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Bush's Refrain on Iraq Joined by a Smaller and Smaller Chorus

At George Washington University, President Bush reprised his largely happy tune on progress in Iraq.
At George Washington University, President Bush reprised his largely happy tune on progress in Iraq. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

Unfortunately for Bush, many longtime allies are no longer singing in key. Zal Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, acknowledged that "we have opened the Pandora's box" in Iraq.

Academic Francis Fukuyama says the Iraq war has left Bush's foreign policy "in shambles."

Columnist George Will points out that Iraq, Iran and North Korea are "more dangerous than they were" in 2002. Blogger Andrew Sullivan says "we have learned a tough lesson."

And then there's William F. Buckley Jr., who judges that Bush "has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements."

Suggests Buckley: "The kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat."

Bush, however, had other ideas yesterday. The audience was selected by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, run by former Republican National Committee official Clifford May, who supports Bush on Iraq. With GW students away on spring break, May arranged for a small cheering section of Iraqi expatriates in the front rows.

Tara al-Saray, an Iraqi living in the United States, led several rounds of applause for Bush, then shouted praise at Bush when he finished. "President Bush, for us, is just an angel God sent from heaven," she explained.

Also upfront was a small administration cheering section of national security adviser Steve Hadley, homeland security adviser Fran Townsend and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The aides offered Bush supportive nods of the heads and smiles as he spoke of deposing "a brutal tyrant" and "hunting down high-value targets."

But it was not as warm a reception as Bush got for a similar speech three months ago. Then, he merited a large gathering of diplomats, senators and congressmen. This time, he scored only five congressmen, two diplomats and a single senator, Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who was notably less enthusiastic than Bush. "It's important to get this thing settled in a very quick time frame," Lugar said. "In the next quarter, there really has to be a perception of momentum."

Bush seemed not entirely comfortable, referring frequently to his text, battling feedback on the sound system and reading quickly through applause lines. He stumbled over the word "detonated," while "perpetrators" became "perpetuators" and "gathered" became "garnered."

To illustrate the progress in Iraq, Bush ticked off statistics on the Iraqi security forces (200 operations in two weeks), the number of Iraqi battalions (more than 130, covering 30,000 square miles), the number of tips (4,000 in December), the number of weapons caches and bomb plants found (1,800), and the amount spent to defeat improvised explosives ($3.3 billion). He declared that the Iraqi police academy "will include many, many more Sunnis."

There were numbers the president did not cite: 73 (the minimum number of Iraqis killed in the past two days), 2,308 (the overall number of American troops dead) and 10 percent (the reduction in troops in Iraq announced by Britain).

Bush did speak of hardships -- but always as a prelude to victory. In Iraq, he said, "we will deny the terrorists a safe haven . . . we will gain an ally . . . we will inspire reformers . . . we'll bring hope to a troubled region." In Bush's future, there is no conditional tense.

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