LAST WEEK, TWO separate but interconnected pieces of news came out that make it clear that President Bush has no intention of bringing troops home from Iraq while he's president.
In fact, it's worse: he wants to make sure the next president can't either.
Sure, while he was there on a surprise visit, he hinted that a few troops could come home, if Gen. David Petraeus recommends it.
At the same time, another interview with the president revealed his true intentions.
In a new book by Robert Draper, the president told the author that when it comes to Iraq, "I'm playing for October-November." Writes Draper, the president's "central goal of his remaining time in office: 'To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence,' and, [the president] said later, 'stay longer.'"
To heck with progress or lack thereof. Who cares if the Iraqis meet benchmarks - which, according to a new report by the independent Government Accountability Office, they aren't. No matter what happens, the president is dead set on keeping troops in Iraq, and will put in any circuit breaker he can to ensure that the next president will have to as well.
Just a day later, a report was leaked, written by Gen. James Jones, who in May was ordered to deliver a report on Iraqi Security Forces. His findings? That the Iraqis won't be ready to take control of their own streets for at least 12 to 18 months.
According to the Associated Press, which obtained the report, "It describes the Iraqi police as fragile, ill-equipped and infiltrated by militia forces. And it is led by the Ministry of Interior, which is 'a ministry in name only' that is 'widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership.'"
Eighteen months. That would take us well into the next U.S. presidency. With that, Gen. Jones handed the president what he wanted: the excuse to say we're never getting out of Iraq. Not while he's around. And, at the same time, he has the paper he wanted, to tie the hands of the next commander in chief and his or her secretary of Defense, before he or she even takes office.
Elsewhere in this new book, the president muses about "replenishing the ol' coffers" by charging huge fees for speaking engagements when he's out of office, and getting "bored" and then hopping in his truck and going back to the ranch.
What a nice luxury that will be, to feel no guilty conscience for making it more difficult, not easier, for the next president to safely bring our troops home. How lovely it will be to get $75,000 a pop to give a speech to a corporation, while the troops you sent into war toil in 130-degree heat, and you made sure they'd stay there long after you left office.
To the president, who curiously used the word "playing" to describe his war strategy, this is indeed a game, and he's looking for his checkmate. To him, there's no real lives involved, and if progress reports don't look good, either change the benchmarks or use it as an excuse to stay longer - but never, ever, change the course.
Meanwhile, Congress has been unwilling or unable to seriously challenge him, Sen. Arlen Specter included. The president has made his move and now is waiting for Congress to throw in the towel, so he can go off and take a nap, leaving us all to look at the mess of a chess board.