Earlier this month, President Bush affirmed his commitment to his escalation plan, stating, “I’m going to remind the people in the audience today that troop levels will be decided by our commanders on the ground, not by political figures in Washington, D.C.”
But the DC Examiner reports today that “a bunch of arm chair generals in Washington” from the American Enterprise Institute “almost single handedly convinced the White House to change its strategy” in weekend meetings last December. The AEI escalation plan reportedly “won out over plans from the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command”:
They banded together at AEI headquarters in downtown Washington early last December and hammered out the surge plan during a weekend session. It called for two major initiatives to defeat the insurgency: reinforcing the troops and restoring security to Iraqi neighborhoods. Then came trips to the White House by AEI military historian Frederick Kagan, retired Army Gen. John Keane and other surge proponents.
More and more officials began attending the sessions. Even Vice President Dick Cheney came. “We took the results of our planning session immediately to people in the administration,” said AEI analyst Thomas Donnelly, a surge planner. “It became sort of a magnet for movers and shakers in the White House.” Donnelly said the AEI approach won out over plans from the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command.
The Examiner adds that AEI still retains a strong influence on the Iraq war, as Keane (ret.) is an adviser to Petraeus and Kagan left for Iraq this past week.
In 2006, President Bush was debating a new strategy in Iraq and expressed that he was open to outside advice on troop levels. “I’m going to rely upon General Casey,” Bush said of then-Multinational Force commander when asked about his new strategy. But Casey pressed Bush not to increase troop levels, along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were unanimously opposed to the escalation. In response, Bush replaced Casey with Gen. David Petraeus.
“It was kind of the 11th hour, 59th minute,” an AEI analyst said of its escalation plan. Unfortunately, a hasty, last minute plan beat the advice of Bush’s own commanders.