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“This clever scheme lacked one important ingredient, the participation of Bush himself. He was supposed to play up the post-surge in a 77-minute speech in Cleveland. He failed to, except to note in passing that, with enough troops to secure Iraq, ‘we can be in a different position in a while.’ This was the same day that Baker’s story ran. A White House official said the president might have dropped emphasis on the post-surge era from his speech out of annoyance over the leak to Baker. Or, since he was speaking from scribbled notes, he might just have forgotten.

“Two days later, Bush had a prepared text for his opening remarks at a press conference. Once more, the aftermath of the surge got short shrift. The closest he came was this comment: ‘When we start drawing down our forces in Iraq, it will be because our military commanders say the conditions on the ground are right, not because pollsters say it will be good politics.’

“I recount this episode because it makes a simple point: Bush’s aides may be eager to soften his message on Iraq, but the president isn’t. Another way to put it — exaggerating a bit — is that his aides were fearful of political repercussions and he wasn’t.”

Sickening the soul’

Standing before a church congregation that has witnessed inner-city violence firsthand, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said yesterday that more must be done to end a social ill that is “sickening the soul of this nation.”

Mr. Obama told churchgoers at the Vernon Park Church of God on Chicago’s South Side that too many young lives are being claimed by violence and more must be done to combat the problem.

“From South Central L.A. to Newark, New Jersey, there’s an epidemic of violence that’s sickening the soul of this nation,” the Illinois senator told the crowd. “The violence is unacceptable, and it’s got to stop.”

Nearly three dozen Chicago students have been killed this year, according to Chicago Public Schools. Mr. Obama said that figure is higher than the number of Illinois serviceman who have died in Iraq in 2007.

“We need to express our collective anger through collective action,” Mr. Obama said.

He said the government needs to permanently reinstate an assault-weapons ban and close regulatory loopholes that protect unscrupulous gun dealers, the Associated Press reports.

He also said government should support and fund more after-school programs to keep children off the streets. But some of the burden must also be shouldered by residents who need to do more to raise and protect at-risk children, he added.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or