WASHINGTON – President Bush on Wednesday night vowed to send more than 20,000 troops to war-torn Iraq to help the country "break the current cycle of violence" and "hasten the day our troops begin coming home."
Speaking in an address to the nation, the president said that a new strategy — one that includes expanded intelligence sharing, a greater commitment from Iraqis in their future and diplomatic efforts to prevent hostile regional actors from interfering — will usher in a new era, one that will advance, liberty, raise just societies and prevent a "hateful ideology" from taking root.
"Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship," Bush said from the White House Library, a room never before used by the president for a public address.
"But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world — a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties and answers to its people. A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them — and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren," he said.
Bush said now is the time for a change in strategy because "failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States." He said his new course would help the United States succeed after a "stunning achievement" in 2005 that brought a new democratic government into power after 12 million Iraqis went to the polls.
Unfortunately, the president said, in 2006 insurgents were able to gain a foothold and "the violence in Iraq overwhelmed the political gains that had been made."
"Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis," he said.
Bush acknowledged mistakes in Iraq noting that U.S. forces "have done everything we have asked them to do." He said where blame lies, it rests with him, but efforts by the U.S. were in vain for two main reasons:
"There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work," he said.
Bush acknowledged that even a perfect plan will not stop bloodshed, but to do nothing will rip Iraq apart.
"Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties," he said. "The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will."
Military commanders approve of Bush's plan, agreeing that too many restrictions on current troop levels in Iraq that prevented success in Baghdad.
The new approach includes sending 21,500 additional U.S. troops — 17,500 to Baghdad and 4,000 to Al Anbar province — to join the 132,000 already there. Five brigades will be deployed to Baghdad and work alongside and be embedded in Iraqi units.
"Our troops will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs," he said.
But Bush put Iraqi leaders on notice that the new approach could be a last chance for them to bring order to their nation.
"I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people — and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act. The prime minister understands this," Bush said.
The president said that the Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, plans to step up to the task by establishing its authority in several areas. The Iraqi government will take responsibility for the security in Iraq's 18 provinces by November, the parliament will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis and the government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs, Bush said.
"To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws — and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution," he said.
To help the Iraqis achieve their goal, Bush said he was instituting some recommendations proposed by the Iraq Study Group, including increasing the number of American advisers embedded in Iraqi Army units, partnering a coalition brigade with every Iraqi Army division and accelerating the training of Iraqi forces.
The president also called for decentralizing reconstruction efforts. Ten units known as Provincial Reconstruction Teams will be expanded to 19. Under State Department control led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the teams will administer some of the economic aid, including an effort to provide small loans to start or expand businesses.
"These teams bring together military and civilian experts to help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen moderates and speed the transition to Iraqi self reliance. And Secretary Rice will soon appoint a reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq," Bush said.
Rice, he added, is leaving for the region on Friday to build diplomatic support from countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other Gulf States that "understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists — and a strategic threat to their survival."
Rejecting one recommendation of the ISG, Bush did not suggest any diplomatic discussion with Iran or Syria, which he said are offering support to insurgent forces trying to destroy Iraq.
"These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq," Bush said. "We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
The president rejected some Democrats' calls to withdraw from the war, saying "to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale."
But he said he did take the advice of Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who proposed "a new, bipartisan working group that will help us come together across party lines to win the War on Terror."
The group will look at ways to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps "so that America has the Armed Forces we need for the 21st century." It also will look for ways to "mobilize talented American civilians to deploy overseas where they can help build democratic institutions in communities and nations recovering from war and tyranny."
As Bush was preparing to speak, FOX News learned that Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to announce Thursday that the Pentagon will call for "significantly" increasing the size of the Army and Marines. He will also propose relaxing Pentagon policies that have restricted the frequency with which National Guard and Reserve forces can be deployed overseas, allowing commanders to tap into reserve forces for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with more frequency.
The Army is already in the process of expanding its size — or "end strength," as it is known — by 30,000 and the Marines by 5,000. The Pentagon would ask for funding for these increases to be made permanent, with additional increases in troops in the coming years.
Despite the effort to cast a new day in Iraq, Democratic leaders were having none of what Bush was offering. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., spoke immediately following the president and said that the Iraqis should get used to the Americans not giving an open-ended commitment of support.
"Every time they call 911, we are not going to send more soldiers" to Iraq, Durbin said.
Polling by AP-Ipsos in December found that only 27 percent of Americans approved of Bush's handling of Iraq, his lowest rating yet. The November election was widely seen as a call for a change in direction on Iraq. Durbin criticized Bush for too late recognizing a problem that has been ongoing for four years.
"Tonight President Bush acknowledged what most Americans know — we are not winning in Iraq ... indeed the challenge is grave and deteriorating," Durbin said. "Twenty thousand American soldiers are too few to end this civil war in Iraq and too many American lives to risk on top of those we've already lost."
Durbin also joined a statement criticizing Bush made with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Ill.
"The president had an opportunity tonight to demonstrate that he understood the depth of the concern in the country, make a long overdue course correction and articulate a clear mission for our engagement in Iraq. Instead, he chose to escalate our involvement in Iraq's civil war by proposing a substantial increase in the number of our forces there," they said.