The decider says he hasn't decided

As Iraqis and U.S. soldiers continue to die, Bush says he's waiting to hear more before making any decisions.

Tim Grieve
November 20, 2006 7:18PM (UTC)

At a press conference in Indonesia today, George W. Bush said he hasn't decided what to do about that whole Iraq thing. "I haven't made any decisions about troop increases or troop decreases and won't until I hear from a variety of sources, including our own United States military," the president said. Asked to discuss any possible downside of sending more U.S. troops to Baghdad, Bush demurred. "There's no need to comment on something that may not happen," he said. "But if it were to happen, I will tell you the upsides and downside."

Sectarian violence has claimed the lives of a comedian, a professor and at least 18 other Iraqis so far today. The Associated Press' Iraqi body count for November stands -- for another minute or two -- at 1,368, already having passed the total AP count for October. As the news agency concedes, the "actual totals are likely considerably higher."


Forty-seven U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq so far this month.

While James Baker's Iraq Study Group continues to work its way toward recommendations, the Washington Post says that the Pentagon's "closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior defense officials."

We don't know how long it took Pentagon planners to come up with that last. But the Post says it knows which option is gaining favor with the president's Pentagon planners: Send over 20,000 or 30,000 more U.S. troops "for a short period" -- whatever that means -- to clamp down on sectarian killings and "to signal to the Iraqi government and public" that the ultimate "shrink the force but stay longer" option isn't really just a "disguised form of withdrawal."

We're not sure that we understand the "signal" that would be sent here or how it would help. "We're sending more troops, and then we're pulling out some of our troops, but the ones who are staying are going to stay for a really long time." And we're not sure that Iraqis, suffering through the chaos that their country has become, are really attuned to such subtle messages from Washington right now.

This much, we understand: As the president invites what ought to be some pretty uncomfortable comparisons to the war in Vietnam, no less an expert than Henry Kissinger is now declaring that the war in Iraq is unwinnable, at least by military means alone. The BBC asked Kissinger if the United States could still achieve a "military victory" in Iraq. His response: "If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible."

So shouldn't the troops come home, then? Not in Kissinger's world, and not -- it seems -- in Bush's. The BBC says that Kissinger wants to see the U.N. Security Council, Iraq's neighbors and regional powers like India and Pakistan come together to help work out a solution that would avert the "dramatic collapse of Iraq." In the meantime, he says, U.S. troops must stay.


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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George W. Bush Iraq Iraq War Middle East War Room

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