WASHINGTON — President Bush has alerted the American people that the war in Iraq will go on for a long time — easily into the next presidency.
Bush’s 2003 "cakewalk" invasion of Iraq to bring about a "regime change" has expanded into what he told a news conference Wednesday is "the beginning stages of an ideological battle."
According to the official White House line, Bush is pondering his options for a "new way forward" in Iraq, with his decision to be announced next month.
But the president indicated Wednesday that he has already made his choice, hinting to reporters at his year-end news conference that he will send more U.S. troops to Iraq.
It doesn’t seem to occur to him that some of the escalating violence in Iraq stems from opposition to the U.S. military occupation there.
So it’s up to the American people and the Democratic-controlled Congress to play a role in these crucial decisions while there is still time.
Bush has engaged in a lot of theatrics in his high-profile consultations with administration officials and past policy-makers.
He also is awaiting a report from new Defense Secretary Robert Gates who made a quickie visit to Iraq.
Some of the military commanders are opposed to an injection of more troops around Baghdad and believe the move would compound the folly. Some powerful members on Capitol Hill also are calling for a phased withdrawal from Iraq.
In a noticeably good mood, the president has hosted a series of yuletide parties and has displayed none of the signs of soul-searching about war that marked Lyndon B. Johnson’s agony over Vietnam.
But he told reporters "my heart breaks every night" for those who have died in Iraq. He also said that "the next president" may have to deal with the "radicals and extremists" in the region.
"They can’t run us out of the Middle East," he declared.
The drive for more troops in Iraq is being supported by key Republican senators.
For example, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants as many as 35,000 more troops. For a presidential candidate, he is out of step with the American mainstream.
But former Secretary of State Colin Powell — who also served as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff — says he is not certain more U.S. forces could turn the tide in Iraq.
Bush has given short shrift to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., especially the suggestion that he start a phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, starting next year.
Sometime early in January, the president plans to lay it all out. Maybe then he will finally tell us why he invaded a third world country under false pretenses. He may even explain why we continue to be there.
The nearly four-year war has already lasted longer than World War II.
The president is obviously frustrated that most Americans no longer see it his way. He has been quoted as saying he may have to be dead until Americans "get it."
These days Bush is likening himself to President Harry S Truman who left Washington under a cloud as a result of scandals involving members of his administration and the stalemate in the Korean War. His popularity polls were down to 23 percent when he went home to Independence, Mo., in 1952.
But historians have resurrected Truman’s place in the presidential panoply for his great contributions to collective security treaties in the aftermath of World War II.
Bush has a long way to go to catch up with Truman.
(c) 2006 Hearst Newspapers