Amidst reports today that insurgents have triggered another round of sectarian violence in Iraq and raised anew the specter of civil war (this insurgency was supposed to be in its "last throes," as Vice President Cheney contended last spring), the big question on the table is whether the deadly realities on the ground will impede the administration's desire to begin limited U.S. troop withdrawals in 2006. That very question was put to national security advisor Stephen Hadley on Sunday, and his response was, "we'll have to see, we'll have to see," because perhaps the violence will "incentivize" Iraqi security forces to more speedly stand up for themselves. The troop withdrawal question was also put to President Bush today, as he sat at the White House with the prime minister of Italy. Here is Bush's full response. Don't knock yourself out looking for even a phrase that addresses the question:
"The United States strongly condemns the bombing of holy sites. We believe people should be allowed to worship freely. Obviously, there are some who are trying to sow the seeds of sectarian violence. They destroy in order to create chaos. And now the people of Iraq and their leaders must make a choice. The choice is chaos or unity. The choice is a free society, or a society dictated by the -- by evil people who will kill innocents. This weekend I spoke to seven of the Iraqi leaders. They understood the seriousness of the moment. They have made their choice, which is to work toward a unity government. The Iraqi people made their choice. Since last December, 11 million people, in defiance of the terrorists and the killers, went to the polls and said, we want to be free."
It is common, of course, for presidents to dodge questions, and at times it might even be prudent; however, at a time when Americans appear increasingly desperate for answers - the new CBS poll says that only 30 percent support Bush's handling of Iraq - the risks of non-responsiveness are bound to increase. Especially when he's sitting there with the Italian prime minister, who is in the process of withdrawing his own troops from Iraq.
And now comes new evidence today - from the U.S. inspector general for Iraq reconstruction - that the Bush administration is to blame for much of the current mess in Iraq. There was "insufficient systematic planning" for the rebuilding of postwar Iraq, according to the inspector general. And according to this report today in the conservative press, even "the Pentagon's initial plans for reconstruction crumbled when it encountered an unexpected foreign and domestic insurgency..." The key word in that sentence is "unexpected."