Bush Punts

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2006; 11:24 AM

So now that we know any final U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will be decided by the next president, it's reasonable to wonder who that person will be.

Leaving aside whether President Bush intended this or not, all the headlines about "American troops to stay until 2009" seem almost to diminish his role in the war that he started.

If Bush didn't intend to send that signal at his news conference, by the way, it was a colossal misstep.

But the more the media focus on the race to succeed Bush, the more the incumbent seems like he's marking time--especially right now, when he's essentially giving the same speech day after day. I know the administration, like all administrations, values repetition as a way of driving home a message, and obviously it will take time for things to improve in Iraq, if that is indeed a possibility. But the short-term effect is that the president looks as though he's repeating himself like a jammed tape. It would help him if he had another big agenda item to push--whatever happened to that energy independence talk from the State of the Union?--but unhappily for him, the next congressional showdown likely will be over immigration, a subject on which the GOP is badly split.

Some enterprising reporters, thinking several chess moves ahead, are wondering: If Bush's second term no longer matters that much, could he have an impact on who the next president will be? That, in fact, is the thesis in this Ryan Lizza piece in the New Republic:

"Bush's presidency has been swallowed by the war. He barely pretends to have a domestic agenda anymore. He took a half-hearted stab Tuesday at knocking down the idea that his legislative cupboard is bare-'we've got an agenda,' he insisted--but he was closer to the truth when asked what happened to the political capital that he bragged about having after his re-election: 'I'd say I'm spending that capital on the war.'

"With Bush sliding into political irrelevancy, and with Republicans running for president readjusting their relationship to him accordingly, Bush suddenly has a decision to make. He knows his legacy is tied to the war and he believes the fate of the war will be decided by his successor. So which aspiring Republican commander-in-chief does he trust to determine his fate? . . .

"Which 2008 Republican has the sort of total commitment to the war that possesses Bush? Only John McCain springs to mind. And with the notable exception of the use of torture, McCain is also the staunchest backer of Bush's self-proclaimed wartime powers. . . .

"It is a strange irony: John McCain as the last Bush Republican."

Maybe McCain still is the media's candidate, despite getting slapped around by liberal commentators, as I noted the other day.

John Hinderaker accuses the media of bungling the Bush presser:

"President Bush did an excellent job in his press conference Tuesday; among other things, he vigorously and effectively defended our progress in Iraq and the accomplishments of his administration during its second term. . . .

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