Sunday, October 22


So faced with dismal midterm election prospects for his party, Bush says he's willing to consider a "change in tactics" in Iraq. Not because he's been told for three years that the situation was deteriorating into chaos, of course, and certainly not because it's the right thing to do. But because the man who insists he never listens to polls is listening to polls.

Of course that's not how the White House is framing it. Bush says he's never been wedded to "stay the course" as a strategy, that his administration has shifted tactics throughout the war in reaction to developments on the ground, and this is nothing new.

And the true believers will probably just swallow it, despite Bush and Cheney's (and other Rethuglicans' too) incessant attacks on Democrats as the party of "cut and run" simply because we've demanded a change in strategy. When THEY propose such a change, they're just "shifting tactics."

They're "shifting tactics," all right -- campaign tactics. The war isn't working for them, so they're moderating their language. That's all it is.

But the way this sudden change of heart has come about, after months in which Mr. Bush has brushed off all criticism of his policies as either misguided, politically motivated or downright disloyal to America, is maddening. For far too long, the White House has looked upon the war as a tactical puzzle for campaign strategists. The early notion of combining Iraq and the war on terror as an argument for re-electing Republicans robbed the nation of any serious chance for a bipartisan discussion of these life-and-death issues. More recently, the administration seems to have been working under the assumption that its only obligations were to hang on, talk tough and pass the problem on to the next president.
The way the Bush team is stage-managing the president’s supposed change of heart about “staying the course” is unfair to the Americans who have taken him at his word that real progress is being made in Iraq — a dwindling but still significant number of people, some of whom have sons and daughters serving in the conflict. It is a disservice to the troops, who were never sent to Iraq in sufficient numbers to protect themselves or the Iraqi people. And it is a disservice to all Americans, who have waited so long for Mr. Bush to act that all that is left are a series of unpleasant choices.

And it is happening in the midst of a particularly ugly, and especially vacuous, election season. There is probably no worse time to begin a serious discussion about Iraq policy than two weeks before a close, bitter election. But now that the discussion has begun, it must continue, as honestly and openly as possible. It is time for the American people to confront all the things that the president never had the guts to tell them about for three and a half years.

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