Correction to This Article
A Dec. 1 article said incorrectly that during a September offensive in Tall Afar, Iraq, each Iraqi army platoon was led by a U.S. Special Forces officer. Most of the Special Forces personnel were not officers but enlisted soldiers and, according to the military, some worked only in an advisory role.
For the Record

President's 'Strategy for Victory' Does Not Address Problems

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2005

President Bush's "strategy for victory" catalogues progress in Iraq over the past 32 months, but also omits or glosses over complications, problems and uncertainties in the most ambitious U.S. military intervention since Vietnam.

Analysts agreed with Bush that a politically motivated withdrawal could embolden extremists to believe the United States will "cut and run in the face of adversity"-- and risk the implosion of a strategic oil-rich country. But they disagreed with key assessments made by the administration on Iraq's military, on how important the U.S. mission in Iraq is to promoting democracy in the broader Middle East, and how much of Iraq has been rebuilt.

Little is new in the 35-page document, titled "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," which covers three broad fronts: security, political development and economic issues. The interpretation it yields depends heavily on viewing the glass half-full rather than half-empty -- and doing so in defiance of daily suicide bombings, abductions or deaths. Unspoken is the critical element of the timing of the strategy's release.

"There's a lot that the administration's critics won't disagree with, but it's late," said Robert Malley, director of the International Crisis Group Middle East program. "I don't think the president has the luxury of time to implement a sound policy, both because of the stress on the military but also because of the problem of the trust of the American public and political elite."

On security, Bush said more than 120 Army and police battalions are in the field -- about a third "in the lead" -- in a huge leap from 18 months ago, when the Pentagon junked its initial approach to training and started over.

But the rising numbers mask lingering Iraqi weaknesses and have not curbed insurgent attacks. "There's been an increase in the number of Iraqis in training, but more Americans are dying and violence is increasing," said Lawrence Korb, a Reagan administration Pentagon official now at the Center for American Progress.

Bush noted that Iraqis are now in charge of tough areas in Baghdad -- but failed to mention that the capital is still far from safe, with many major streets vulnerable to attack. He praised the Iraqis' combat performance in the recent Tall Afar offensive -- but left out that Iraqi logistics were in shambles and that each platoon of 20 was led by a U.S. Special Forces officer.

Bush yesterday described his strategy as "clear, hold and build." But in practice, the military has come under fire for too much emphasis on chasing insurgents around the country and not enough on securing areas that have been cleared of enemy fighters. U.S. and Iraqi troops have often had to return to fight in towns where they had fought before.

Military commanders have acknowledged lacking sufficient forces to hold some towns previously cleared of insurgents. But they say that situation is rapidly improving as the ranks of Iraqi forces grow.

On the political front, the new strategy document says staying the course in Iraq is the key to the fate of the greater Middle East. If the United States left before the mission was finished, it said, "Middle East reformers would never again fully trust American assurances of support for democracy and pluralism in the region -- a historic opportunity. . . forever lost."

But a new public opinion poll to be released tomorrow finds that 77 percent of those surveyed in six countries -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all U.S. allies -- say Iraqis are worse off than before the war began in 2003.

On democracy, 58 percent believe the U.S. intervention has produced less democracy in the region, said Shibley Telhami, author of the annual survey, a joint effort by the University of Maryland's Anwar Sadat chair for peace and development, and Zogby International. Almost 70 percent said they do not believe democracy was the real U.S. goal in toppling Saddam Hussein.

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