During his surprise visit to Iraq over the weekend, George W. Bush said he'd learned from Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker that "if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces."
Let's put aside for a moment the highly conditional nature of Bush's assessment, even though we know that that the "kind of success we are now seeing" can't really continue because the strained U.S. military is going to have to start cutting troop levels in Iraq next year.
And let's forget for a moment that the "kind of success we are now seeing" isn't really all that successful; the Washington Post this morning says recent security "improvements" around Baghdad have sometimes been "tenuous, temporary, even illusory," and the overall security situation in Iraq is still so bad that the president of the United States can't go there without sneaking out the side door of the Oval Office and roaring out to Andrews hidden in a tiny, two-car motorcade.
Putting all of that aside for now, here's the thing we're wondering this morning. With Petraeus and Crocker on the way to the United States next week to give their assessments to the White House and Congress, what did Bush gain out of a trip to Iraq except for a photo opportunity signaling that he's fully engaged and knows more than the rest of us? And on other hand, if it really was so "important" -- as Stephen Hadley says -- for the president to see things in Iraq "firsthand," then how can it be that this was only his third trip there in the four and a half years since he started the war?