Bush Losing Control of Agenda

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, December 1, 2006; 11:58 AM

In another example of President Bush's post-election loss of control over the national agenda, the debate in Washington is now officially no longer about how we achieve victory in Iraq, but how we cut our losses.

It's no longer about whether we withdraw our troops, it's about when.

This week opened, significantly, with the first signs of a mainstream-media rebellion against Bush's ludicrous insistence that the ever-more-violent, mostly sectarian conflict in Iraq does not constitute a state of civil war. (See my Monday column.)

Now, in the wake of Bush's troubled and deeply anticlimactic visit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, it is James A. Baker III's bipartisan Iraq Study Group that is setting the terms for the national debate.

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "In the 23 days since the election, the debate in Washington and much of the country appears to have turned away from Mr. Bush's oft-repeated insistence that the only viable option is to stay and fight smarter. The most talked-about alternatives now include renewed efforts to prepare the Iraqi forces while preparing to pull American combat brigades back to their bases, or back home, sometime next year. The message to Iraq's warring parties would be clear: Washington's commitment to making Iraq work is not open-ended. . . .

"'What the Baker group appears to have done is try to change the direction of the political momentum on Iraq,' said Stephen P. Cohen, a scholar at the Israel Policy Forum. 'They have made clear that there isn't a scenario for a democratic Iraq, at least for a very long time. They have called into question the logic of a lengthy American presence. And once you've done that, what is the case for Americans dying in order to have this end slowly?' . . .

"'I think that what's clearly being implied in the study group's report is what some of us have been saying for a while,' said Senator Jack Reed, a hawkish Democrat from Rhode Island with a military record, which has made him a spokesman for the party on Iraq. 'A phased redeployment -- one that begins in six months or so -- is where we need to head. And what's different now is that redeployment has become the consensus view,' save for inside the White House. 'The debate is at what pace.'"

And, Sanger writes: "The question now is whether Mr. Bush can be persuaded to shift course -- and whether he might now be willing to define victory less expansively."

Mark Thompson writes for Time: "There is a sense of profound foreboding in Washington that events in Iraq have spiraled downward beyond anyone's control, and that all the Bush administration can now do is contain the resulting damage. . . .

"Given the current situation on the ground, and absent an Iraqi initiative to turn matters around, it's likely that U.S. forces will continue to bleed and die until Bush tosses in the towel -- or the new Democrat-controlled Congress forces him to do so."

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "A blue ribbon panel's call for a gradual U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq exerted new pressure Thursday on President Bush to overhaul his war strategy.

"The bipartisan Iraq Study Group will recommend in its final report next week that U.S. forces begin a pullback next year, according to people close to the study panel, although the report lays out no specific schedule. . . .

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