Analyzing Bush's 'National Strategy for Victory'

Alex Chadwick and NPR diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster discuss President Bush's speech Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy outlining his "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." The 35-page document outlines the White House approach to winning the ongoing war, emphasizing the creation of an Iraqi military force to eventually take over from U.S. troops.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And more now on President Bush's speech yesterday and the administration's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. That's a 35-page document from the National Security Council that was released along with the speech. Here's some of what the president said.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: This is an unclassified version of the strategy we've been pursuing in Iraq, and it is posted on the White House Web site, whitehouse.gov. I urge all Americans to read it.

CHADWICK: One American who did is NPR's Mike Shuster. He joins us now in the studio.

Mike, we covered this speech yesterday, but I didn't have time to read this entire document before our show went on the air. You have. What's there?

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

Well, I have. And the first thing that hit me when I was reading it is that it's highly repetitive. It says the same things, makes the same arguments at least four times in 35 pages. The second thing that jumped out at me is that there's nothing new here. We've heard these arguments over and over again since the insurgency erupted in 2003. And by the way, this document does use the word `insurgency' to describe the enemy in Iraq despite what Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said a few days ago in which he said he didn't think it was an insurgency.

One phrase the document doesn't use, however, is `stay the course,' which, of course, is how President Bush has described US strategy for many months now, but it is essentially a stay-the-course argument.

CHADWICK: Well, what is the course that they want to stay? What is the strategy, and is there a nutshell for it?

SHUSTER: There is. It can be described in a nutshell as a three-track strategy: political, security, and economic. The US has been building political institutions; the elections last January, the writing of the constitution, the upcoming elections in Mid-December. The security track, of course, is the actual fighting on the ground, the engagement of US troops with the insurgency and the training of Iraqi security forces. The economic is the attempt to revive the Iraqi economy, repair and build the infrastructure, and especially improve and protect the oil industry.

So there's no mystery here. These are all the activities the United States has been pursuing since 2003. Obviously, they're all interrelated and obviously any notion of a US victory in Iraq would have to see the establishment of a stable and representative government in Iraq, the ending of insurgent violence in Iraq and the revival of the economy.

CHADWICK: Sometimes, Mike, in government documents like this, there are little gems buried that are new information or they give an unexpected insight into the government's view of these issues. Did you find anything like that?

SHUSTER: Yeah, I think I did. One is the first clear statement of who the enemy is in Iraq. The White House says there are three prongs to the insurgency. One, they say, is the largest group. They call them rejectionists. The paper defines them as largely Sunni Arabs who have not embraced the shift from Saddam Hussein's Iraq to a democratically governed state. The second group the paper identifies as Saddamists and former regime loyalists who harbor the dream of re-establishing the Baathist dictatorship. The third group is the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al-Qaeda. This is the smallest enemy group, according to the White House. And this is the first time, I think, that the White House has actually admitted in print that these terrorists are the smallest enemy group. We've heard many mixed messages over the past two years of how strong this group is. Now the White House is on record saying it is the smallest but nevertheless the most lethal. The document also says that exploiting differences among these enemies is the key element of US strategy.

CHADWICK: They are really three distinct groups and they have differences, and if you exploit those differences, that might help you win. What's the plan to exploit them?

SHUSTER: It never quite says. This is the key element that the strategy doesn't fully deliver on. The paper says that over time, many rejectionists, the first and largest enemy group, will increasingly support a democratic Iraq; they'll come around. This assertion relies on the political track and is clearly the group of Sunni Arabs that the United States has been wooing for some time now. The paper makes the judgment that few from the second group, the Saddamists and former regime loyalists, can be won over but that they can be marginalized over time and defeated by the Iraqi forces. As for the al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists--this is the real enemy as far as the White House is concerned, the one they say that threatens the security of the United States, therefore, these terrorists can only be killed or captured.

CHADWICK: Well, Mike, what about the basic political question that Congress is discussing and the country is discussing in some way and the polls are showing: What about bringing Americans home? What is in this document that says American troops will be getting out?

SHUSTER: What is not in the document is a timetable. The document argues that, as the president has done consistently, that success will be determined by changing conditions on the ground, progress on all three tracks--political, economic, and security--is necessary. No war has ever been won on a timetable, the paper asserts, and neither will this one. US troop levels will decrease over time, the paper says, as Iraqi forces take on more responsibility for security. We've been hearing this for quite some time.

Interestingly enough, Alex, the last condition that the strategy says a withdrawal must be based on is continued support of the American people. In other words, the White House is watching the support of the American people as carefully as it's watching the conditions in Iraq.

CHADWICK: Mike Shuster covers diplomacy and national security for NPR News.

Mike, thank you for being with us again.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Alex.

CHADWICK: Coming up on DAY TO DAY, a profile of a new young comic.

Mr. DANE COOK: When you don't have love, it's like there's a party going on and everybody's invited except for you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COOK: And you just happen to be walking by that house in the rain.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: Dane Cook, coming up on DAY TO DAY.

I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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