The heavily anticipated plan, which drew immediate criticism from Democrats, included increasing U.S. troop levels in Iraq by more than 20,000 and supporting the Iraqi government in its effort to take control of the deteriorating security situation.
“The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people, and it is unacceptable to me,” the president said in a televised White House address. “Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.”
Mr. Bush said a majority of the additional troops that he plans to send to Iraq, would be deployed in Baghdad and would back up Iraqi forces.
Part of the increased troop levels would include a military deployment of some 4,000 troops to Iraq’s Anbar Province, where, according to the president, the al-Qaida terrorist network has its home base.
In a rebuttal speech Wednesday night, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., criticized the president’s call for additional troops in Iraq saying Iraqis alone must be left to lead their nation.
“The president’s response to the challenge of Iraq is to send more American soldiers into the crossfire of the civil war that has engulfed that nation… Escalation of this war is not the change the American people called for in the last election,” he said.
Durbin called for the “orderly” redeployment of troops. “Twenty-thousand American soldiers are too few to end this civil war in Iraq,” he said.
Some military analysts who watched the president’s speech agreed with Durbin’s assessment.
“Twenty thousand, twenty-one thousand troops out there are not substantial…,” retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor told the NewsHour. “If you’re going to talk about a surge, you really have to be talking about more forces.”
Trainor said the president’s plan seemed similar to current military strategy in Iraq and that placing more control in the hands of Iraqi forces is unrealistic given their current ineffectiveness.
In addition to increased troop levels, the president’s plan included a promise from Iraq’s government to take a firmer hand in its own security and reconstruction.
The government has promised to take over security control of its nine provinces by November, to hold provincial elections in 2007 and to share the country’s oil revenues among all Iraqis.
Iraqi leaders also have made a $10 billion commitment to reconstruction projects, President Bush said.
The president said the Iraqi government would lose U.S. support if it does not follow through on its promises.
Admitting that past efforts have failed to end the violence that has gripped the country since U.S. and coalition forces toppled the Baathist regime in 2003, the president said the new strategy would help propel Iraq forward as it moves closer to becoming a functioning democracy.
But, as he unveiled his plan, he warned that any new tactics would not immediately end the suicide bombings or attacks on U.S. and Iraqi soldiers.
The year ahead will be bloody and violent, he said. The deadly acts of violence will continue and Americans must expect more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.
Taking aim at some Democrats who have called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, President Bush said leaving the country to its own devices would cause a collapse in the government.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., heralded the president’s plan, calling it one that puts Iraqis in the lead.
“The president put a plan forward that gets Iraqis more into the fight,” Thune said.
He said pulling out of Iraq now, as some have suggested, would be disastrous and would only leave chaos and instability.
National security advisers will present the new plan to Congress in the coming days, according to President Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will leave on Friday for the Middle East for talks with regional leaders.