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Bush clings to a lost cause in Iraq

George W. Bush sounds increasingly like your average defiant teenager. The teenager won't clean his room, and the president won't leave Iraq.

The president's latest news conference was another installment of rebel with a cause that a shrinking number of Americans believe in.

''We're not leaving so long as I'm president,'' promised - or threatened - Bush.

Acknowledging that public support for the war continues to wane, the president said, ''These are challenging times, and they're difficult times, and they're straining the psyche of our country.'' But as Senator John Kerry correctly pointed out, ''The American psyche isn't the problem. The problem is this administration's disastrous Iraq policy.'' In fact, the presidential psyche, not the national psyche, is a big problem.

Bush, the stubborn, won't leave Iraq. And even worse, he won't admit mistakes relative to getting us there in the first place, or military miscues since, when it comes to carrying out the mission, he dooms us to travel the same misguided path as long as he remains in the White House.

What's a nation to do? Ground the commander in chief for the rest of his term and take away his car keys?

Bush - or rather Karl Rove - wants Iraq to be the defining debate in upcoming elections. They are gambling on it. They figure they can pull off the tried-and-true Republican song and dance one more time: They scare the country and marginalize those who challenge war in Iraq as left-wing moonbats who don't understand the true nature of the terrorist threat.

Bring it on, Mr. President.

The presidential rationale for staying in Iraq is the same old, same old. People know it and are weary of it.

During the news conference, Bush acknowledged that Iraq had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He admitted that ''some didn't think we ought to go in there in the first place.'' But, now that we're there, leaving ''before the mission is complete will send the wrong message to the enemy and will create a more dangerous world....... Chaos in Iraq would be very unsettling in the region.'' You don't have to be a US secretary of state to conclude that the region looks pretty unsettled as it is. Summer was interrupted by scenes of carnage from war between Israel and Hezbollah. That pushed the deadly, daily news from Iraq off the front page, but it did not erase this country's understanding of what is happening in that imploding country.

We may have been shaking sand from our beach blankets, but still we heard the head of US Central Command acknowledge that Iraq could descend into civil war. ''I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war,'' General John Abizaid testified earlier this month before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

And, we see the faces of young soldiers cropping up much too frequently in our newspapers and on our TV screens. The lucky ones are maimed, but alive; the unlucky ones are dead, never again to defy their parents by leaving piles of dirty laundry on their bedroom floor.

Taken cumulatively, the images make it hard to imagine politicians of either party anxious to embrace Bush's approach in Iraq. US Senator Joseph Lieberman lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut due in large measure to his support for Bush's war policy. Now running as an independent, Lieberman is finally criticizing Bush for not sending more troops into Iraq. Even those who reluctantly conclude the United States cannot leave Iraq to chaos must certainly welcome a new plan for accomplishing that mission.

''We're not going to leave Iraq before the job is done, and we'll complete the mission in Iraq. I can't tell you exactly when it's going to be done,'' Bush said at his news conference.

Nor can the president tell us how.

When it comes to Iraq, Bush, the rebel with a lost cause, continues to defy one thing above all: logic.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is

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