October 24, 2006
Bush Abandons Phrase 'Stay the Course' on Iraq
By JIM RUTENBERG and DAVID S. CLOUD
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 23 The White House said Monday that President Bush was no longer using the phrase “stay the course” when speaking about the Iraq war, in a new effort to emphasize flexibility in the face of some of the bloodiest violence there since the 2003 invasion.
“He stopped using it,” said Tony Snow, the White House press secretary. “It left the wrong impression about what was going on and it allowed critics to say, ‘Well, here’s an administration that’s just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is,’ when, in fact, it is the opposite.”
Mr. Bush used the slogan in a stump speech on Aug. 31, but has not repeated it for some time. Still, Mr. Snow’s pronouncement was a stark example of the complicated line the White House is walking this election year in trying to tag Democrats as wanting to “cut and run” from Iraq, without itself appearing wedded to unsuccessful tactics there.
Democrats have increasingly pressed a case this fall contending that Republicans are stubbornly proposing to “stay the course” in a failing effort to stanch violence in Iraq an approach that strategists in both parties consider to have been fairly unsuccessful, especially as violence has continued to mount in Baghdad.
In the last few weeks a number of Republican lawmakers and party elders have also come forward to express doubts about whether the administration’s approach to stabilizing Iraq is succeeding and to suggest new strategies.
Mr. Bush and his aides have met those complaints with a renewed emphasis on adaptability for the United States’ war plan. Mr. Bush has stressed as he did in an interview with ABC News on Sunday that he is “not patient forever” and expects the Iraqis to take more responsibility in securing their own country.
In the same vein, administration officials are heightening the emphasis on setting milestones for Iraq to take over responsibility for ensuring security while disbanding sectarian militia groups.
Bush administration officials on Monday provided new details of their efforts to devise benchmarks for measuring the Baghdad government’s progress in the coming months toward assuming a larger role in securing the country.
Mr. Snow said the issue of benchmarks had come up cursorily during recent discussions with Mr. Bush; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East; Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Iraq.
He added that the Bush administration was not presenting any ultimatums to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Malaki’s government or tying goals to United States troop commitments.
Mr. Snow was commenting on a report in The New York Times on Sunday that said the Bush administration was drafting a timetable with Iraqi officials for dealing with the militias and achieving other political, economic and military benchmarks aimed at stabilizing the country.
The Times article quoted several senior officials anonymously as saying the Bush administration would consider changes in military strategy and other steps if Iraq balked at the benchmarks or failed to meet the most critical timetables.
Mr. Rumsfeld said Monday that the benchmarks under discussion included projections on when Iraq might be able to take control of more of the country’s 18 provinces. Only two provinces are under full Iraqi security administration, though officials say they hope the number will rise to six or seven by the end of the year.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld said the goal of the discussions was to produce a “way ahead” so that “their government can have a set of tasks that they need to do to get prepared to assume the responsibility for governing their country and providing security for their country.”
The goal, he added, was for both sides to agree on what he called “projections” for when Iraq might be able to take on these tasks.
“My guess is that you might find that in no case will you find a specific date” for assuming a particular task, he said. But, he added, “You might find a month, or you might find a spread of two or three months, a period where they think they might be able to do it.”
Mr. Bush, in discussing at a news conference on Oct. 11 the meaning of the phrase “stay the course,” also refused to be pinned down.
“Stay the course means keep doing what you’re doing,” he said. “My attitude is, don’t do what you’re doing if it’s not working; change.”
He added: “Stay the course also means don’t leave before the job is done. And that’s we’re going to get the job done in Iraq. And it’s important that we do get the job done in Iraq.”