to embrace Iraqi leadership that, in the same speech, the president portrayed as so fragile that it would collapse if U.S. troops pulled back.”)
The NYT says Bush’s aides hinted the administration has already come up with a “Plan B” in case this one fails, but they wouldn’t give specifics. (Slate’s Fred Kaplan says the fact that Bush did not mention a backup plan was “this speech’s most dreadful shortcoming.”)
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the U.S. military announced three more service members were killed. At least 99 Iraqi civilians were killed across the country yesterday, according to the LAT
The NYT fronts, and everyone else mentions, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the first increase in the federal minimum wage since Sept. 1997. The measure would increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over the next two years. Senate Democratic leaders vowed to push for the increase, although they are likely to include tax breaks for small businesses in order to improve its chances of passing.
The WP and NYT go inside with the latest from Somalia, where fighting broke out in Mogadishu when insurgents attacked a transitional government barracks. It was unclear who exactly these attackers were, but there are suspicions that they are part of the recently ousted Islamist movement. U.S. officials said they couldn’t confirm whether the U.S. airstrike had killed the alleged planner of the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Everyone points out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi banned smoking in the Speaker’s Lobby, which is outside the entrance to the House floor. It was a haven for smokers who gathered and chatted between votes, but now lawmakers must either go outside or smoke in their offices.
The LAT fronts the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announcing it will be reviewing its investments to make sure they’re socially responsible. The announcement comes a few days after the paper published an extensive two-part investigation into the foundation’s investments. This will probably lead other foundations to revise their investment strategies.