Some officers and midlevel officials have been telling me and other reporters that President George W. Bush is preparing to give in on Iraq—to recognize that victory is no longer feasible, that the "surge" isn't working, and that it's time to cut back U.S. troop levels and shift strategy once more.
After watching Bush's speech in Cleveland this afternoon, I can only conclude that this prediction—like all the similar predictions of an impending drawdown these past three years—is wishful thinking.
The president seemed, as much as ever, committed to the war, certain of liberty's inevitable triumph, and deluded about the nature and direction of the conflict.
No surprise there. As this Washington Post article details, back in November of last year President Bush was completely immune to the assessment put forth by his own CIA Director Michael Hayden on the intractibility of conflict in Iraq. The vision of Iraq he put forth to members of the Iraq Study Group was as optimistic as the one he speaks about to the American people, suggesting yet again that the President is himself deluded, and not really attempting to delude anyone. There is one upside to the President's staunch refusal to bend on the war, as Kaplan points out:
Few Democrats, much less Republicans, want a rapid and total pullout...The defecting Republicans are telling Bush—either directly or through his aides, who have been scrambling to Capitol Hill this past week—that the only way the congressional leaders might vote for a total pullout is if the White House forces them to do so. If Bush fails to present an alternative strategy—if the only choice Bush gives them is "Stay the course" or "Cut off all the funding"—the weary legislators might well call his bluff.
Bush's main message in Cleveland was: Wait, don't do anything! Trust, for now, in Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq—a "smart" guy who gives the president "candid advice." The surge, Bush said, "just started. He got all the troops there a couple weeks ago. … They just showed up. And in Washington, they've got people saying, 'Stop.' "
The President wants all of us to wait and see what September brings, but as recent events make clear, Senate Republicans who have reason to fear public backlash over the war next year are not content to wait even two more months for some signs of progress. They want it now, or they want a change in the course of the war. They are unlikely to be satisfied by today's "progress" report, as the only significant benchmarks to be reached are military, not political. Since President Bush refuses to bend, he may instead be forced to break when Congress reacts to his intransigence by forcing a change of its own accord. Since that change will be coming from Democratic politicians and Republican politicians who would like to re-elected next year, it will necessarily be more dramatic than any change this administration would or could come up with. And that would be just fine with me.