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Bush's Refrain on Iraq Joined by a Smaller and Smaller Chorus
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, March 14, 2006; A02

Two-thirds of his countrymen doubt the administration has a plan in Iraq, and even some White House allies are using words such as "defeat" and "farce" to describe the American presence there. Here's what President Bush thinks:

"We have a comprehensive strategy for victory in Iraq."

"Iraqi security forces turned in a strong performance."

"This is real progress."

"The terrorists are losing on the field of battle."

The actual words were uttered yesterday by the president at George Washington University. But variations of those phrases have come from his lips dozens of times over the past two years in what could well be named the "I Have a Plan" speech. Bush, who betrays not a millimeter of doubt about his Iraq strategy, long ago supplanted Bob Dole as the most optimistic man in America.

...On Iraq, the president's refrain has become so routine that many Americans could sing the chorus:

"We are making progress in the march of freedom."

"As Iraqis stand up, America and our coalition will stand down."

"We're on the hunt for the enemy."

Unfortunately for Bush, many longtime allies are no longer singing in key. Zal Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, acknowledged that "we have opened the Pandora's box" in Iraq.

Academic Francis Fukuyama says the Iraq war has left Bush's foreign policy "in shambles."

Columnist George Will points out that Iraq, Iran and North Korea are "more dangerous than they were" in 2002. Blogger Andrew Sullivan says "we have learned a tough lesson."

And then there's William F. Buckley Jr., who judges that Bush "has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements."

Suggests Buckley: "The kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat."

Bush, however, had other ideas yesterday. The audience was selected by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, run by former Republican National Committee official Clifford May, who supports Bush on Iraq. With GW students away on spring break, May arranged for a small cheering section of Iraqi expatriates in the front rows.


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