It's been a tough week for the White House. President Bush has run into resistance — from lawmakers, and the American people — as he's tried to sell his plan for a troop increase in Iraq. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush's relationship with Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has appeared strained. All this is happening as the president prepares for Tuesday's State of the Union address.
Maliki called President Bush's political predicament a "crisis situation."
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he suggested that other U.S. officials may be putting some pressure on Iraq's young government because they're feeling political heat back in the United States. And Maliki added that the U.S. ought to just give his government more guns and — in essence — a free hand.
At the White House yesterday, spokesman Tony Snow was asked whether Maliki's comments mean there's a growing rift between the two leaders.
"I think what happens is that a lot of people are looking for a panic or a failure narrative out of this White House, and it's just not the case," Snow said.
It may not be panic or failure, but it's not the narrative of the president's first term. That much was clear in an interview the president did with PBS this week. The best Mr. Bush could say about his plan for more troops in Iraq, was that he hopes people give it a chance.
"The American people are going to say 'OK, show us whether this works,'" he said. "When it's all said and done, what really matters is not my speech or my interview with you, but what happens on the ground."
What's been happening on the ground this week hasn't been good. A series of grisly car bombs — one killing 60 students at the University of Baghdad — brought a fresh wave of sectarian bloodshed. The United Nations reported Iraqi casualties in 2006 were nearly three times higher than the Maliki government had acknowledged. And the strongest ally the U.S. has had in the war, Great Britain, kept moving closer to total withdrawal.
Mr. Bush was asked in the PBS interview whether he views Iraq as a broken egg.
"I don't quite view it as the broken egg, I view it as the cracked egg where we still have a chance to move beyond the broken egg," he said.
But Americans are deeply skeptical about whether it's worth keeping any American troops in Iraq. In a survey this week by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 48 percent said U.S. troops should come home as soon as possible, and 70 percent said Mr. Bush doesn't have a clear plan.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this week was all the Republican defections on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers such as Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, abandoned Mr. Bush and his plan.
"I think it is dangerously irresponsible to continue to put American lives in the middle of a clearly defined tribal/sectarian civil war..." Hagel said. "I might feel somewhat different if I had any confidence that that would change things. It will not change things."
Hagel joined several Democrats in sponsoring a resolution that would declare the president's troop increase "not in the national interest."
"The Congress of the United States has a role to play. I don't believe we have played that role very effectively the last four years," Hagel said.
Republicans, especially senators up for re-election in 2008, having been lining up to voice doubts. In part, they may recall what happened to Democrats like John Kerry, whose votes on war funding in 2003 came back to haunt him in the presidential election of 2004.
It was also the week the administration backed off its defense of its warrantless surveillance program — agreeing to get court approvals after all. And it was a week when even President Bush's prospective library became controversial, as a group of Methodist ministers objected to plans to locate his papers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
It is against this backdrop that the president must prepare to make his first address to the newly Democratic Congress elected in November. With Tuesday night's State of the Union address, Mr. Bush will try to recover some of the momentum that's been missing.