(U.S. President George W. Bush (R) meets Iraq's Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, December 12, 2006. REUTERS/Jim Young)
Why are these men smiling? The Bush Administration's review of its Iraq policies is going so well that they've decided to keep doing it a little longer — until after the first of the year. The Washington Post take on this story is here.
In its version, White House to Delay Iraq Shift Until 2007, the New York Times reports that the WH decided not to have The Decider decide any new decisions about Iraq next week, as the WH indicated previously. CNNs Cafferty explains it all here, thanks to Crooks and Liars. Apparently, The Decider-in-Chief thinks this decision is too complicated, what with all the factors to be considered. Alas, had he only decided that before we got in. But I suppose this new thinking part, if that's what they're doing, is progress compared to the lack of thinking through the consequences, and simplistic, misleading slogans they've been trotting out as "policy" for three years. But when these guys "think," it just makes everyone nervous:
The absence of an immediate new American plan for Iraq is adding to anxiety among Iraq’s moderate neighbors, who identify with the country’s minority Sunni Arab population, and has opened the way for new proposals from many quarters, in Iraq as well as in Washington, about the next steps. But several administration officials said Mr. Bush had concluded that the decisions about troops, political pressure and diplomacy were too complicated to rush in order to lay out a plan to the nation before Christmas.
Of course, the press is asking whether this all means the President doesn't know what he's doing, but Tony Snow assured them the delay only means they've got some complicated things to think about before they launch their new strategy, "Shock and Awe," . . .er, "End of Hostilities; Mission Accomplished," . . . er, "Strategy for Victory" . . . er, "Stay the Course, . . . NOT" . . . "Adjust Our Tactics" . . ."Benchmarks But Not Timetables," . . . "A New Way Forward." Yeah, that's it. And quit asking partisan questions, y'all.
The big question is whether they’ll decide to send more troops. The Times article describes the internal debates about whether “surge” makes sense.
Another thing the WH may be pondering is what they do now that their own Party is abandoning them in droves, like maybe they've been complicit in some sort of crime. Following Pat Buchanan's nightly primal scream that Bush is destroying that old gang of his, MSNBC's Scarborough reported new polling results detailing the damage to the Decider's support.
Among the complicated debates under way within the administration is the question of whether the United States should dispatch more American troops to Baghdad as part of a short-term surge aimed at quashing such attacks. The idea of a surge has been raised repeatedly by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, but has prompted skepticism from commanders on the ground about its effectiveness.
Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is not expected to advocate a surge when he briefs Mr. Bush at the Pentagon on Wednesday. A White House official said Mr. Hadley was only keeping options open for the president and not necessarily advocating one over another.
A new CBS poll finds Americans think Iraq is going badly and getting worse. Fully 75 percent of the public disapprove of the President's handling of the war, an increase of 8 percent in one month. But for Bush, the worst part is that most of the drop in support is coming from his own party. The link takes you eventually to pdf files for detailed findings.
In the meantime, a new Washington Post/ABC survey is showing strong support for the Iraq Study Group basic approach, even as the Administration and both parties distance themselves from the report's specific recommendations:
Nearly eight in 10 Americans favor changing the U.S. mission in Iraq from direct combat to training Iraqi troops, the Washington Post-ABC News survey found. Sizeable majorities agree with the goal of pulling out nearly all U.S. combat forces by early 2008, engaging in direct talks with Iran and Syria and reducing U.S. financial support if Iraq fails to make enough progress.
Even conservatives now believe the Bush Iraq policies are a disaster. What a perceptive bunch they are. The abandonment has been dramatic and rapid. Whatever else you may think of the Iraq Study Group, their report and the Beltway's reaction to the Baker Boys (and Justice O'Connor) just blew Bush's support right out the window. It's a little like watching the teenage friends blow the party as soon as the adults come home. They're gone, leaving Junior to clean up the mess.
Another topic the President's folks are likely thinking about is the reported threat — or was it just a heads up among old friends? — that Saudi King Abdullah gave Vice President Cheney a couple weeks back. According to another Times article, the Saudi government told Cheney they would financially support Iraqi Sunnis if the Americans bugged out and left the Iraqi Sunnis at the mercy of the majority Shia. You'll recall the earlier leak was that private Saudi money would help the Sunnis; but this appears to be the Government offering direct support. Think of it as you helping to fund Sunni insurgents in Iraq every time you fill up your gas tank. Support the Troops!
That kinda complicates any WH strategy to go with Cheney's earlier 80% solution, reported previously by the Washington Post's Robin Wright, (Iraq Strategy Review Focusing on Three Main Options) under which the US would simply back the majority Shia and stop trying to integrate the minority Sunni population into what purports to be the Iraq central government. If the 80% solution was what Cheney was originally pushing, it's small wonder Cheney was "summoned" to the Kingdom for a lecture in reality.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said. . . .
King Abdullah II of Jordan has also expressed concern about rising Shiite influence, and about the prospect that the Shiite-dominated government would use Iraqi troops against the Sunni population.
That would explain why the Administration now seems focused on putting together a coalition of "moderate" Sunnis, Shias and Kurds willing to back the central government, while isolating Mr. Sadr's forces. You'll recall Steve Gilliard's take on that yesterday: We're now in stupid land.
The Post article also suggests that the suprise resignation of the Saudi Ambassador to the US stems from a Saudi consultant's being too candid about Saudi intentions in the event of a US pullout. More on that a here (Saudi Ambassador Abruptly Resigns, Leaves Washington).
And then there are the military experts all advising Bush not to reduce troops or negotiate with Iran and Syria, even though the polls are saying the American people increasingly want the troops out and are just fine with talking to the Iranians and Syrians.
President Bush heard a blunt and dismal assessment of his handling of Iraq from a group of military experts yesterday, but the advisers shared the White House's skeptical view of the recommendations made last week by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, sources said.
The three retired generals and two academics disagreed in particular with the study group's plans to reduce the number of U.S. combat troops in Iraq and to reach out for help to Iran and Syria, according to sources familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the session was private.
How do you spell Q-U-A-G-M-I-R-E?
There are lot more related stories, including here (US General Says Jobs and Services May Curb Iraq Violence) and here (Iraq Army Plans for a Wider Role in Securing Iraq). And that's just the East Coast biggies.