TNI on the President's Surge

The editors and publishers of The National Interest respond to President Bush’s plan for Iraq.

What some of the editors and publishers of The National Interest are saying about the president's speech and the proposal to "surge" in Iraq:

TNI editor Nikolas K. Gvosdev joined with contributing editor (and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations) Ray Takeyh in calling on the president and the Washington establishment to recognize "the Iraq war is already over. Saddam Hussein is dead and any remnants of his WMD program are utterly dismantled. But the United States has proven incapable of achieving any of its other lofty objectives."

Their comments, published in today's International Herald Tribune, recommend that "President George W. Bush should take a page from Ronald Reagan's playbook"-disengaging from Iraq as Reagan did from Lebanon-in order "for America to regain its power and to realize its interests in light of this setback."

TNI publisher Dimitri K. Simes, president of The Nixon Center, wrote in Los Angeles Times that "the Bush administration is planning a troop ‘surge' to try to help a leadership that is simultaneously too brutal and too wimpy to bring stability and democracy to Iraq. But sending more brigades to pursue the same crusade is unlikely to bring success - at least not on an American political timetable. The problem is not just the incompetent management of the war's aftermath. The problem is that the crusade to reshape the Middle East that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq precludes anything that could be legitimately called victory."

Meanwhile, TNI Advisory Council member Dov Zakheim, who in the January 4, 2007 issue of The Financial Times urged the adoption of a strategy where the U.S. would operate from Iraq's borders, commented in today's Financial Times that, "The plan critically depends upon the support and co-operation of the Iraqis themselves, first and foremost the Iraqi government."

Finally, acting managing editor Nicholas J. Xenakis made these observations in reacting to the speech for a symposium published by National Review:

The president's speech last evening is the closest we've come to yet in answering the Iraq War's most pressing question, "What is victory?" We might not have the when, but at least now we know the where (Baghdad) and the how (troop increase). In the Sept./Oct. issue of The National Interest, Gary Rosen called this plan "Baghdad or Bust," arguing that as Baghdad goes so goes the rest of Iraq. The hope is that for Iraqis a stable capital city will be an important sign of a stable federal government, symbolizing that there is an order beyond the militias and sectarian violence. While at the same time for Americans, focusing on Baghdad provides a metric by which success can be measured, or at least narrows the parameters within which we can begin to decide what exactly that measurement might be. Combined with the rhetoric about this victory not looking like those of the past, both Iraqis and Americans are one step closer to determining a definite point where U.S. troops can begin to leave Iraq with confidence in its future.

The speech is also notable for what the president didn't mention. Besides Iraq and America, the two countries with the biggest role to play in the future of the Iraqi people are Iran and Syria. The president had previously rejected the Iraq Study Group's recommendation of opening diplomatic relations with these two countries and deliberately made a point of it in the speech by excluding Iran and Syria when listing the other nations that the U.S. would look to for cooperation. And while Iran and Syria were much more vital to plans focused on securing Iraq's borders, both countries still have significant influence on the Iraqi population - including Baghdad's. In the near future the most hotly contested question will be whether the president's plan can succeed without these two key players.