A Boost From Mr. Bush

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

PRESIDENT BUSH delivered an important demonstration of American support for Iraq's new democratic government in his visit to Baghdad yesterday. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki represents the best and maybe last hope that a national government can stem sectarian bloodshed, defeat Islamic terrorist organizations and die-hard defenders of Saddam Hussein, and make economic recovery possible. He has formed a unity cabinet, appointed a well-qualified defense minister and spelled out the right agenda, including an imminent campaign to pacify Baghdad with tens of thousands of Iraq's newly trained troops. But Mr. Maliki desperately needs international help to turn the tide of violence and chaos. Mr. Bush's appearance, and his assurance that America "will keep its word," should reassure Iraqis who have feared that the United States would precipitously withdraw rather than defend the country's first truly democratic government.

U.S. support, of course, cannot be unqualified, and it certainly cannot ensure success: Mr. Bush rightly told Mr. Maliki that "the future of your country is in your hands." The president spoke of the decisions the Iraqi cabinet must make, which include how to neutralize the militias maintained by several of the coalition's parties and whether and how to revise the constitution so as to share oil revenue fairly and prevent Iraq's breakup into sectarian ministates. If those decisions are wrong, or don't get made in the coming months, there will be little the Bush administration can do to rescue the country or the U.S. mission.

But what Mr. Bush can do is give the government some precious time by continuing to provide American troops and aid to a regime that is nowhere near able to defend itself or rebuild the country on its own. In Baghdad yesterday and in an administration conference at Camp David on Monday, the president didn't talk about any drawdown of U.S. troops, despite long-standing Pentagon plans to cut the U.S. force from 130,000 to as few as 100,000 by the end of this year -- and mounting pressure in Congress to go through with the cut regardless of the consequences.

If Democratic leaders such as Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) had their way, almost all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by the end of 2006 -- a blow that Mr. Maliki's government almost certainly could not survive. Mr. Bush's willingness -- at least for now -- to resist such politically expedient demands may not rescue Iraq's fledgling political system; it may be that nothing can at this point. But he is -- correctly and courageously -- using what remains of his personal political capital to give Iraqi democracy a chance.


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