The Bush administration’s latest report on Iraq is a desperate attempt by Washington to brace itself for a new wave of legislative pressure on the issue before Congress recesses next month. While the interim assessment reportedly blames the Iraqi government for dragging its feet on some laws — like the one to divide Iraq’s oil resources fairly — it highlights the progress made in reducing the level of sectarian violence and militia control in Iraq. These were part of the benchmarks on political, security and economic reforms that Washington had stipulated for the Maliki government, in return for sending in 30,000 additional US troops to Iraq.
President Bush is likely to use the report card to block the expected Democratic broadsides on his 2008 defence authorisation bill, which comes up for debate in the Senate soon. In a supercharged election season, the Democrats have seized on Mr Bush’s low-flying public approval ratings, clamouring for a change in strategy that involves US troop redeployments out of Iraq. They have made the defence bill conditional on several key demands — from mandating a troop reduction within 120 days to requiring the President to seek fresh Congressional approval for the Iraq war. Unlike last time when Mr Bush vetoed a similar Democratic attempt to force him to accept troop withdrawal timetables, this time round, lawmakers will obviously try to put together a veto-proof two-thirds majority for the bill.
It is unfortunate that Mr Bush — past the halfway mark of his second term — still clings on to the belief that his one-dimensional foreign policy of forcing democracy in Iraq from outside could still work. Never mind if the appalling bloodbath in the war-torn country continues. It is still not too late for him to change course and work out a bi-partisan strategy on getting out of the Iraqi quagmire. The best bet for him now is to acknowledge that it would not affect the popularity of his lame-duck presidency to look at 2008 as a de facto deadline. Most politicians, cutting across party lines, would support the move as it could help their prospects in an election year.