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Security politics

Bush meets with a key Shiite leader at the White House today.  A New York Times news analysis says the following question will dominate Washington this week: "[A]fter three and a half years, is President Bush ready to abandon his declaration that American forces cannot begin to leave Iraq until the Iraqis demonstrate that they are capable of defending themselves?" 

The San Francisco Chronicle: "Events in Washington this week... bear all the markings of a turning point in the Iraq war.  But like the war itself, now 3 1/2 years long, the shift is likely to prove a slow and agonizing slide toward an inevitable retreat, rather than the decisive pullout many voters thought they might get last month when they handed Democrats control of Capitol Hill." 

On the Sunday shows yesterday, some of Bush's top advisors on Iraq "sought to portray" his solicitation of ideas "as a bold leadership step, not a reaction to calls for a change in strategy by the Iraq Study Group, congressional Democrats and even his own outgoing Defense secretary...  They said" that the Rumsfeld memo "was actually part of that initiative, not an admission of failure or a reflection of dissension." 

In the memo, Rumsfeld laid out an array options for courses to take in Iraq.  The New York Times said over the weekend that the memo "suggests frustration with the pace of turning over responsibility to the Iraqi authorities; in fact, the memo calls for examination of ideas that roughly parallel troop withdrawal proposals presented by some of the White House's sharpest Democratic critics." 

The Financial Times observes that "Mr Rumsfeld's blunt rejection of continuing 'on the current path' in Iraq... reinforced the sense that George W. Bush's presidency was now more lonely than it has ever been." 

After Gates' confirmation hearing tomorrow, the Senate could vote to confirm him as early as Wednesday.  The Washington Post, looking back at Gates' bumpy hearings for the top CIA post in 1991, says, "With bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for quickly putting the war under new command, Gates's controversial history is by all accounts highly unlikely to derail his confirmation after a single hearing." 

"Gates appears to some an odd choice, given the Pentagon's rocky and occasionally divisive atmosphere under Rumsfeld," says the Los Angeles Times.  "For much of Gates' career, critics and even some admirers have likened him to the imperious Rumsfeld and his close administration ally, Vice President Dick Cheney...  But critics and friends also suggest that Gates, 63, has evolved." 

Bob Novak writes, "At the core of Bush's Iraq dilemma is the fact, still denied at the White House, that the president has lost his political base on the overriding issue of the war.  In contact mainly with fawning campaign contributors, Bush may not appreciate the steady decline in support of his war policy that I have seen deepening among Republicans in the last year…  State officials and party leaders who are no specialists on foreign policy tell me the Republican Party simply cannot go into the 2008 campaign with troops still fighting in Iraq." 

President Bush's first post-election TV interview goes to Fox, and will air later today.

The Washington Post points out that "many of the 126 House Democrats who spoke out and voted against the October 2002 resolution that gave President Bush authority to wage war against Iraq have turned out to be correct in their warnings about the problems a war would create."  And some of these Democrats are assuming influential posts in the new Congress. 

Congress seems destined to leave town without confirming UN Ambassador John Bolton, whose recess appointment expires in January.