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Bush recasting the war as not just about Iraq

His recent speeches cite Iran and Al Qaeda as reasons the US must not pull out.

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It was hardly happenstance that President Bush chose to visit Iraq's Anbar Province on Monday – and not Baghdad – to set the stage for crucial congressional deliberations on US Iraq policy.

To start, Anbar – a vast Sunni-dominated territory virtually written off a year ago as lost to extremist insurgents – represents the clearest accomplishment of the administration's strategy of having additional US troops work more closely with local populations.

But Mr. Bush's choice of Anbar also serves as a reminder of the potential consequences of a US pullout: Would Anbar be left open to the return of Al Qaeda-associated insurgents?

In fact, the emphasis on the province buttresses an argument that Bush has stressed recently: that US troops must stay in Iraq not just for the sake of Iraqis, but for US national security. (However, Bush did offer on Monday the possibility of future troop reductions, based on continued progress toward better security.)

Anbar, more so than Baghdad, is associated with the US war on terror and the fight against Al Qaeda. And in talking about Iraq, Bush has repeatedly cited Al Qaeda – and Iraq's troublesome neighbor Iran – as key reasons for staying the course.

"It's become the heart of the defense of why we should stay in Iraq for an indefinite period of time – that the consequences of withdrawal would be victory for one or both of those two" adversaries, says Rand Beers, director of the National Security Network, a Washington think tank consisting of mostly Democratic security and defense-policy specialists.

Bush's recent speeches

In recent speeches, Bush has lauded US military cooperation with Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar. Leaving now would reopen the door to Al Qaeda influences and domination, he says.


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