Doubt, debate preceded 'surge'

Bush move at odds with initial advice

Iraqi soldiers were briefed yesterday on security preparations for the handover of Anbar Province, west of Baghdad. Iraqi soldiers were briefed yesterday on security preparations for the handover of Anbar Province, west of Baghdad. (Mohanned Faisal/Reuters)
By Michael R. Gordon
New York Times News Service / August 31, 2008
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Single Page|
  • |
Text size +

WASHINGTON - When President Bush speaks to the Republican convention tomorrow, he is expected to tout the "surge" of forces in Iraq as one of his proudest achievements. But that decision was made only after months of tumultuous debate within the administration, according to secret memos and interviews with current and former officials.

In January 2007, at a time when the situation in Iraq appeared the bleakest, Bush chose a bold option that was at odds with what many of his civilian and military advisers, including his field commander, initially recommended. Bush's plan to send more than 20,000 troops to carry out a new counterinsurgency strategy has helped to reverse the spiral of sectarian killings in Iraq.

But Bush's penchant to defer to commanders in the field and to a powerful defense secretary delayed the development of a new approach until conditions in Iraq, in the words of a November 2006 analysis by the CIA, resembled anarchy and "civil war."

When the White House began its formal review of Iraq strategy that month, the Pentagon favored a stepped-up effort to transfer responsibility to Iraqi forces that would have facilitated American troop cuts.

The State Department promoted an alternative that would have focused on fighting terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, containing the violence in Baghdad, and intervening to quell sectarian violence only when it reached the proportions of "mass killing."

Members of the National Security Council staff made an initial effort to explore a possible troop increase by October, drafting a paper that raised the prospect that the United States might "double down" in Iraq by sending more troops there.

The idea later won additional support among some officials as a result of a detailed study published by the American Enterprise Institute by General Jack Keane, the former vice chief of staff at the Army, and Frederick W. Kagan, a military specialist at the conservative institute.

In the end, the plan split the military. Even after the president had made the basic decision to send additional troops, General George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, never sought more than two brigades, about 8,000 troops in all, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reported to Bush in late December.

But that plan substantially differed from one by the number two commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno, and General David H. Petraeus, who helped oversee the military's new counterinsurgency manual and whose views were known by the White House before he was publicly named to replace Casey, administration officials said.

Casey's strategy was to gradually transfer authority to the Iraqi forces and reduce US troops.

In an early December meeting of top officials, Vice President Dick Cheney argued for sending forces to address the sectarian violence in Baghdad, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated her argument that there was little the military could do to stop sectarian violence there, according to notes taken by a participant.

Bush signaled his decision to pursue some kind of troop increase in Iraq when his National Security Council met Dec. 8 and 9. The idea was to make protection of the Iraqi population an important goal and reduce violence before resuming efforts to transfer responsibilities to the Iraqis.

The tussle over the number of forces to be sent went down to the wire. As White House officials began to work on Bush's Jan. 10 speech announcing the increase, one draft had Bush saying he would send "up to five" combat brigades. Aides at the National Security Council took the issue to Bush, who made the commitment explicit.

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Save this article
  • powered by
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.