Slate's War Stories: Mulling Options for Iraq

President Bush says he will consider a number of military options for the Iraq war, including increasing the number of troops. Slate military affairs columnist Fred Kaplan and Alex Chadwick discuss what's militarily and politically feasible.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

For analysis of the president's speech, we're going to hear a couple of different perspectives from two journalists. In a moment, we'll be talking with David Frum. He's a columnist for the political journal National Review. First, we're going to start with Fred Kaplan. He writes on military affairs for the online magazine Slate.

Fred, welcome back to the show. And what did you think of the speech?

FRED KAPLAN (Slate): I think it would've been better if he'd given the speech two and a half years ago, or even one and a half years ago. I find it odd that it's taken, after two and a half years of fighting the war, after four years of planning for this war, he's just now releasing a document called a National Strategy for Victory.

CHADWICK: Well, you've read the document, or at least looked at it.

KAPLAN: Mm-hmm.

CHADWICK: What do you think of the strategy?

KAPLAN: I'm still not quite sure what he means by victory. In the speech, at one point he said, `When our mission of training the Iraqi forces is complete, our troops will return home to a proud nation.' But then later, `I will settle for nothing less than complete victory, complete victory over the terrorists.' Which is it? Are we coming home when the Iraqis can do this themselves, or when the insurgence or at least the terrorist part of the insurgence, is defeated? They mean different things.

CHADWICK: I was interested to hear the president say with all the talk now about getting out of Iraq, getting American soldiers out, he actually said in this speech that if the commanders wanted more men, he would send them. Here he is.

KAPLAN: Mm-hmm.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington.

(Soundbite of applause)

CHADWICK: That's a bold statement, isn't it, with all the political developments under way?

KAPLAN: Well, you know, he's said that several times over the last couple of years, and officers have told me, and I've read this in other reports as well, that some commanders on the ground have requested more troops and they're just not listened to.

CHADWICK: Let me ask you about one other thing the president said. About halfway through the speech, he addressed the naval midshipmen at Annapolis. He said, `You are about to be officers,' and he went on this way.

Pres. BUSH: When you're risking your life to accomplish a mission, the last thing you want to hear is that mission being questioned in our nation's capital.

CHADWICK: Fred, he's saying the debate is fine, but it's going to be undermining the troops.

KAPLAN: That's a good argument to use if you don't want to have a debate. You know, this is not the fault of the critics or of the Democrats or the Congress or the press. There has not been a clear strategy for this war. It's taken him this long to come up with one, and it isn't exactly crystal clear, either.

CHADWICK: What else did you hear in this speech, Fred?

KAPLAN: Well, it's interesting. At one point he said `As political progress advances, we will be able to reduce the troops.' Political progress. I take that as a signal that after the elections in two weeks, there will be an announcement of a substantial pullout of forces.

CHADWICK: Fred Kaplan, military analyst for the online magazine Slate.

Fred, thank you again.

KAPLAN: Thank you.

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