While many in Congress are pushing President Bush to alter course in Iraq by September if not sooner, his new status report on the war strongly implies that the administration believes its military strategy will take many more months to meet its goals.
The report cited no specific time frame, but its language suggests what some U.S. commanders have hinted at recently: The troop reinforcements that Bush ordered in January may need to remain until spring 2008.
That's a military calculation at odds with an emerging political consensus in Washington on bringing the troops home soon.
The disconnect between the military and political views on the best way forward is a symptom of four-plus years of setbacks in Iraq &
not only missteps by the U.S. government but also by Iraqi political leaders, who have fallen far short of their stated aim of creating a government of national unity.
In the view of some members of Congress &
and not just Democrats &
the time has long passed for the Iraqis to show that they can parlay U.S.-led military efforts into progress on the political front.
"That government is simply not providing leadership worthy of the considerable sacrifice of our forces, and this has to change immediately," Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said after the White House delivered its war report to Congress on Thursday. Warner was the author of legislation requiring the report.
Hours after the report's release, the House, on a 223-201 vote, approved a Democratic measure requiring U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by spring. House Democrats pursued the vote despite a veto threat from Bush.
The president apparently has made the calculation that he can ward off political pressure to change course before the next required progress report, set for mid-September. That's when Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, plans to lay out his assessment of whether the counterinsurgency strategy he launched in February is working and recommends to Bush whether to stick with it into the coming year.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice advanced that view this morning, telling Fox News' "Fox Friends" that by waiting until September, "we can make a coherent judgment of where we are and we can chart a way forward."
"I understand people's concern. I understand people's impatience," she said, "but I would just hope that we could recognize that our men and women in the field, our ambassadors, our generals out there, our commanding general, are on a course that was laid out by the president in January. We ought to stick to that."
extending troop deployments in Iraq from 12 months to 15 months, the Army has made it possible for Bush to maintain the troop buildup until about April 2008. But if he wanted to go beyond that it would require some even more painful moves by the Army, at the risk of reaching a breaking point.
Although the war is increasingly unpopular, Bush does have support in some prominent quarters for continuing his current military strategy, not only for the remainder of this year but into 2008. John Keane, a retired four-star Army general, said this week that security progress, though slow, is gaining momentum.
"The thought of pulling out now or in a couple of months makes no sense militarily," Keane said.
Between now and September the battle for Baghdad will intensify, likely costing hundreds of American troops' lives, and the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be pressured to do more to weed out sectarian influences in the Iraqi security forces and to pass legislation designed to promote reconciliation.
The U.S. casualty rate has increased in recent months, and total U.S. deaths in Iraq since the war began in March 2003 now exceed 3,600.
Report: Troop buildup may stay longer