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Today we are news-trackers, hot on the trail of tomorrow's Page One, prime-time news.
And it appears that tomorrow's news may be a glimmer of good news at last for conservative Republicans who have been bitterly disappointed with what they concede, mostly in private, but occasionally in public, is the overwhelming failure of the Bush presidency: The misconduct of the Iraq war, a series of political and intelligence leadership blunders that has trapped America's brave, volunteer military in a combat mission that is not yet lost, but may never be won.
Evidence has surfaced, not on Page One or in prime time, but on page A15, the op-ed page of the May 22 edition of The Washington Post, that President Bush is reportedly working, belatedly but finally, to come up with a post-surge strategy, the so-called Plan B the administration hadn't gotten around to devising.
Post columnist David Ignatius, who is of the school that prefers hard reporting to soft punditry, wrote of this new development after talking with senior administration officials who now clearly want to get out the word that they have begun discussing what to do after the so-called surge of more than 20,000 combat troops. Soon the news will make its way to the 24/7 cable news. The surge was supposed to last just a few months, to see if it was possible to secure, at least, Baghdad.
Time-out: You are probably thinking that commons sense should have dictated that a Plan B had to be developed months, if not years. ago. You are of course right, but you are of course not president. The fact that Bush never ordered it has infuriated many former generals, conservative think-tank experts and members of Congress who supported Bush in two elections.
"The new policy would focus on training and advising Iraqi troops rather than the broader goal of achieving a political reconciliation in Iraq, which senior officials recognize may be unachievable within the time available," Ignatius wrote. "The revamped policy, as outlined by senior administration officials, would be premised on the idea that, as the current surge of U.S. troops succeeds in reducing sectarian violence, America's role will be increasingly to help prepare the Iraqi military to take greater responsibility for securing the country."
Time-out Again: You are probably thinking that training Iraqi troops to take over was what we've been told was already America's main effort in Iraq. You are of course right, but by now you know that Page One and prime-time news scoops are not always all that new. Journalists are just pleased to have been leaked upon.
New military brainpower has been infused into a White House bunker that had gone sadly stale. Bush recently named a White House overseer of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — three-star Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who had been quite skeptical of the surge idea, had urged that Iraqis needed to assume greater responsibility for securing their country.
And you don't have to be a journalist scribbling down whispered leaks to get informative hard-line news insights. A panel of retired generals offered tough but thoughtful analysis on CNN's "This Week at War" on May 19, especially on the importance of insisting that Iraq's military assume the lead security responsibility.
"I think it's absolutely mandatory that we do that," said retired four-star Gen. George Joulwan, former supreme allied commander of NATO. "I think we've had too much of a U.S. face on this. … We should have done this six months after we entered after the fall of Baghdad. … It's about time that the Iraqis step forward. We need to facilitate that."
To which Lt. Gen. William Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency, interjected a bottom-line reality that brought the unrelenting tensions of Iraq's civil war home to Americans: "We're not dealing with Iraqis. We're sitting on top of several sides in multiple civil wars in Iraq. So asking the Iraqis to step up is sort of like asking will the Confederates and Union leaders step up to a convention that the British have called that we ought to stop fighting after Gettysburg."
That seems to be what one of Ignatius' sources was saying: "'Sectarian violence is not a problem we can fix,' said one senior official. 'The Iraqi government needs to show that it can take control of the capital.' "
So the good news — if anything can be called "good" in this badly bungled Iraq operation — is that Team Bush's new whisperers and leakers may have come around to the insights of the old generals. Hopefully, they finally get it.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)