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Kabuki at Camp Cupcake

The subject came up again as Bush spoke to reporters after his visit. Calabresi writes: "Bush said, 'Obviously there's concerns about families, rotations. People who have got young kids want to be with their kids. I understand that. On the other hand, many of them re-up.'"

The Secret Trip

Michael Fletcher writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush's unannounced visit to Iraq on Monday was conceived by a small group of senior Bush aides about six weeks ago and remained a tightly held secret at the White House, said Dana Perino, a deputy press secretary."

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "For security reasons, the president's trip -- his third to Iraq -- was a closely guarded secret. But there had been speculation he might go to Iraq on the way to Australia. Suspicions were raised because Bush was getting to Sydney three nights before the opening of the Asia-Pacific summit, the main reason for the trip. Then, first lady Laura Bush said she would not make the trip because of a heretofore unmentioned pinched nerve."

According to a pool report: "We were told to report for . . . pool duty not Monday morning, as had been publicly announced, but Sunday between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. Reporters were given maps of Andrews with our rallying point highlighted. We were told to come in through the main gate, not the usual Virginia Gate entrance. We also were told to tell only one editor at our respective news organizations, and not to do so by cell phone. Also, that editor had to be asked to not tell anyone. In addition, we were told that we could tell spouses about the impending trip, but no one else."

Photo Op Watch

Reporters repeatedly asked White House aides to respond to the charge that the trip was just one big photo-op. At one point, national security adviser Steven Hadley snapped back: "Would you guys like us to come without you? Sure, we're going to bring press along and people are going to see it."

About That Surge

Tina Susman writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The U.S. military buildup that was supposed to calm Baghdad and other trouble spots has failed to usher in national reconciliation, as the capital's neighborhoods rupture even further along sectarian lines, violence shifts elsewhere and Iraq's government remains mired in political infighting."

Susman writes that "a review of statistics on death and displacement, political developments and the impressions of Iraqis who are living under the heightened military presence reaches a dispiriting conclusion."

Sudarsan Raghavan writes in The Washington Post: "If there is one indisputable truth regarding the current offensive, it is this: When large numbers of U.S. troops are funneled into areas, security improves. But the numbers only partly describe the reality on the ground. Visits to key U.S. bases and neighborhoods in and around Baghdad show that recent improvements are sometimes tenuous, temporary, even illusory.

"In many areas, U.S. forces are now working at cross-purposes with Iraq's elected Shiite-led government by financing onetime Sunni insurgents who say they now want to work with the Americans. The loyalties of the Iraqi military and police -- widely said to be infiltrated by Shiite militias -- remain in doubt."

Even Petraeus's showcase Dora market is "a Potemkin village of sorts," Raghavan writes -- a shadow of its former self, propped up by American money and manpower.

Babak Dehghanpisheh and Larry Kaplow write for Newsweek: "When Gen. David Petraeus goes before Congress next week to report on the progress of the surge, he may cite a decline in insurgent attacks in Baghdad as one marker of success. In fact, part of the reason behind the decline is how far the Shiite militias' cleansing of Baghdad has progressed: they've essentially won."

Opinion Watch

Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times opinion column (subscription required): "Until recently I assumed that the failure to find W.M.D., followed by years of false claims of progress in Iraq, would make a repeat of the snow job that sold the war impossible. But I was wrong. The administration, this time relying on Gen. David Petraeus to play the Colin Powell role, has had remarkable success creating the perception that the 'surge' is succeeding, even though there's not a shred of verifiable evidence to suggest that it is."

The Draper Insights

Rutenberg writes in the New York Times about Draper's book: "Aides said Mr. Bush agreed to speak so freely with Mr. Draper only after years of lobbying, in which Mr. Draper said he finally convinced Mr. Bush and his aides that he was writing about him as 'a consequential president' for history, not for the latest news cycle."

But there's plenty there for the latest news cycle.

"Mr. Bush went on to share private thoughts that appeared to reflect a level of sorrow and presidential isolation that he strongly implied he took pains to hide," Rutenberg writes.

"'Self-pity is the worst thing that can happen to a presidency,' Mr. Bush told Mr. Draper, by way of saying he sought to avoid it. 'This is a job where you can have a lot of self-pity.'

"In the same interview, Mr. Bush seemed to indicate that he had his down moments at home, saying of his wife, Laura, 'Back to the self-pity point -- she reminds me that I decided to do this.' . . .

"In response to Mr. Draper's observance that Mr. Bush had nobody's 'shoulder to cry on,' the president said: 'Of course I do, I've got God's shoulder to cry on, and I cry a lot.' In what Mr. Draper interpreted as a reference to war casualties, Mr. Bush added, 'I'll bet I've shed more tears than you can count as president.' . . .

"[Bush] said he saw his unpopularity as a natural result of his decision to pursue a strategy in which he believed. 'I made a decision to lead,' he said, 'One, it makes you unpopular; two, it makes people accuse you of unilateral arrogance, and that may be true. But the fundamental question is, is the world better off as a result of your leadership?'"

Disbanding the Army

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes in the Los Angeles Times: "One of the most heavily criticized actions in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was the decision, barely two months later, to disband the Iraqi army, alienating former soldiers and driving many straight into the ranks of anti-American militant groups.

"But excerpts of a new biography of President Bush show him saying that he initially wanted to maintain the Iraqi army and, more surprising, that he cannot recall why his administration decided to disband it. . . .

