Instant Press Coverage of Bush’s Speech

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By: E&P Staff

The president, as expected, in addressing the nation tonight called for sending more than 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq — what his allies have been terming a mere “surge” while opponents call it an “escalation.” How is the press covering it? We’ll be updating the reactions below, blog-like, with the latest additions at the top.

12:15 AM ET, The New York Times (Sherly Gay Stolberg)

By stepping up the American military presence in Iraq, President Bush is not only inviting an epic clash with the Democrats who run Capitol Hill. He is ignoring the results of the November elections, rejecting the central thrust of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and flouting the advice of some of his own generals, as well as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq.

In so doing, Mr. Bush is taking a calculated gamble that no matter how much hue and cry his new strategy may provoke, in the end the American people will give him more time to turn around the war in Iraq and Congress will not have the political nerve to thwart him by cutting off money for the war.

11:30 PM ET, The Los Angeles Times

The reliance Bush is placing on Maliki reflects the public support he has given the Iraqi prime minister for months ? but runs contrary to the private opinion expressed in a classified memorandum written by the White House national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, and leaked in November just before Bush and Maliki met in Amman, Jordan. The memo questioned Maliki’s competence and intentions.

Bush delivered the speech in the White House Library, long ago a basement laundry room but since 1935 the repository of the mansion’s literary collection and numerous antiques, which presents a less formal aura.

The president faces a tough sell: Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are planning to put forward nonbinding resolutions on the plan to send additional troops to Iraq, and some Senate Republican have indicated they might support them.

11:00 PM ET, The Washington Post (Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright)

Bush set no timetable for the removal of the added American troops, nor did he make any U.S. assistance for the Iraqis conditional on meeting political goals such as a new law for the equitable distribution of oil revenue and holding provincial elections, both seen as critical to winning political support for the Shiite-led government from disaffected Sunnis.

He did not embrace the idea of high dialogue with Iran and Syria to stabilize Iraq, a key recommendation of the Iraq Study Group, chaired by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), which had been hoping to restore bipartisan consensus around a new Iraq policy.

Even with the increase in troops, moreover, the resulting U.S. total of about 153,000 forces in Iraq will amount to less than the roughly 165,000 deployed in December 2005, the high-water mark for U.S. troop strength in Iraq. His economic proposals last night, including the more than $1 billion in additional funding for economic reconstruction and jobs, are largely expanded versions of current programs.

10:30 PM ET, The Washington Post (William Arkin):

Seek out and destroy.

If there’s anything in the President Bush’s remarks tonight that we didn’t already know or didn’t anticipate him saying militarily about Iraq, it is his evident willingness to go to war with Syria and Iran to seek peace.

Speaking about the two countries tonight, the president said that the United States wiill “seek out and destroy” those who are providing material support to our enemies.

It is only a threat. But it is a far cry from the diplomatic proposals floated just last month for making Syria and Iran part of the solution. Can the president really be saying that we are willing to risk war with the two countries, and even attack elements inside them, to achieve peace in Iraq?

10:00 PM ET, The Associated Press (Terence Hunt)

The military increase puts Bush on a collision course with the new Democratic Congress and pushes the American presence in Iraq toward its highest level. It also runs counter to widespread anti-war passions among Americans and the advice of some top generals.

In a prime-time address to the nation, Bush pushed back against the Democrats’ calls to end the unpopular war. He said that “to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale.”

9:40 ET, The New York Times (David Sanger):

President Bush announced tonight that he is sending more than 20,000 American troops to Iraq to quell the sectarian violence there, as he conceded for the first time that he provided neither enough troops nor enough resources last year to halt the country?s descent into chaos, and that he pursued a strategy the White House now admits was based on flawed assumptions about the shaky Iraqi government.

In a speech to the nation that differed sharply in both tone and substance from his previous, confident-sounding insistence that America was making progress in building a workable democracy, Mr. Bush publicly warned the Iraqi government that ?America?s commitment is not open-ended.?

But the president gave no indication that the troop increase would be short-lived ? military officials estimate it will take at least a year ? and he warned that even if the new strategy works, ?we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties? as American troops join around-the-clock patrols in Baghdad?s most deadly neighborhoods.

Not since President Richard M. Nixon ordered American troops in Vietnam to invade Cambodia in 1970 has a president taken such a risk with an increasingly unpopular war.

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