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Bush's reality gap

PRESIDENT BUSH outlined his Iraq policy last night with a tone of resolve that would have been more convincing were it not so reminiscent of his confident tone a year ago, before key elements of his strategy started going so badly awry.

The five-step plan set out by Bush was solid in its intention, but the president only hinted at the difficulties in its execution.

Even the first step - turning over sovereignty to a new Iraqi interim government on June 30 - is proving to be difficult; keeping peace among the three main factions in Iraq is likely to be a long-term challenge. On this, Bush has sensibly ceded responsibility for putting that government together to the UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Beyond that, Bush said Iraq's government will have ``full sovereignty,'' but that is not the case. Bush pledged to leave 138,000 troops - under US command - as long as needed. One moment, Bush promised troops serving extra tours that they would be ``home soon.'' The next moment, he said that if US generals ``need more troops, we will send them.''

One of the most severe threats to the Bush strategy is likely to begin July 1, with Iraqi insurgents trying to draw US forces into awkward situations. If American troops respond to attack with strikes that produce numerous civilian casualties, or if there are any more incidents of abuse such as at Abu Ghraib prison, Iraqi opposition to the US occupation will increase, and the legitimacy of the interim government will be undermined.

Bush did acknowledge last night that there will likely be more violence in Iraq both before and after June 30. But his speech would have been more persuasive if he had talked more candidly about the difficulties ahead and admitted to some of the problems that have been all too clear during the last year.

There was no mention of the disorder caused by the blunder of disbanding the Iraqi Army, for instance, or of the high military and civilian casualties. Astoundingly, he continued to blame the prisoner abuse scandal on ``a few American troops.'' The refusal of some green Iraqi security units to fight was the only ``failure'' Bush cited. But it was one, he added paternalistically, that ``we've learned from.''

Resolve is a start, but a successful Iraq policy will require of Bush realism and candor. 

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