Same as it ever was

How many more U.S. soldiers will die to protect what's left of the president's legacy?

By Tim Grieve
Published January 2, 2007 1:55PM (EST)

When we left War Room for a winter hibernation a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty clear that George W. Bush had decided that the "way forward" in Iraq involves sending more U.S. troops, even if he couldn't quite bring himself to saying so yet.

We return this morning to find National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley telling the Wall Street Journal that "there might be a need for an Iraqi surge alongside an American one," but that the president still hasn't made a final decision about the way forward. "We're still working on the mix of options," Hadley says.

It has been nearly two months since the president fired Donald Rumsfeld and declared that it was time for a "fresh perspective" on a war that is "not working well enough, fast enough." And it's worse than that. As the New York Times reports this morning, Bush figured out in mid-September -- after months of ignoring warnings from Iraq -- that his plan for the war wasn't working and that a reassessment was needed. Did it happen then? No. From the Times: "As the American elections approached, White House officials say, they believed it would amount to political suicide to announce a broad reassessment of Iraq strategy."

Translation: To save his own political life, Bush was willing to let American soldiers keep dying without a plan to win.

And so it will go. The president will continue to buy time -- maybe he'll make a good show of things by throwing Gen. George Casey overboard, as the Times suggests today -- and then he'll announce his plan to send more troops for some indefinite but ostensibly temporary amount of time.

No one will like it; the public has no stomach for sending more soldiers to Iraq, and the Washington Post says that it's hard to find much enthusiasm for a surge among "rank-and-file Republicans, many of whom must face the voters again in 2008."

But Bush will be on the way out by 2008, and what he needs in the meantime is to keep the war alive just long enough to let American withdrawal -- the "defeat" -- happen on somebody else's watch. More than 3,000 American troops have now died for the president's mistakes. How many more will lose their lives before he finally gets around to announcing a plan for victory that's better than the one he insisted was working long after he knew that it wasn't? How many more will die to protect whatever's left of the legacy he hopes to leave behind?

Bush wasn't willing to risk "political suicide" by changing course back in September. Is it too much to suggest now that he chose murder instead?

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