"Draper pressed Bush to explain why, if he wanted to maintain the army, his chief administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, issued an order in May 2003 disbanding the 400,000-strong army without pay.

"'Yeah, I can't remember; I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?' ' Bush said, adding: 'Again, Hadley's got notes on all this stuff' -- a reference to national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley."

James Fallows blogs for the Atlantic about Bush's "magical combination of certainty and lack of curiosity": "Think about this. The dissolution of the Iraq military is one of the six most-criticized and most-often-discussed aspects of the Administration's entire approach to Iraq. (Others: the decision to invade at all; the assessment of WMD; the size of the initial invasion-and-occupation force; the decision not to stop the looting of Baghdad; and the operation of Abu Ghraib.) And the President who has staked the fortunes of his Administration, his party, his place in history, and (come to think of it ) his nation on the success of his Iraq policy cannot remember and even now cannot be bothered to find out how the decision was made."

Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "A previously undisclosed exchange of letters shows that President Bush was told in advance by his top Iraq envoy in May 2003 of a plan to 'dissolve Saddam's military and intelligence structures,' a plan that the envoy, L. Paul Bremer, said referred to dismantling the Iraqi Army.

"Mr. Bremer provided the letters to The New York Times on Monday after reading that Mr. Bush was quoted in a new book as saying that American policy had been 'to keep the army intact' but that it 'didn't happen.' . . .

"A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House is not commenting on Mr. Draper's book, said Mr. Bush indeed understood the order and was acknowledging in the interview with Mr. Draper that the original plan had proved unworkable.

"'The plan was to keep the Iraqi Army intact, and that's accurate,' the official said. 'But by the time Jerry Bremer announced the order, it was fairly clear that the Iraqi Army could not be reconstituted, and the president understood that. He was acknowledging that that was something that did not go as planned.'

"But the letters, combined with Mr. Bush's comments, suggest confusion within the administration about what quickly proved to be a decision with explosive repercussions."

Aide vs. Aide

Michael Abramowitz write in The Washington Post with some more morsels from the book: "Karl Rove told George W. Bush before the 2000 election that it was a bad idea to name Richard B. Cheney as his running mate. . . .

"In 'Dead Certain: The Presidency of George Bush,' journalist Robert Draper writes that Rove told Bush he should not tap Cheney for the Republican ticket: 'Selecting Daddy's top foreign-policy guru ran counter to message. It was worse than a safe pick -- it was needy.' But Bush did not care -- he was comfortable with Cheney and 'saw no harm in giving his VP unprecedented run of the place.' . . .

"[Draper] also makes new disclosures about the behind-the-scenes infighting at the White House that helped prompt the change from [former chief of staff Andrew] Card to [Josh] Bolten in the spring of 2006. By that point, he reports, some close to the president had concluded that 'the White House management structure had collapsed,' with senior aides Rove and Dan Bartlett 'constantly at war.' . . .

"Rove, meanwhile, was not happy, Draper writes, with Bolten's decision to strip him of his oversight of policy at the White House, directing his focus instead to politics and the coming midterm elections. Bolten noticed that other staffers were 'intimidated' by Rove, and Rove was seen as doing too much, 'freelancing, insinuating himself into the message world . . . . parachuting into Capitol Hill whenever it suited him.' . . .

"In the CIA leak scandal, Rove assured Bush, Draper reports, that he had known nothing about Valerie Plame, a CIA operative whose covert status was revealed by administration officials to reporters after Plame's husband criticized the administration's case for war in Iraq. 'When Bush learned otherwise,' he said, 'he hit the roof.'"

(Bush, of course, has yet to acknowledge that Rove was involved in the leak, or that he was lied to about it.)

And why was Bush so confident about postwar Iraq? "Several of Bush's top advisers believe that the president's view of postwar Iraq was significantly affected by his meeting with three Iraqi exiles in the Oval Office several months before the 2003 invasion, Draper reports.

"He writes that all three exiles agreed without qualification that 'Iraq would greet American forces with enthusiasm. Ethnic and religious tensions would dissolve with the collapse of Saddam's regime. And democracy would spring forth with little effort -- particularly in light of Bush's commitment to rebuild the country.'"

Slate has excerpts from Draper's book, describing a lunchtime interview with Bush in December 2006. At one point, "press secretary Tony Snow stepped into the doorway to ask about the daily press briefing he was about to conduct. Bush offered some suggestions for how to defer questions about his Iraq strategy.

"'Good. Perfect. Sorry to interrupt,' Snow said as he vacated the room.

"'It's okay,' remarked Bush. 'This is worthless, anyway.' Then, in a sudden bellow: 'I'd like an ice cream! Please! You want some ice cream, Robert?'"

The Last Week in August

So did I miss anything?

The last week in August is generally considered a safe time for a journalist to take off. So my apologies for not being around for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigning, Press Secretary Tony Snow throwing in the towel, Karl Rove's last day, and so much more. I'll have more to say about all those things and more in the coming week.

And more tomorrow on the ever-growing drumbeat against Iran (see Todd Gitlin if you can't wait); the Condoleezza Rice retrospectives; those missing White House e-mails; Bush's hot air and much more.

Meanwhile, I'm off to read this Jeffrey Rosen New York Times Magazine piece on former Justice Department official Jack L. Goldsmith's upcoming book, which I gather is worth getting exercised about.

Cartoon Watch

Mike Luckovich and Ann Telnaes on Gonzales; Tom Toles, Jim Borgman, Chip Bok and David Horsey on the lonely leader.

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