Friday, November 18, 2005

Our Man on Their Side


President Bush may have come to Asia determined to show leaders here that his agenda is far broader than Iraq and terrorism, but at every stop, and every day, Mr. Bush and his aides have been fighting a rearguard action to justify how the United States got into Iraq and how to get out.

On Friday morning, as Mr. Bush was meeting the leaders of Southeast Asia, his press secretary issued an unusually blistering statement responding to Representative John P. Murtha's call for a pullout from Iraq, declaring that Mr. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who had often backed Mr. Bush's military initiatives, was "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party."

Standing Thursday with President Roh Moo Hyun of South Korea, Mr. Bush leapt on a question about the charges that he had manipulated prewar intelligence. "I expect there to be criticism, but when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that's irresponsible," he said, as Mr. Roh looked on silently.

On Friday morning, Mr. Roh's defense minister, Yoon Kwang Ung, announced that South Korea planned to withdraw about a third of its 3,200 troops from northern Iraq next year. While the step has been rumored for two months, it was unclear why it was announced while Mr. Bush was here.

But if Mr. Bush's aides were surprised about the timing, his hosts, both here and in Japan, have appeared surprised at Mr. Bush's tone, which has given them an unobstructed window into the growing debate in Washington about how the United States got into Iraq, and when it should get out.

"I think it has been a bit of a shock to everyone," said one longtime Japanese diplomat when Mr. Bush was in Kyoto, insisting on anonymity because he was not speaking for the government. He noted that Mr. Bush had publicly thanked Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for sending Japanese troops to Iraq in the face of overwhelming opposition in Japan. But the diplomat wondered whether "after the president leaves, there will be more and more questions about why we are there, too.
That whole "coalition of the willing" is SO last year!

And, of course, Irony is not dead, but would really appreciate a long vacation at Christmas:

Mr. Bartlett insisted the president was not trying to quash debate about Iraq. Rather, he said, the president was "blowing the whistle" on those who are "willfully and knowingly saying something that happens not to be true."
Well, I hear he and Cheney are "on the outs..."

But others around Mr. Bush are clearly concerned. One senior official said that inside the White House, there is now an active debate about whether Mr. Bush and his aides erred in not explicitly admitting to mistakes in how they conducted the war, the occupation, and the repeated efforts to train Iraqi troops.

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