Behind the scenes of the administration's debate on Iraq

New information on why the administration decided not to give ground on its Iraq rhetoric.

By Alex Koppelman

Published July 13, 2007 1:50PM (EDT)

Earlier this week, we noted what we thought was an interesting contradiction: Despite leaks to the press indicating that the Bush administration was ready to make at least some rhetorical concessions to war opponents, ultimately the president's public position on Iraq seems not to have changed.

It wasn't just the liberal, backstabbing, hate-America media reporting about this debate, either -- even Bill Kristol, the hawkish conservative who leads the Weekly Standard, confirmed the substance of reports of an ongoing discussion inside the administration as to how to proceed in the immediate future.

So what happened? Why did the administration go from considering a conciliatory tone on Iraq, even perhaps a discussion of a "post-surge" strategy, to what is arguably an even more argumentative tone, focused again (wrongly, some say) on al-Qaida and 9/11? In a news analysis in today's New York Times, the Times' David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker seem to have an answer, and it appears to trace back to "Bush's Brain," White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.

"Administration officials say that if Mr. Bush talked now about pulling back forces at the end of this year or next spring, he would only provide new ammunition to those Democrats and a growing number of Republicans who are pushing for legislation now to set timelines for the withdrawal of some of the 150,000 American troops," Sanger and Shanker write. "The argument inside the White House last week, one official said, was over 'how much leg to show' of that strategy. Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, was among those arguing for showing very little, and judging by Mr. Bush's performance on Thursday, Mr. Rove won the day."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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George W. Bush Iraq Karl Rove Middle East War Room