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What Addington Wrought

DeYoung and Tyson write in The Washington Post: "Rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats, meanwhile, are redoubling efforts to find bipartisan cooperation that could pressure the administration to begin bringing troops home. Six House Republicans and five Democrats released a letter yesterday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), asking them 'to put an end to the political in-fighting over the war in Iraq and allow the House to unite behind a bipartisan strategy to stabilize the country and bring our troops home.'"

But far from reaching out in an attempt to compromise, in his joint press availability with Prime Minister John Howard today, Bush ratcheted up the mischaracterization and derision of his critics.

"As I told John, we're in the midst of an ideological struggle against people who use murder as a weapon to achieve their vision. Some people see that, some people don't see it. Some people view these folks as just kind of isolated killers who may show up or may not show up."

Later, he added: "By the way, people who don't believe we should be in Iraq in the first place, there's no political reconciliation that can take place to justify your opinion. If you don't think Iraq is important, if you don't think it matters what the society looks like there, then there's not enough amount of reconciliation that will cause people to say, great, it's working."

About Withdrawal

I wrote in yesterday's column about Bush's coy hints of a troop drawdown. He stayed coy today. Here's his exchange with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux:

"Q Thank you, Mr. President. Yesterday you said . . . 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. There are many who believe that you were suggesting you'd make an announcement to lower American troop levels. White House officials dismissed that. But later you were asked aboard Air Force One why it was that twice you mentioned troop levels that have peaked our interest, to which you said, 'Maybe I was intending to do that.' You pride yourself on being a straight shooter, not coy or cute, so what it is at this time?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: Surely not cute, I agree. (Laughter.) Whatever you do, don't cause me -- call me cute, okay?

"Q Okay. So is the administration at this time trying to play it both ways, by appeasing the critics, suggesting that troop withdrawal is right around the corner, at the same time making no real commitments?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: Suzanne, I think I went on to say on Air Force One, if I recall, somewhere between Baghdad and Sydney, that, why don't we all just wait and see what David Petraeus says when we comes -- General Petraeus when he comes back to America. . . .

"And so I was being as candid as I could with the people on the airplane. And what I said in Baghdad was exactly what they told me; that if conditions still improve, security conditions still improve the way they have been improving, is that we may be able to provide the same security with fewer troops. And whether or not that's the part of the policy I announce to the nation when I get back from this trip, after the Congress has been briefed by David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker -- why don't we see what they say -- and then I'll let you know what our position is and what our strategy is."

Meanwhile, ABC News reports: "The top military general in Iraq hinted to ABC's Martha Raddatz that next week's much-anticipated report on the status of the troop surge in Iraq would include a recommendation for troop reduction in March, if not sooner, to avoid a strain on the Army."

Ken Fireman and Nicholas Johnston write for Bloomberg: "Bush, for all his 'stay-the-course' rhetoric, is constrained by a troop-rotation schedule that requires pulling out some forces early next year -- as well as the need to outline an exit strategy for Republicans eyeing the 2008 elections.

"And many Democratic lawmakers now say a quick withdrawal of the 164,000 American troops in Iraq isn't practical, even as they seek a timetable for a smaller force and try to shift the mission away from front-line combat. The likely result will be a debate over when, not if, troops start coming home."

Opinion Watch

The New York Times editorial board writes: "Iraq is a long way to go for a photo op, but not for President Bush, who is pulling out all the stops to divert public attention from his failed Iraq policies and to keep Congress from demanding that he bring the troops home. As Americans and Iraqis continue to die -- and Iraqi politicians refuse to reconcile --Mr. Bush stubbornly refuses to recognize that what both countries need is a responsible exit strategy for the United States, not more photo ops and disingenuous claims of success. . . .

"Mr. Bush pumped up his headlines by suggesting continued gains in security could allow for a reduction in troops as his critics have been demanding and most Americans desperately want. But this is a cruel tease and a pathetic attempt to repackage old promises."

Andrew Greeley writes in his Chicago Sun-Times opinion column: "Is President Bush able to distinguish truth from falsehood? Is he too caught up in the double-talk generated by his spin masters to grasp the difference? After reading his talk to the VFW last week, I think that at this stage of his presidency he is utterly incapable of honest communication with the rest of the country."

On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann notes, as I did yesterday, the incongruity between Bush's hints at a drawdown and his admission to biographer Robert Draper that his Iraq strategy involves playing for time.

Olbermann: "[C]onsider . . . how this president has spoken to that biographer: that he is 'playing for October-November.' The goal in Iraq is 'to get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence.' Consider how this revelation contradicts every other rationale he has offered in these last 500 days.

"In the context of all that now, consider these next 500 days.

"Mr. Bush, our presence in Iraq must end. Even if it means your resignation. Even if it means your impeachment. Even if it means a different Republican to serve out your term. Even if it means a Democratic Congress and those true patriots among the Republicans standing up and denying you another penny for Iraq, other than for the safety and the safe conduct home of our troops."

