An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
December 01, 2005
The Bush White House, always loath to justify itself, now finds it must as critics of the war multiply and support for its war policies becomes dangerously thin. And while White House image makers would disagree, it is not exactly confidence-building that Bush chose to speak before a safe audience - the midshipmen are guaranteed to be polite and enthusiastic; surrounded by hokey campaign trappings reminiscent of a quiz-show set; and with his congressional adversaries dispersed for Thanksgiving recess.
For the first time, he acknowledged, without going into detail, miscalculations and setbacks in the war, and seemed to have moved the goalposts by redefining victory into short-, medium- and long-term. Long-term - an Iraq that is "united, peaceful, stable and secure" - is what our goal was, without the qualifications.
Now that Bush has come this far, it is hard to see what else he can do. His critics are of no help. A timetable for withdrawal is a bad idea. And a "phased withdrawal" - basically a euphemism for the same thing - depends very much on the Iraqis themselves.
Bush is counting heavily on the Dec. 15 elections producing a widely accepted and effective government capable of defending itself. He is also banking - almost surely too optimistically - on the Iraqi police and military taking over security nationwide, allowing U.S. forces to "move out of Iraqi cities, reduce the number of bases from which we operate and conduct fewer patrols and convoys."
Herein lies Bush's dilemma. The Iraqi government has to know that we won't be there indefinitely, that sooner or later the country is its own responsibility. But by the same token, having created the situation in Iraq, we can't just walk away from it and say, "So long. Hope everything works out for you."
What Bush didn't say, but is implicit in his speech and strategy paper, is that the end is not in sight.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com)