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September 14, 2007
"I find it interesting that [I] would be sitting down with bloggers."

A Meeting with President Bush

Posted by Bill

bush.jpg

President Bush met with a group of bloggers today in an almost hour-long discussion of the war on terror. Eight individuals attended the meeting at the White House, while Bill Roggio and I video conferenced in from Camp Victory in Baghdad. Bush commenced the event with his oft-stated thoughts on the overall importance and strategies in various fronts of the war, with a focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, and then opened up the format to questions and discussion. My question focused on how national political reconciliation will affect progress in the Anbar Province and Fallujah specifically, and the President's answer honestly surprised me in its length, level of detail and grasp of events on the ground.

When one examines the challenges facing Iraq from the lowest level - via the perspective of Iraqis, junior enlisted, NCOs and officers in the conflict - it can often seem that any dysfunction might be abetted by American personnel at higher levels not being aware of, much less addressing, many of the problems. Given that the President of the United States had awareness of specifics about the strategy in al Anbar, I obtained a feeling that folks at higher levels are indeed taking a crack at these issues.

My question and Bush's somewhat paraphrased answer follows. The meeting was on the record, but notes took the place of recording devices due to the sensitive nature of the video conference's surroundings:

INDC: Mr. President, first I'd like to let you know that I was in Fallujah for the month of January and returned to compare the situation this month, and security progress in Fallujah specifically and Anbar as a whole is somewhat remarkable and heartening. But a key to maintaining security momentum in the province is for the Iraqi government at the national level to pick up where US support leaves off, by providing funds to support reconstruction and logistics to local security forces. What influence or leverage is being applied with the national Iraqi government to ensure that such assistance is delivered to the province? And note that the desire for support is tempered by the local belief - incorrect or correct to whatever degree - that the central Iraqi government under Maliki is compromised by Iranian interests.

"The military can only do so much. There has to be follow-up with jobs and hope," said Bush. "We recognize that the man on the street needs to feel like his government cares about him."

He then mentioned the death of Sheik Abdul Sitar Abu-Risha, and wondered if his demise would stall the process, or, as he suspects, would cause like-minded individuals to redouble their efforts. He cited the example of his meeting with the governing council of Anbar on his recent trip to the area. "We had this meeting with the governing council. The head of the provincial council was like the governor and the local sheiks were like mayors." He said that each link in the chain requested more help from the next higher position, "the sheiks requested help from the governor and the governor said 'we need help from [Maliki].'"

"By putting them at the table it made it abundantly clear that they needed assistance ... so [the federal Iraqi government] went out there with $120 million to begin with and [more funds] to follow."

President Bush noted that he "thought the governor of the province was a courageous guy," followed by a caveat about not truly knowing an individual's intentions, perhaps preempting comparative criticism regarding his previous assessments of Vladimir Putin. "But his words were good." He then cited his awareness of the difficulty of funds making the trip from the central Iraqi government to the provincial capital in Ramadi and on to cities like Fallujah, a systemic problem repeated to me by commanders on the ground at various levels.

Bush talked about how developing these working bureaucratic processes were the growing pains "that this society needs to go through" to achieve stability. "We shouldn't expect instant results with a society that was brutalized by Saddam Hussein." Many of the courageous leaders, "the Mandelas ... are all dead," as Hussein killed anyone who tried to make a positive difference, Bush asserted. He explained that the establishment of working bureaucratic systems will take time, that he is "trying to be realistic about what is possible, how fast."

"The question is," Bush continued, "is this a nationalistic society or one more focused on religious differences. I happen to believe it is a nationalistic society." [I'll interject to note that most Iraqis I've spoken with agree]

With regard to Maliki, Bush said that he expressed to him that "a murderer is an evil person no matter which religion. Are you willing to go after murderers?", a reference to efforts against fellow Shiites who are members of militias causing chaos in Baghdad. "The answer was, he decided to go after murderers of any stripe."

Bush noted that "$2.6 billion was distributed to the province ... in '06," though some of that money remains unspent. He cited provincial elections as a key to political engagement of Sunni blocks, and that "a proper balance of power between the central government and the provinces is still an issue they are wrestling with," that it is America's job to "gently help them find the right balance."

Bush then mentioned "realistic" assessments by generals about whether the money was filtering into Anbar and cited other efforts, like reeducation camps at Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib which rehabilitate tractable young insurgents with the help of imams and vocational training designed to create money-making options besides insurgency-for-hire. Bush then cited distribution of projects through the region's sheiks and a specific request to rebuild homes in Fallujah damaged because of Coalition or insurgent activity. He assured me that he would "check on Fallujah."

"A chunk of money last year and this year is making it into the hands of the locals. Now, this is never as robust as the locals want, but ... this cannot be won by military actions alone. Ryan Crocker and the diplomatic team in Baghdad, and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams" who provide him with "regular briefings" are applying due influence to set up working processes, said Bush.

"But we're dealing with a fragile [Iraqi] psychology. They wonder if we're committed" to sticking around and helping the reconstruction of their society. Bush finished his answer by stating that "as long as I'm President" America will remain committed.

*****

My impressions: as noted above, I was surprised by Bush's command of details in Anbar and his recognition of certain problems. This leads me to believe that subordinates down the chain of command are working to address the issues. I agreed with much of his assessment about Iraq's fragile political psyche, the need for patience to create working bureaucracies in a vacuum and his belief that average Iraqis, by-and-large, are interested in keeping Iraq whole rather than bowing to outside interests or enacting partition.

