White House press secretary Tony Snow denied vociferously Wednesday that the president has made an "open-ended" commitment to Iraq, and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino today dismissed talk of having U.S. troops in Iraq 10 years from now as political "rhetoric" that George W. Bush has never endorsed.
So what do we have here? In the president's Iraq speech tonight -- the one in which he'll announce his new "Return on Success" strategy -- Bush will say that Iraqi leaders have asked for an "enduring relationship with America," and that "we are ready to begin building that relationship" now.
The president will say in his speech that "success" in Iraq "will require U.S. political, economic and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency." Does that mean U.S. troops will be in Iraq 10 years from now? Gen. David Petraeus has pretty much acknowledged as much, and "senior administration officials" didn't deny it when they talked with the press this afternoon.
Reporter: You have the speaker of the House out saying this is a 10-year military effort; this is an open-ended long-term commitment. How does this not ...
Senior administration official: What the president has said is that he, obviously, wants to get our position in Iraq to a point where it's in a good place for the next president to come in. And this is something that whomever is elected in 2008 as the next president is going to gauge what our presence in Iraq and how it affects our national security means. And they will make that assessment.
The president's view is that, you know, certainly, that the troop level Gen. Petraeus recommends, at this time, is the right level to protect our national security interest in Iraq. Any presidency after his will make their own assessment. Beyond his presidency, though is the ...
Senior administration official No. 2: And, I think, the key here is that you all might ask, "Well, why would we do this?" And that goes back to the long-term, enduring interest of Iraq and its geostrategic position at the crossroads at the Middle East. You can't walk away from geostrategic interests here. So we have interests in this region that go beyond Iraq proper. So why would we accept an Iraqi leader proposal that we form a relationship with them? Because we have long-term interests in there that this kind of relationship would serve.
Senior administration official: And that's how we'll structure the relationship. But it doesn't mean 169,000 troops.
Will it mean tens of thousands of troops, or even the 130,000 who will still be there come July? Reporters didn't ask, and the senior administration officials didn't say.