Stand up, stand down, then do it all again

The White House unveils its "Return on Success" strategy for Iraq.

By Tim Grieve
Published September 13, 2007 11:53PM (UTC)
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A couple of "senior administration officials" have just given a press briefing to explain what President Bush will say about Iraq tonight. They explained that Bush will accept Gen. David Petraeus' recommendation that troop levels be drawn down -- if conditions on the ground warrant -- to pre-surge levels by July 2008. They explained that the president's new approach will be called "Return on Success." And then, in what seemed like an effort to preempt any congressional correction, they tried to explain that the mission of the U.S. military in Iraq will change under the president's plan.

See if you can follow along, let alone understand how the new mission will be different from the old "stand up, stand down" mission that was abandoned as ineffective earlier this year.

Senior administration official: The mission today, as based on the [president's] 10 January speech, is very population-security focused ... The mission, over time, will shift from us doing the population security, our forces doing the population security, to the Iraqis doing population security. So you'll see U.S. troops doing less of the leading combat patrols, the leading inside the joint security stations, which some of you have visited, and more and more enabling the Iraqis to do it themselves. So, in a verb, if you contrast the two verbs, which is -- when we look in the mission statement, we look to the verb, OK? It was: Secure the population. And it's moving increasingly toward transition to enable the Iraqis to secure the population.

Reporter: Isn't that the old mission?

Senior administration official: No, it's not, actually. There has not been -- what the -- a key conceptual change, from January forward, was this focus on population security. In fact, I'd offer that if January is a milestone, the one everybody -- the dimension which everybody captures it, is that we send additional troops. What's largely underreported, or underestimated, is the fact that at the same time, we changed the concept. And we focused on securing the Iraqi citizens. The result is that we're not only in victory base and these large forward operating bases, but now we're down into dozens, literally, inside Baghdad alone, dozens of smaller neighborhood-based outposts where you can actually secure the population.

Reporter: ... Now the mission is to turn over to Iraqi security forces to secure the population. What was the mission before -- turning it over to the Iraqi security forces to do what?

Senior administration official: Before, the mission was very enemy focused. So follow the enemy wherever he takes you; attack him; a series of raids, and so forth. So, if the enemy surges north, then Iraqi security forces, you know, they focus north, and so forth. It was not the sort of neighborhood protection of the Iraqi population that has been the focus since January.

Reporter: Inaudible.

Senior administration official: No, they both feature transitions, OK? And ultimately, though, I mean, that's what we should expect. Because, unless we're going to be in Iraq forever, I mean, ultimately, Iraq belongs to Iraqis. So, clearly, a common theme in both before and after January and from, you know, last month to next month, will be this foundation of we've got to eventually turn this back to the Iraqis.

Reporter: Sir, how is this different than stand up, stand down? And the president has continually said that the U.S. mission involves going after al-Qaida, etc. So can you help to help us understand the distinctions there?

Senior administration official: I think the distinction is, first of all, stand up to do what? OK? And the stand-up-to-do-what, now, since January, has been secure the population. So this goes back to the shift that we saw in January that has resulted in what I would call the infrastructure, the security infrastructure required to secure the population. So these are the joint security stations, the combat outposts. You've all seen the dotted maps and so forth. That did not exist before. So now, when we transition to the Iraqis, we're transitioning this new concept and the infrastructure to allow them to do it. So there is some element of stand up, stand down, but it is not -- it is now focused on population security, when it was not, pre-January.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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