Monday night, President Bush spoke about Iraq more than he had in any prior State of the Union address. It was, in fact, the dominant theme of his address. This was one last attempt to publicly clear the air of his intentions in the Middle East, which has not so subtly shifted from the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to the diffusion of democracy. Out of the legacy of the war in Iraq, Bush hopes to highlight the beacon of hope that is the addition of troops, which was meant to stabilize the most violent regions and rout out insurgent forces.
Violence in Iraq has undeniably been decreasing. Bush’s adamant attempt to solidify his legacy by claiming he was correct in calling for a troop increase, however, is dubious. He is, true to form, only telling part of the truth.
Bush announced a commitment of 20,000 additional troops to Iraq in January 2007. At that time, the number of violent and potentially violent situations being successfully disengaged each week was hovering around 1,400, according to government data. It took six full months after the troop surge to achieve a reduction of violence throughout the country. Since August, a wash of relative calm has spread across Iraq and continues today. Washington hailed this as a military success. Violence has been down to levels not seen since immediately after the invasion. It seems the surge is finally working.
The surge is not the only factor at work. In August, just around the time when conflict began to sharply decline, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr declared a cease-fire for six months. General Petraeus has applauded al Sadr and his militia for honoring the agreement. Bush, on the other hand, has failed to give credit where credit is due. In Monday’s State of the Union address he should have acknowledged not only the fact that American military personnel are working diligently to rebuild Iraq and stabilize a country that has seen nearly five years of conflict, but also the willingness for opposition groups in Iraq to lay down their arms for the good of the country.
The time has passed for debate over the justification of the war in Iraq. As the election year lurches ahead, nearly every major candidate has a plan to withdraw combat troops from the country. If President Bush truly wants to leave a positive legacy behind, he should now commit all of his time and energy to urging the Iraqi government forward and negotiating with those he has failed to negotiate with in the past. Al-Sadr has only declared a six-month cease-fire. Within the next few weeks it will become apparent whether or not he decides to extend it or to pick up arms against American troops once again.
President Bush should create a dialogue with the Iraqi government and let the American people know he is working diligently with them to reform Iraq. The seeds of democracy cannot be planted by force, but by careful deliberation, diplomacy and support. If Bush takes anything away from his time in office, it should be that dialogue with your enemies should never be underestimated.
Amanda MacCabe is a senior political science and journalism double-major and a member of Pennies for Peace.