|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
When top Democratic leaders visited him at the White House this week, President Bush told them he wanted to “find common ground” on Iraq. But when the president said he planned to “start doing some redeployment,” the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, cut him off.
“No you’re not, Mr. President,” Ms. Pelosi interjected. “You’re just going back to the presurge level.”
The testy exchange, recounted by three people who attended the session or were briefed on it, provides a peek into how Mr. Bush will try to sell Americans on his Iraq strategy when he addresses the nation at 9 p.m. Thursday. With lawmakers openly skeptical of his troop buildup, Mr. Bush will cast his plan for a gradual, limited withdrawal as a way to bring a divided America together — even as he resists demands from those who want him to move much faster.
The prime-time address will be the eighth by Mr. Bush on Iraq since the invasion in March 2003, the latest iteration of his efforts to sketch what he calls “the way forward.” It will be the first time he has described a plan for troop reductions, a radical departure for a president who has repeatedly defied his critics’ calls to bring the troops home.
Yet as the president outlines his plan, his critics say he is trying to have it both ways. He is, they say, taking credit for a drawdown that has been envisioned since he first announced the current buildup on Jan. 10 — a withdrawal that had to be carried out unless he was willing to take the politically unpalatable step of extending soldiers’ tours further.
The White House declined on Wednesday to preview Mr. Bush’s speech, but one senior administration official, speaking anonymously to avoid upstaging the president, said the reductions would be heavily conditioned on the situation in Iraq and would fall far short of the rapid withdrawal Democrats want.
Under the plan, at least 130,000 American troops would remain in Iraq next July, down from more than 160,000, decreasing to about the same level as before the buildup began, with any decisions on further withdrawals likely to be postponed until at least next March. The planned drawdowns between now and July 2008 are expected to be of the 30,000 that many assumed the president would suggest after this week’s testimony by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq. But, the senior official said, Mr. Bush’s ultimate goal would be a sustainable force of around 10 combat brigades, down from 20 now, at the end of his presidency, though a large number of support troops would also still be required.
“We want bipartisanship,” said this official, “but not to the point where it sacrifices success.”
The talk in Washington on Monday was all about troop reductions, yet it also brought into sharp focus President Bush's plans to end his term with a strong U.S. military presence in Iraq, and to leave tough decisions about ending the unpopular war to his successor.
The plans outlined by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would retain a large force in the country -- perhaps more than 100,000 troops -- when the time comes for Bush to move out of the White House in January 2009.