Most Editorials Oppose President’s New Iraq Plan

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By: E&P Staff

In the days leading up to President Bush’s speech tonight, many newspapers took no position on his proposed “surge” in troops, while others weighed in, pro or con, well after his decision was made. How will they now respond to what they heard tonight? E&P will chart some of the reactions below.

The New York Times was first to answer the call after the speech — and this response would surely be intriguing. The Times, a prime critic of the conduct of the war, surprised some by stating in an editorial just Tuesday that it could support sending more troops to Iraq, if the president also set certain conditions.

But in its Thursday editorial, the Times declares that it didn’t hear what it hoped for. “Last night was his chance to stop offering more fog and be honest with the nation,” it observed, “and he did not take it.”

Many other newspapers quickly got up on their Web sites crtiicism of the Bush plan. The Los Angeles Times opened with this cutting remark: “President Bush’s latest plan for Iraq has the feel of an overdue high school book report. It looks nice, reads well and is persuasive in parts. If only he had handed it in on time.” On Long Island in New York, Newsday admitted: “In the past this editorial page has reluctantly given him the benefit of the doubt in Iraq. That can no longer be the case. While there is no practical way for the congress to halt this escalation, the sentiment against his plans should be clear. He is taking yet another huge gamble.”

Even The Washington Post, a strong supporter of the war since before the beginning, expressed strong doubts while not dismissing it out of hand.

“The new plan for the war Mr. Bush outlined last night is very risky,” the Post’s editorial reads. “It envisions new missions and dangers for U.S. troops and counts on unprecedented military and political steps by the Iraqi government. The plan is likely to cause a spike in U.S. casualties, while the chances that it will stabilize Iraq are far lower. Moreover, Mr. Bush appears prepared to embrace this approach despite strong opposition from Congress and the public — setting up a conflict that in itself could hurt the war effort….

“The president must do more to persuade the country that the sacrifice he is asking of American soldiers is necessary. And if Iraqis do not deliver on their own commitments in the coming weeks, he must reconsider his strategy — and suspend the U.S. reinforcements.”

A Detroit Free Press editorial, however, did not give way at all: “President George W. Bush at least acknowledged past failings and did not promise roaring success in outlining his new strategy for Iraq in a grim-faced address to the nation Wednesday night. In fact, he braced the American and Iraqi people for at least another year of bloodshed ? maybe the worst yet.

“But that does not make this escalation of the war ? the president didn?t use the word but that?s what he intends to do ? the best course of action. It is based on hope without demonstrable evidence that the Iraqi government and its military are truly ready to take control of their country instead of taking sides in internecine combat.”

The Tennessean in Nashville also opposed the president: “After nearly three months of planning, President Bush?s new strategy for Iraq propels the United States further down the wrong road in a misbegotten war, marked by monumental loss and minimal gain.

“By committing 21,500 more U.S. troops to the conflict, placing Americans in a secondary role to less-qualified Iraqi forces, and refusing to talk with regional neighbors Iran and Syria, the president is repudiating not only the best advice from the top experts on the crisis but the will of the American people.”

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel took the toughest stand, referring to Congress: “It should exercise both its power of the purse and its oversight responsibilities. Initially, it should do as Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy proposes and withhold funds for any troop buildup without specific congressional authorization – though continuing to fund existing troops. And it should do so quickly.”

The San Antonio Express-News backed the plan but added: “Putting more than 20,000 additional American combat personnel in Iraq makes sense only if it is a temporary measure to bolster security as indigenous forces take control. It also has to be part of a comprehensive strategy that contains political, economic and diplomatic initiatives. On those issues, Bush is finally moving in the right direction.”

The Wall Street Journal also gave its support: “With the new strategy, new forces and new generals President Bush is putting in place, we have a fighting chance to create a virtuous circle whereby better security leads to more anti-insurgent cooperation from the public — which in turn leads to still better security. … But the one ‘strategy’ that simply isn’t credible is the idea that anybody’s interests would be served by a hasty U.S. exit from Iraq.”

The New York Post: “Will the change … be enough to turn the tide? … The likely alternative – a politically driven U.S. bug-out from the central front in the global War on Terror – is too fraught with danger to contemplate. So it must succeed – or at least be given a fair chance to succeed by the new Democratic Congress.”

But The Philadelphia Inquirer said: “President Bush addressed the nation last night from the White House library – a fresh setting to reflect his fresh plans for saving Iraq and salvaging U.S. efforts there. Well, at least it was a fresh setting.

“Almost everything else about his speech was distressingly familiar. Bush offered little more than old ideas and hopes packaged in more realistic, conciliatory rhetoric. Americans deserved to hear a better ‘new way forward’ from their commander in chief.”

USA Today cautioned: “It is his last chance to turn a corner toward more stability in a land torn by civil war. But it is also the political and military equivalent of a ‘Hail Mary’ pass ? a final attempt to reverse the deterioration in Iraq and regain the essential support of an American public alienated by three years of hollow proclamations. Echoing the November election results, 61% in a new USA TODAY poll oppose sending more troops. The new Democratic Congress won’t block Bush’s new plan, but will give it far greater scrutiny than previous ones received and, given past performance, it should.”

The New York Times editorial, meanwhile, declared, “Americans needed to hear a clear plan to extricate United States troops from the disaster that Mr. Bush created. What they got was more gauzy talk of victory in the war on terrorism and of creating a ‘young democracy’ in Iraq. In other words, a way for this president to run out the clock and leave his mess for the next one….

“Before Mr. Bush spoke, Americans knew he planned to send more troops to pacify lawless Baghdad. Mr. Bush?s task was to justify that escalation by acknowledging that there was no military solution to this war and outlining the political mission that the military would be serving. We were waiting for him to detail the specific milestones that he would set for the Iraqis, set clear timelines for when they would be expected to meet them, and explain what he intended to do if they again failed.

“Instead, he said he had warned the Iraqis that if they didn?t come through, they would lose the faith of the American people. Has Mr. Bush really not noticed that the American people long ago lost faith in the Iraqi government ? and in him as well? Americans know that this Iraqi government is captive to Shiite militias, with no interest in the unity, reconciliation and democracy that Mr. Bush says he wants….

“We have argued that the United States has a moral obligation to stay in Iraq as long as there is a chance to mitigate the damage that a quick withdrawal might cause. We have called for an effort to secure Baghdad, but as part of the sort of comprehensive political solution utterly lacking in Mr. Bush?s speech. This war has reached the point that merely prolonging it could make a bad ending even worse. Without a real plan to bring it to a close, there is no point in talking about jobs programs and military offensives. There is nothing ahead but even greater disaster in Iraq.”

At his Attytood blog, Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Daily News offered a side-by-side comparison of quotes from Bush’s speech tonight and a speech by President Johnson, exactly 40 years ago to the day, and the Iraq/Vietnam links. Sample:

LBJ, Jan. 10, 1967: “We have chosen to fight a limited war in Vietnam in an attempt to prevent a larger war–a war almost certain to follow, I believe, if the Communists succeed in overrunning and taking over South Vietnam by aggression and by force. I believe, and I am supported by some authority, that if they are not checked now the world can expect to pay a greater price to check them later.”

GWB, Jan. 10, 2007: “The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time?In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy ? by advancing liberty across a troubled region.”

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