Maliki's commitment to going after any and all destabilizing militias remains a question, though this has certainly improved; as an example, Maliki hasn't complained about US forces conducting missions in Sadr City for some time, and the operational tempo in that area has increased dramatically since the surge. Perception on the ground in Anbar remains unfavorable towards his government, however.

I'll have more perspective on the challenges and opportunities in Anbar in forthcoming pieces. I still have serious concerns about the Federal Iraqi government's follow-through on support for reconstruction and security forces in the province, but Bush's answer in an informal meeting at least reinforces the idea that US strategy has taken such problems into consideration as the security situation in Western Iraq has improved. Only time will tell if actions match assurances.

*****

See Bill Roggio's question and answer here.

Note: I'm leaving internet access behind while on travel, but I will link more reactions from bloggers attending the meeting as they come available.

Please consider a tax deductible donation to support independent journalism.

Posted by Bill at September 14, 2007 01:36 PM | TrackBack (0)

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Comments

Bill, my hat is off to you.

Posted by: Flea at September 14, 2007 02:12 PM

Oh I'm so jealous!!!! Good on ya Bill. Congrats and Great Job!

So you got an interview, Bill Riggio got an interview. If I change my name to *Bill*, do you think I'll have a shot?

Posted by: Jane at September 14, 2007 04:30 PM

sounds great! how may more lives? How much more money. How much more suffering?

Posted by: Dana at September 14, 2007 11:31 PM

Great job!!! I have my buddy heading of to Camp Victory in Iraq on sunday. This is his third time, he tells me that indeed the national media and the left in this country have it all wrong. That they need to focus on the positive and not the negatives. For them to quit giving hope to the enemy. Even Bin Laden knows to never show weakness to your enemy. That is why he dyed his beard to look younger! Even if the left don't believe it they need to fake it.

Posted by: the blakester at September 14, 2007 11:38 PM

wow.

after 4 years dubya FIANLLY has some notion of events on the ground.

took him that long to learn his lines eh?

Posted by: yomama at September 15, 2007 04:43 AM

Dana @11:30:

Try not to be such a predictable lightweight.

You should ask: How much more freedom? How much more development? How much more hope?

Posted by: Tom Paine at September 15, 2007 10:45 AM

yomama @ Sep 15,04:43 :

Here's a poem I wrote for such as you.

The Left-Over's Lament

Snot Snot Snot.
It's all I've got.
So I expound pretentious rot.

My mind's tied-up in a Gordian knot
Though empty as a vacant lot.
But all that's in my big blind spot.

It's such a blot
This dext'rous plot
To thwart my lot
To be a big shot.

Do'h! Purblind clot!
I plain forgot!
They know my lot
'sa bad plague spot.

Besides this snot
I'm full of... "shot".
I should go squat.
But I cannot.

Posted by: Tom Paine at September 15, 2007 11:01 AM

Here's an idea, lets imbed some Senators and Congressman into the troop units for say...2 months. Then work with Maliki for a month, show him how its done.(Pelosi and Reid come to mind)
I'll be happy to welcome them to Victory. My team could also give them some tours of local Police Stations, say in Doura, Jihad districts.

Posted by: FiveOadviser at September 15, 2007 02:14 PM

Bill Roggio Rocks!

I am not a big Rudy fan and I am not voting for him.

But he is right... To call a 4 star general who has received the bronze medal of valor a LIAR?

Bad, Bad, move.

Find out who Gen. David H. Petraeus is at:

General David Betray Us

Heres the video of Hillary "flip flopping" like the professional she is at:

Hillary: I Keep Forgetting What I Think

And last but not least

Heres the link of the NEW moveon.org video (TV ad) coming out Monday Sept 17th 2007. Basically calling President Bush a 'traitor'.

The Democratic need some 'common sense" soon...or the 2008 election will be over before 2007 is over.

MoveOn.org TV Ad

Peace!
Steve Johnson

Posted by: Steve Johnson at September 15, 2007 06:25 PM

Excellent wrapup of the meeting, Bill. I'm glad to hear about Bush's depth of knowledge about the details, too. Not that I'm terribly surprised; I think the silly caricatures of him being clueless about Iraq (I'm lookin' at you, "yomama") are indicative of a laughably unrealistic and willfully ignorant mind. Maybe it's just projection, though.

Thanks for being there to report! Stay safe and Godspeed!

Posted by: Beth at September 15, 2007 08:48 PM

Bill, congrats on the WH interview. Hope that you get to do one at the WH someday. Probably more comfortable.

You may not remember, but I knew you before you were famous. I was part of the FReeper Rathergate protest at CBS DC in Sept 2004. I told you that I was wearing "cheap imitations of hush puppies."

Anyway, keep up the great work and be careful over there.

Posted by: Bill F at September 16, 2007 10:44 PM

It doesen't suprise me that you naive kool-aid drinkers forget about your other military hero,Colin Powell who lied to US and the UN ,so why shouldn't you think Patraeus is just as honorable

Posted by: goldenboy at September 18, 2007 07:22 PM

Heh - the "Mandela" comment apparently also made it into Bush's Press conference transcript - which then caused a moonbat response as recorded by James Taranto in Opinion Journal:

http://opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110010637

They actually thought Bush was so stupid as to think Nelson Mandela is dead....

Posted by: Alan G. at September 21, 2007 04:46 PM

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