Kabuki at Camp Cupcake

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, September 4, 2007; 2:36 PM

What exactly was President Bush up to yesterday, making a "surprise visit" to a huge American air base in Iraq, praising the ostensible progress there and hinting at a troop reduction if things keep going so well?

One answer lies in the remarkably forthright interviews Bush gave author Robert Draper for a new book coming out today. As Jim Rutenberg wrote in Sunday's New York Times, Bush earlier this year explained his Iraq strategy to Draper this way: "I'm playing for October-November."

Writes Rutenberg: "That is when he hopes the Iraq troop increase will finally show enough results to help him achieve the central goal of his remaining time in office: 'To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence,' and, he said later, 'stay longer.'

And the president is now aware that the only way to get attention is to make a dramatic move. "'I've been here too long,' Mr. Bush said, according to Mr. Draper. 'Every time I start painting a rosy picture, it gets criticized and then it doesn't make it on the news.'"

In other words: Bush is gaming the media -- and playing for time. (See my Aug. 24 column, The Lost Year.)

In November it will be a year since the American people voted out a Republican Congress in a display of anti-war sentiment. And in November 2008, there'll be a new president-elect -- and Bush will be well on his way to a new life where he won't have to worry about such things anymore.

About that new life: "First, Mr. Bush said, 'I'll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers.' With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, 'I don't know what my dad gets -- it's more than 50-75' thousand dollars a speech, and 'Clinton's making a lot of money.'

"Then he said, 'We'll have a nice place in Dallas,' where he will be running what he called 'a fantastic Freedom Institute' promoting democracy around the world. But he added, 'I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch.'"

The Coy Morsel

The latest variation on Bush's stalling tactic involves coyly hinting about a troop drawdown. But some sort of drawdown has long been seen as inevitable and predictable by pretty much every serious thinker on Iraq. And it's unlikely that Bush is contemplating anything like the kind of congressionally-mandated, timetable-driven complete withdrawal that a significant majority of the American public has been demanding for some time.

Here's what set off the latest media flurry. At a meeting with Iraqi leaders, Bush announced that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker had told him that "if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces."

And here's Bush's interview with CBS News's Katie Couric:

Couric: "In some way, does this hopefully in your view placate critics of the war on Capitol Hill?"

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