Bush and Cheney's faith-based Iraq plan

As the White House sends more young Americans into harm's way, yet more reason to worry that the mission will not be accomplished.

Published January 15, 2007 6:22PM (EST)

Amid all the acid debate over President Bush's plan to send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to Iraq, both Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Peter Pace emphasized that the cooperation of the Iraqi government was essential to the success of Bush's latest strategy. "There is no number of additional U.S. troops that will make a difference absent the political will of the Iraqi leadership and the religious leadership," Pace told lawmakers on Capitol Hill late last week.

There are many reasons to feel unsettled about the war at this point, among them a haggard commander in chief who, in his latest prime time speech, appeared no more convinced than the American public about his escalation of conflict in the region.

But staking the grand plan on the Iraqi leadership? It was less than two months ago that a "leaked" memo from the White House indicated we should have about as much faith in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to get the job done as the prospect of Mahdi militiamen and Sunni insurgents sitting down to have tea and apologize for all the holes they've drilled in the executed corpses of each other's countrymen. (Just to review: The memo, prepared by Bush's national security advisor Stephen Hadley, essentially concluded that Maliki was either "ignorant" of the reality on the streets, deceptive in his talks with U.S. officials, or simply incapable of carrying out what were otherwise good intentions to get Iraq's house in order.)

Yet more reassurance comes by way of this report today from the New York Times' Baghdad bureau chief John Burns: "Just days after President Bush unveiled a new war plan calling for more than 20,000 additional American troops in Iraq, the heart of the effort -- a major push to secure the capital -- faces some of its fiercest resistance from the very people it depends on for success: Iraqi government officials." The empowered Shiites, it seems, are not so interested in cracking down on extremists in their own ranks, even as they are quick to bring brutal justice to evildoers on the other side. "We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem," said one American military official in Baghdad, according to the report. "We are being played like a pawn."

Not to worry, counsels Vice President Dick Cheney. When asked by Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday" why the American public should believe in the new plan given the administration's past failed policies in Iraq, Cheney replied: "No war ever goes smoothly all the way. Lots of times you have to make adjustments. That's what we're doing here."

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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Dick Cheney George W. Bush Iraq Iraq War Middle East War Room