Bush Tells a Tale

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 12, 2007; 5:14 PM

President Bush is pushing a revisionist explanation of how he came to support an escalation of troop strength in Iraq.

From the transcript of Bush's remarks at a Georgia military base yesterday:

"The [Iraqi] Prime Minister came and said, look, I understand we've got to do something about this violence, and here is what I suggest we do. Our commanders looked at it, helped fine-tune it so it would work. . . .

"The commanders on the ground in Iraq, people who I listen to -- by the way, that's what you want your Commander-in-Chief to do. You don't want decisions being made based upon politics, or focus groups, or political polls. You want your military decisions being made by military experts. And they analyzed the plan and they said to me, and to the Iraqi government, this won't work unless we help them. There needs to be a bigger presence. . . .

"And so our commanders looked at the plan and said, Mr. President, it's not going to work until -- unless we support -- provide more troops. And so last night I told the country that I've committed an additional -- a little over 20,000 more troops, five brigades of which will be in Baghdad."

It was a bold attempt by Bush to rebut the widely-reported story that he stopped listening to his commanders -- and in fact, reassigned some -- when they stopped telling him what he wanted to hear.

But Bush's new story lacks a certain important quality: Believability.

Previous reporting -- see, for instance, Michael Abramowitz, Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks in The Washington Post on Wednesday -- has made it abundantly clear that adding U.S. troops was not an idea that emerged from the American commanders -- nor, for that matter, from the Iraqis.

And, as it turns out, two stories in this morning's New York Times add to the evidence.

Jim Rutenberg, David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon write: "A narrative pieced together from interviews with participants and from public testimony suggests that through much of the process, generals who had been on the ground in Iraq during the past year had favored that the new strategy begin with a substantially smaller force than the one that President Bush announced to the nation on Wednesday night. In the end, it was Mr. Bush who appeared to drive his commanders along to the conclusion that more troops were needed."

They write: "White House officials were clearly sensitive on Thursday about any suggestions that the president countermanded his generals, and said his new plan had their full support. They said the generals sought and received assurances that the Iraqis would undertake political initiatives and end the practice of releasing militia figures who were friends of the government and captured by American or Iraqi forces."

According to the New York Times, Bush didn't necessarily start out pushing for escalation. "One senior official involved in the discussions said that Mr. Bush's instinct toward the start of the review process -- and that of others -- was to consider a withdrawal from Baghdad, allow Iraqi-vs.-Iraqi fighting to settle itself, and dedicate United States forces to focus on pursuing Qaeda fighters. . . .

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