More From the Draper Book

Calvin Woodward writes for the Associated Press: "Under that famously self-confident exterior is a president who weeps -- a lot.

"President Bush told the author of a new book on his presidency that 'I try not to wear my worries on my sleeve' or show anything less than steadfastness in public, especially in a time of war.

"'I fully understand that the enemy watches me, the Iraqis are watching me, the troops watch me, and the people watch me,' he said. Yet, he said, 'I do tears.'"

Book critic Michiko Kakutani writes in the New York Times: "It is a portrait of the commander in chief as a willful optimist, proud of his self-confidence and convinced that any expressions of doubt would make him less of a leader. . . a stubborn, even obstinate politician loath to change course or second-guess himself, and given to valuing loyalty above almost everything else."

That portrait "ratifies what many other reporters and former insiders have said about this administration's ad hoc, often haphazard policy-making process, while suggesting that the West Wing has grown increasingly dysfunctional over the years, with the aides Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett 'constantly at war' with each other, and other staff members not on speaking terms. . . .

"It is also clear from Mr. Draper's book that President Bush dislikes criticism and bad news, and that staffers found it very hard 'to stick one's arm into the fiercely whirring gears of Team Bush's institutionalized optimism. . . . For that matter, this volume is studded with examples -- on matters ranging from the Iraq war to Hurricane Katrina -- of aides failing to deliver distressing information to the president or failing to persuade him to grapple quickly with unfortunate developments. . . .

"Mr. Draper writes that one of Mr. Bush's most pronounced traits is 'an almost petulant heedlessness to the outside world.'"

Among the book's "tiny details": "Apparently Mr. Bush loves doing imitations of Dr. Evil from the 'Austin Powers' movies."

Here's Draper with Wolf Blitzer on CNN:

"BLITZER: You have fascinating detail on the relationship he and Laura Bush have had with Karl Rove over the years on page 102. You write this, 'Laura would later express her own distaste for "pig pen" Rove. There was more hate than love in her love/hate regard for Bush's top adviser.' Go ahead and elaborate. Tell us why.

"DRAPER: Well, I think she sees Karl Rove as a necessary evil. But she knows that getting elected is often an un-pretty blood sport. That doesn't mean that she has to like it. That doesn't mean that she has to like Rove's antics. She also I think has viewed Karl as being someone willing to hog the credit, credit that perhaps belongs to her husband."

Chapter one of the book, about Bush's first campaign for the White House, is on the New York Times Web site. In an excerpt in Slate, Draper quotes Bush's description of a conversation he had with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman] Carl Levin about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki:

"I said, 'You went to Iraq and you told him point blank, You better get moving.' I said, 'Thank you for doing that.'

"'He said, 'Why don't you do the same thing?' I said, 'I've got other audiences. My message isn't just to the Iraqi government. It's to U.S. troops, the enemy, the Iraqi people. And therefore I've got to be careful about how I deliver the message. I want to be viewed more as a mentor than a scolder.'"

NPR has an excerpt about Bush's relationship with former defense secretary Rumsfeld, including a description of the April 2006 dinner where Bush asked for a show of hands from a group of confidants about whether Rumsfeld should be fired. (The vote was 7-4 in favor of firing, but Bush was one of the four.)

Draper writes: "When asked if Bush felt in any way ill served by Rumsfeld, or if he believed that Rumsfeld had made crucial mistakes, the president responded both times, 'No.' He added, 'See, every decision's mine.' Bush took umbrage at the assertion that he had been deferential to Rumsfeld on the details, saying, 'Look, I know what questions to ask. I'm in the sixth year of my presidency. We've already been through one war together.' But Bolten, for one, had come to believe that Bush's interactions with the Pentagon in general and Rumsfeld in particular fell short of hands-on and needed to be changed."

Blackberries Watch

CNN's Brian Todd reported to Wolf Blitzer yesterday: "We talked to an official with the National Security Council. He told us experts are looking at whether the White House should restrict the use of Blackberries to prevent cyber espionage.

"BLITZER: Oh. Well, that would -- that would -- that with be a significant development. . . .

"TODD: It sure would.

"BLITZER: . . . knowing White House officials and their Blackberries."

Personnel Help

Bush yesterday announced that he was hiring an executive headhunter to be his new personnel chief.

He also announced that longtime Karl Rove deputy Barry Jackson will be taking over several of the offices Rove oversaw until his departure on Friday.

Bush's Date

Vincent Morelli writes in the Australian about the scene outside Prime Minister John Howard's house before dinner last night: "During the exchange, and while cameras were firing away, [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice slightly distanced herself from the heads of state which was met by a comment and gesture from Mr Bush, who is travelling without his wife Laura Bush.

"He outstretched his arm across her shoulders and said 'you can be my date'."

Live Online

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Cartoon Watch

Rex Babin on selling the surge.


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