• Staying the course no more
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     | October 24,2006
     
    AP Photo

    White House Press Secretary Tony Snow responds to a reporters question about Iraq during his daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Oct. 23, 2006.

    WASHINGTON — The White House on Monday officially discarded "stay the course" as U.S. policy in Iraq.

    White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and presidential counselor Dan Bartlett disclosed the policy change, saying the short-hand description failed to "capture the dynamism" of the flexible U.S. approach to security setbacks on the ground and the challenges of getting Iraqi authorities to control militias and quell sectarian bloodshed.

    The administration's policy revision came as Republicans fought to retain control of the House and Senate in the Nov. 7 midterm congressional elections. Polls show wide public disapproval of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq.

    The announcement followed President Bush's weekend review of policy with his military commanders and follow-up meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    "What you have is not 'stay the course' but in fact a study in constant motion by the administration and by the Iraqi government — and frankly also by the enemy," Snow told reporters at the regular White House briefing. "You constantly have to adjust to what the other side is doing."

    Snow said Bush administration officials were abandoning the "stay-the-course" policy description because it "left the wrong impression about what was going on" and handed critics the opportunity to portray White House policies as inflexible.

    The president is "determined not to leave Iraq short of victory," Snow said. "But he also understands that it's important to capture the dynamism of the efforts that have been ongoing to try to make Iraq more secure," using a description that has "greater precision."

    Bartlett told CBS News' "Early Show" that Bush administration policy has "never been a stay-the-course strategy" with officials "sitting there with our heads in the sand."

    Bartlett added: "We're completely changing, in making tactical changes on a week-by-week basis as we respond to the enemy's reactions to our strategies."

    Bush and other administration officials have repeatedly used "stay the course" to underscore their commitment to Iraq and to draw contrasts with what Republicans describe as Democrats' "cut and run" approach. Some Democrats favor setting a timetable for phased withdrawals of the more than 140,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq in an occupation that has claimed the lives of at least 2,799 U.S. soldiers since March 2003.

    Bush telephoned Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki last Monday to reassure him that the Bush administration would not unilaterally set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

    "There was a rumor that there were going to be attempts to replace him if certain things don't happen in two months," Snow told reporters after the telephone conversation. "And the president said, 'The rumors are not true; we support you."'

    Bush last used the "stay the course" description of his Iraqi policy in Salt Lake City on Aug. 30.

    "If we leave the streets of Baghdad before the job is done, we will have to face the terrorists in our own cities," Bush declared. "We will stay the course, we will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed, and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century."

    Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., spotlighted the White House shift, saying that Bartlett had "even dared to say on CBS News that the president's policy has never been to 'stay the course' despite the innumerable times when the president and his aides have said directly that their policy was to 'stay the course."'

    Miller said that the White House announcement showed that Bush was "signaling a change in Iraq policy, without actually calling it that."

    The White House announcement came amid mounting political pressure from some Republican candidates for Bush to signal flexibility in Iraq to help assuage Americans' deepening disenchantment with the costly campaign. The death of at least 87 U.S. soldiers in the first three weeks of October make the month so far the costliest in U.S. lives since 96 soldiers died last October.

    The mounting toll has prompted Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, to announce that she would not have supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 had she known then that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

    Sen. George Allen, R-Va., fighting for re-election, has abandoned his hard-line support for the administration's Iraq policy and recently declared enthusiastic support for White House policy to declare: "We cannot continue doing the same things and expect different results. We have to adapt our operations, adapt our tactics."

    Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, returned from his most recent visit to Iraq to warn that the war was "drifting sideways" without a commitment by the Iraqi government to disarm sectarian militias. Congress would have to make "bold decisions" if Iraqi authorities had not calmed sectarian violence within 90 days, Warner said.

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