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Bush Regains His Footing

While forcefully making his points, he has depersonalized the differences with his critics and opponents. He has not only vouched for the good intentions of congressional Democrats, he has visited them on their home ground, given them opportunities to question him face to face, and repeatedly outlined areas -- aside from Iraq -- where he says they could work together on legislation: immigration, energy, education, health care, the budget.

With the public eager for some bipartisan progress on all these fronts, Bush is signaling that he, at least, is ready to try.

At his news conference, he also stepped away from personal confrontation with the rulers in Iran, making it clear that he does not necessarily hold its political leadership responsible for shipping arms to the insurgent Shiites fighting in Iraq. He insisted the U.S. military would do whatever is necessary to halt the shipments and protect the troops, but he said repeatedly that these defensive measures are not a prelude to aggressive action against Iran.

All this is to the good. But Bush, unlike Clinton, is in the middle of a bloody civil war, which can be ended only by the Iraqis themselves. All he claims to be able to do is to provide some breathing space for them by attempting to reduce the violence. As he said, "What really matters is what happens on the ground. I can talk all day long, but what really matters to the American people is to see progress."

And whether the American people will see it, no one knows.

davidbroder@washpost.com


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