President Bush indicated last week that he might have to alter his current strategy in Iraq, despite protestations from White House officials that a status report due in September is not a "deadline."
"There's a lot of discussion about a scenario in which our troop posture would be to guard the territorial integrity of the country of Iraq, to embed and train, to help the Iraqi security forces deal with violent elements in their society, as well as keep enough special forces there to chase down al Qaeda," Mr. Bush said at a White House press conference Thursday.
"That's a position I'd like to see us in," the president said.
Mr. Bush said he sent 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq because he thought the fledgling Iraqi government needed time to pass key laws and root out ethnic discrimination among the country's national security forces. But the president's own interim report to Congress last week said the Iraqi parliament has failed to make "satisfactory" progress on important legislation.
Furthermore, the Iraqi government plans to go on vacation for the entire month of August, leaving about four weeks to achieve substantive progress before Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, issues a much-awaited status report on Sept. 15.
White House spokesman Tony Snow argued that progress toward political reconciliation still can take place, even if the Iraqi parliament is out of session.
"Often when parliaments do not meet, there are meetings on the side and there will be progress on a number of fronts," Mr. Snow said.
The spokesman also said that Gen. Petraeus' report will not be a pivot point requiring the president to change his strategy.
"It's not a September deadline. It's a September report," Mr. Snow said.
But Mr. Bush's own words lent more gravity to the report.
The president asked Congress, and specifically an increasing number of impatient Republicans, to "give the general a chance to come back and to give us a full assessment of whether this is succeeding or not."
"And it's at that point in time that I will consult with members of Congress and make a decision about the way forward," Mr. Bush said.
Two senior Republican senators did not wait long before moving to "mandate" that the White House begin planning for a change of course beginning in October.
Sens. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and John W. Warner of Virginia introduced an amendment to a defense spending bill that would require the Pentagon to immediately start work on a plan "for post-September contingencies, including a drawdown or re-deployment of forces."
Mr. Bush took his critics to task yesterday for using the poor marks the Iraqi government received on the progress report as reason to argue that the war is lost.
"Our strategy is built on the premise that progress on security will pave the way for political progress," the president said in his weekly radio address. "This report shows that conditions can change, progress can be made, and the fight in Iraq can be won."
c This article is based in part on wire service reports.