The New York Times reported today that White House officials are heatedly debating whether President Bush “should try to prevent more defections” of Republican war supporters by announcing a “gradual withdrawal” of U.S. troops from certain areas of Iraq.
But in comments to reporters this morning, White House spokesman Tony Snow insisted that the administration is still committed to staying the course:
“There is no debate right now on withdrawing forces right now from Iraq,” Snow said.
“The president has said many times that as conditions require and merit that there will be in fact withdrawals and also pulling back from areas of Baghdad and so on,” the press secretary said. “But the idea of trying to make a political judgment rather than a military judgment about how to have forces in the field is simply not true.”
Indeed, according to Robert Novak, the administration is actively trying to reverse the trend among conservative senators, with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley making visits to Capitol Hill to lay the groundwork for blaming a “depleted U.S. military” for the failure of Bush’s escalation strategy:
Hadley called his expedition a “scouting trip,” leading one senator to ask what he was seeking. It was not advice on how to escape from Iraq. Hadley appeared interested in how previous supporters had drifted from Bush’s course. In the process, he planted seeds of concern. Some senators were left with the impression the White House still does not recognize the scope of the Iraq dilemma. Worse yet, they see Bush running out the clock until April, when a depleted U.S. military will be blamed for the fiasco.
Novak adds that Hadley’s visit to the Hill “increased latent fears of the U.S. military being made the fall guy — a concern shared by many retired and some active senior officers, including a current infantry division commander.”