Analysis: Once Again, Bush Recasts Rationale For U.S. In Iraq


Friday, September 14th 2007, 4:46 pm
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush coined a new catch phrase in trying yet again to build support for an increasingly unpopular war: ``Return on success.'' That's short for limited troop withdrawals _ without spelling it out.

It follows Bush's oft-stated mantra that American troops would ``stand down'' as Iraqi forces ``stand up.'' Democrats were hard pressed to see much difference. But no matter the bumper sticker slogan, the underlying thinking is a continuing U.S. military presence in Iraq through the end of the Bush presidency.

``This is all about handing off this problem to the next president,'' Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden complained. ``There is no plan to win, no plan how to leave, no plan how to end this,'' the Delaware Democrat and presidential contender told reporters on Friday.

Still, Bush's carefully choreographed dance in recent days _ his unannounced trip to Iraq, standing aside to let Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker present evolving Iraq strategy to congressional inquisitors and a prime-time speech that was conciliatory in tone _ may have helped Bush and his GOP allies buy time.

Bush did not use the word ``withdrawal'' in his 18-minute speech to the nation on Thursday night from the Oval Office, but a modest withdrawal was clearly what he was talking about in an effort to mollify those seeking a drawdown.

``We're making enough success in Iraq that we can begin bringing some troops home,'' Bush repeated on Friday at a Marine base in Quantico, Va. ``I told the American people last night that we've got what's called `return on success.'''

It was just the latest Bush war rationale rhetoric shift.

It all started with confiscating Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. When ``mission accomplished'' turned out premature, and such weapons were not found, the goal became saving Iraqis from a brutal dictatorship. Then it became spreading democracy through the Middle East. Then fighting terrorists there _ so as to not to have to fight them at home.

In his latest address to the nation, Bush was ``at least trying to co-opt the sense of middle ground _ make it look like the congressional Democrats are the unbending ideologically rigid crowd, and that he's the one trying to reach out,'' said Wayne Fields, an expert on presidential rhetoric at Washington University in St. Louis.

Still, said Fields, ``He is clearly tired. That was one of the things that hit me last night. Part of his early appeal to the general public was his infectious cheerfulness. Now, he looks worn down by the burden of it all _ which is appropriate, but it makes for a different dynamic.''

An AP-Ipsos poll this week put Bush's approval rating at 33 percent, about where it's been hovering most of the year. And a clear majority of Americans say they think going to war in Iraq in 2003 was the wrong decision.

Bush's latest tactics are to embrace a recommendation by Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to basically roll back much of the buildup Bush announced in January. At the time, Bush had hinted at both political and military successes by September _ progress that hasn't quite materialized, even in Bush's accounting.

Looking ahead, the president talked of ``an enduring relationship'' between the U.S. and Iraq and conceded that a U.S. military presence there would extend ``beyond my presidency.''

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters on Friday at a Pentagon briefing that he couldn't predict how long U.S. forces would be in Iraq, how many, or even what their mission would be. ``We are in a very early stage in this,'' Gates said.

At 4 1/2 years, U.S. combat in Iraq has lasted longer than any U.S. involvement in war except for the Revolutionary and Vietnam conflicts.

Military analysts suggested Bush's announcement of a troop drawdown is less reflective of successes in Iraq than of the reality that, absent a new military draft, the U.S. is short of troops to send _ unless Bush wants to further extend the current 15-month deployments.

Sometime next spring is the ``natural end of the `surge,''' said Michele Flournoy, a former Pentagon defense strategist and now president of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank that focuses on national-security issues. ``I don't see any indication of a fundamental restructuring.''

P.J. Crowley, a former Defense Department and White House official during the Clinton administration and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said Bush is ``playing Iraq policy rope-a-dope so that the decision to formally end the failed Iraq mission falls in the next president's lap.''

But Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said Bush has managed ``a nice political tightrope walk.'' Even if the public is turned against him, he's been able to maintain ``a safety net of support from the vast majority of Republicans without giving the Democrats any leverage to be able to effect a fundamental change,'' Ornstein said.

There are about 169,000 U.S. troops in Iraq _ the highest total of the war. When Bush announced a buildup last January, there were 130,000 to 135,000. In rough terms, Bush's ``new'' strategy envisions bringing home roughly the same number that he added.

That reminded some war critics of the old English children's nursery rhyme in which the ``grand old Duke of York'' marched ten thousand men ``up to the top of the hill. And he marched them down again.''

``And when they were up, they were up. And when they were down, they were down. And when they were only halfway up, they were neither up nor down.''