Bush must deliver on pledges to Iraqis

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2007, 12:00am

US President George W. Bush has gone against common American wisdom by deciding to deepen his country's military involvement in Iraq with a US$6.8 billion strategy that commits more than 20,000 extra troops. The plan is being criticised by political opponents, security experts and some military commanders, but the leader must brush aside those concerns. The US promised to give Iraqis democracy, stability and prosperity when it invaded almost four years ago and is committed to fulfilling those pledges.

Mr Bush has suffered politically because of the war, his Republican Party losing control of both houses of Congress in November elections because of the growing number of US troop casualties. The manner in which he unilaterally sent his country to battle against recently executed former president Saddam Hussein without UN Security Council backing was wrong and his justification for war questionable. But approval ratings are irrelevant when it comes to the hope Iraqis were given and turmoil they have since endured. More are now refugees than under Hussein's dictatorship and for most, life is more difficult rather than easier.

Mr Bush yesterday acknowledged that mistakes had been made and took responsibility for those errors. He admitted his proposals would not have an immediate effect and that vast challenges lay ahead in routing insurgents and bringing stability. Such frankness has so far been lacking in the administration's approach to the conflict and as late as it may be in coming, is nonetheless refreshing. This honesty must replace the bullish rhetoric that has been a hallmark of Mr Bush's presidency.

There are doubts over whether sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq will make much of a dent on the insurgency. The idea was buried in the report by the non-partisan Iraq Expert Group commissioned by Mr Bush; the advice of the panel's co-chair, former secretary of state James Baker, that the recommendations must be taken up as a whole have been ignored. Similarly, the president has shunned suggestions that sworn enemies Iran and Syria be engaged diplomatically to find a solution and instead has pledged to hit hard at elements from those countries he has blamed for causing instability.

Mr Bush has rightly agreed with the report's conclusion that the Iraqi government must take more responsibility for its own security, though. He has wisely opted not to set a timetable for withdrawal of US troops, instead vowing that stepping back now would be unacceptable.

As commander-in-chief of the US military and with the power of presidential veto, Mr Bush need not listen to his critics. This does not mean, however, that he should ignore advice or, as importantly, the pleas of Iraqis. He has, after all, committed himself to helping Iraqis rebuild their country. He must do his utmost to ensure that that is achieved.