Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bush Is Running Out Of Time

Bush's Path Forward Has Many Ifs

Published: December 15, 2005
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 - It took a thousand days after he ordered the invasion of Iraq for President Bush to describe in considerable detail his strategy for transforming the country and the region, and to lay out the benchmarks that he said Wednesday would lead to "complete victory."

Yet in four recent speeches and an accompanying strategy document he has made his case, some of his aides concede, just as his ability to control events in Iraq may be about to erode.

American officials fully expect that for months after the Iraqi election on Thursday the American ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, will remain the critical behind-the-scenes power in the creation of a factious coalition to run the country.

But it is the longer term - the next year - that worries many of Mr. Bush's advisers and the United States military. Amid insurgent attacks and warnings of civil war, the government may take months to form, and many officials wonder whether that lag will distract the Iraqis from leaping the hurdles that Mr. Bush wants them to clear before he will begin withdrawing American forces next year.

Taken together, Mr. Bush's speeches and document lay out just how high those hurdles are: building a new government strong enough that "terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy," Mr. Bush said; strong enough to make sure terrorists cannot use Iraq as a place to plot attacks against the United States; and with an Iraqi security force strong enough to protect its own people.

In the speeches, Mr. Bush has been cautiously optimistic. He has acknowledged, however, that almost nothing in Iraq has gone according to plan in these past 33 months.

Participants in some of the briefings he has received in the Situation Room in recent weeks say that acknowledgment is in keeping with the far more somber tone of the briefings. Military commanders have described possible situations that range from the best case - drawing American troops down to about 100,000 before the American elections in November - to keeping them at far higher numbers if the new Parliament turns to chaos, civil war threatens, or political leaders are assassinated.
So basically, there is no strategy or plan.

Mr. Bush, this isn't jazz: a riff is inappropriate, praying that the problems go away.