President Bush announced at a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki earlier this morning that the United States will stay in Iraq for as long as necessary: "this business about a graceful exit simply just has no realism to it at all." His expressions of strong support for Maliki ("the right guy for Iraq") came after a leaked three-week-old memo by his national security advisor raised doubts about Maliki's abilities, and Maliki canceled a scheduled dinner with Bush last night.
"Senior Bush aides offered at least four explanations for the cancellation - finally dispatching a more junior official to tell reporters late Wednesday that Maliki and Jordan's King Abdullah II had decided mutually that a three-way conversation was not necessary," says the Los Angeles Times.
The Iraq Study Group plans to present its findings to Bush, Congress, and the public on December 6, one day after Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates has his confirmation hearing. Incoming Senate Foreign Relations chair and presidential candidate Joe Biden is expected to then schedule hearings about the group's recommendations.
But with his "no graceful exit" comment, Bush has already rejected one of their suggestions. The New York Times, in another front-page scoop, says the group's final report will recommend a gradual pullback of 15 American brigades (a brigade typically consists of 3,000 to 5,000 troops) -- but will stop short of setting a firm timetable for withdrawal. "It is a compromise between distinct paths that the group has debated since March, avoiding a specific timetable, which has been opposed by Mr. Bush, but making it clear that the American troop commitment should not be open-ended."
The Washington Post reports that the "findings dovetail with recommendations being considered by the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are conducting their own review... That group is leaning toward an option that involves a brief surge of troops in Iraq, followed by a partial drawdown and a shift from combat operations to training and advising, according to sources familiar with the process."
The Washington Times says the Joint Chiefs "oppose pulling out U.S. troops now, and are also against a specific withdrawal timetable."
USA Today says of all three reviews of the Iraq situation currently being done, including one by the White House, "All the options carry downsides and dangers... The war has become a Rubik's Cube: Move to fix one side of the puzzle and another side is upended."
Observing that none of the various reviews are expected to produce bold suggestions, the Washington Post's Milbank cheekily calls the Iraq Study Group the "the Men's Vogue Study Group" after NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported that members of the group had posed for a magazine photo shoot and the Post rooted out which one. Milbank also notes that Senate Democrats, for their part, called yesterday for "(drum roll, please)" a special envoy to Iraq.
"The civil war in Iraq is likely to deteriorate significantly over the next few months regardless of which combination of options the Bush administration chooses to exercise, according to a report released by" the Center for Strategic and International Studies yesterday. The report "dismisses as 'dishonest' the Bush administration's claims to have readied more than 100 Iraqi military units for combat, pointing out that the true number is probably less than a third of the Pentagon's estimate." It also "takes strong issue with the notion that Washington can simply put pressure on [Maliki] to push harder for conciliation between Iraq's clashing sectarian groups."