Berlin: Bush Jnr's change in strategy that isn't! Print E-mail
January 12, 2007

THE WORLD FROM BERLIN

The 'Ugliest Americans of All Time'

US President George W. Bush's Wednesday speech on Iraq was marketed as the announcement of a change in strategy. It wasn't -- and many critics both in the US and Germany are unhappy.
 
What next Mr. Bush? (DPA)

It was US President George W. Bush's last shot at keeping the US public behind him and turning the tide in an Iraq sliding ever faster toward chaos. In his speech on Wednesday night in Washington, Bush admitted that mistakes had been made in the war and, uncharacteristically, took responsibility for those errors. He also announced that he was boosting the number of US troops in the country by over 20,000 troops.

Still, despite his admission that things in Iraq were not going well, and his effort to improve stability in Baghdad and Iraq, criticism has been widespread. On the one hand, there are those who think that Bush should be withdrawing troops from Iraq rather than sending more. On the other are those in favor of a troop increase who think that an extra 20,000 soldiers aren't nearly enough.

Marina Ottaway, the director of the Middle East program for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the military too is not convinced that Bush's troop increase will make much of a difference. "Everyone I have talked to says that from the military's point of view, 20,000 divided between Anbar and Baghdad is not really going to be sufficient to bring about stability by force."

Most German dailies on Friday devote their lead editorial to the Bush speech.

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung was scathing in its commentary, beginning with the claim: "This war was wrong from the very beginning." The paper writes further:

"The entire world now knows that it will take at least another two years before America will withdraw from its (second) lost war ... Bush wants to pass on the ignominy of defeat to his successor. This president even believes that a victory in Iraq may still be possible ... Bush hopes to be able to extinguish the fire in Iraq with American blood.

"The worst part is the way in which George W. Bush has conclusively ruptured his country. The president's "New Way Forward in Iraq" will lead America directly into political trench warfare. The White House isn't really offering a national strategy, as the non-partisan Iraq Study Group under former Foreign Minister James Baker did. On the contrary, a number of steps outlined in the group's report -- direct negotiations with Iraq and Syria for example -- have been categorically rejected by the government."

The center-right Franfurter Allgemeine Zeitung sees the Bush strategy as a means of preventing the outbreak of all-out civil war in Iraq.

"More American soldiers on Baghdad streets means more targets for insurgents and terrorists. But in light of the current state of Iraqi security forces, they will presumably also offer the only protection against them completely losing control."

"Although it is true that no sensible strategy can only be based on military means, it is also true that there can be no development without security, and that cannot be provided by the Iraqi army or police forces. Without the Americans a large part of the country would become the prey to opposing forces.

"But it remains Bush's mistake that the American troop numbers were not sufficient from the beginning. That he is only now making up for this, after all the victims, is only of small comfort."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung rips Bush on Friday:

"Those who had hoped the president's speech would reveal a change in strategy ... have been disappointed. Although a majority of the American public clearly indicated to George W. Bush and the Republicans that they wanted a change in Iraq policy, Bush has shown himself to be deaf.

"For the Europeans, it is extremely disconcerting that the president and commander-in-chief of the West's leading power shows himself to be so confident but at the same time so disconnected to reality and immune to advice. In his speech, Bush argues that the conflict in the Middle East is more than just a military one: 'It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time.'

"Even it this were true, this fight can never be won militarily. It requires convincing political and economic initiatives ... But (without such initiatives) they appear as the ugliest Americans of all time, who bring endless suffering instead of freedom, prosperity and democracy."

The mass-circulation tabloid Bild Zeitung, on the other hand, finds praise for Bush and his efforts to pull out a victory in Iraq:

"No makeup, no promises, no magic spells -- nothing but cold, hard reality."

"Should Bush have left Iraq to Saddam Hussein? The tyrant possessed dangerous and criminal tendencies. He had the talent of hate and murder. He had the will to unhinge that part of the world which he controlled.

"The cycle of terrorism hasn't yet been broken. Whether you call it a mistake or a failure, Bush is trying to avert a tragedy. He swims against the current. His opponents rant and bluster, but they offer no alternative!"

The conservative Die Welt sees Bush's strategy as one of escalation:

"Bush's strategy is reminiscent of Nixon's invasion of Cambodia in 1970: spreading the fight while vowing withdrawal. The threat to Tehran and Syria should not be ignored, nor should the consequences of these words. Bush is increasing his troop numbers not against Iraqi bombers, but against their Iranian backers, and that opens up the way towards escalation.

"No one should be under any illusion about where the situation is beginning to head -- towards a massive final struggle for the Middle East, and for regime change in Damascus and Tehran, in order to safeguard regime change in Baghdad."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung berates President Bush for his "brazen" new strategy in a piece under the headline, "Bush Remains Stupid":

"Two years before the end of his term and in the comfortable knowledge that he doesn't have to face re-election, Bush announced more of the same, and thus ignored everything that experts, the opposition majority, and the US public want.

"One thing is clear: As long as Bush is president, there will be neither a change of strategy in Iraq nor a significant troop withdrawal ... Bush says that any US withdrawal would been a defeat in the war on terror and a danger for the US. So he cannot leave, regardless what the Iraqis do."

The Financial Times Deutschland describes the Bush's decision to send in more troops as the "least worst option."

"It's easy to outline the weaknesses of the plan: The violence in Iraq has already reached such a scale that it can't be quelled by a few thousand more US soldiers"

"The decisive factor will be whether the Iraqi forces are strong enough and motivated enough to take up the fight themselves against the radicals, so that a new dynamic in Iraqi domestic politics can occur. The time is long past that the Americans could have any significant affect on developments ... It is a tragedy of the new deployment that it is probably far too late and too ineffective."

"But the offensive plan is still better than the alternatives. The status quo in Baghdad can no longer be maintained. A US withdrawal would not only be an unprecedented triumph for the extremists, be it al-Qaida or Iran, who would feel vindicated. It would probably also lead to a bloodbath and political shockwaves in the entire region."

-- Charles Hawley and Siobhán Dowling, 12:45 p.m. CET