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From today’s NY Times (my emphasis):

At a news conference that coincided with the report’s release, President Bush said, ”I believe we should succeed in Iraq and I know we must.”

In remarks clearly aimed at his critics, he added, ”When we start drawing down our forces in Iraq, it will (be) because our military commanders say the conditions on the ground are right, not because pollsters say it’ll be good politics.”

When the archive of George W. Bush’s clichés is at last assembled, I’m not sure if “conditions on the ground” will command the most attention. However, I can’t think of a string of four words that so tragically illuminate everything with which this administration has not been concerned, in Iraq or elsewhere. We might think, for example, of The Decider in California ineptly strumming a guitar, gobbling John McCain’s birthday pastries and attending a San Diego Padres game while “conditions on the ground” swept away vast sections of New Orleans. We might also recall the pre-war warnings — from actual military commanders — that “conditions on the ground” didn’t necessary lend themselves to the light forces being assembled for the anticipated cakewalk.

And all of this is merely an aside to the “conditions on the ground” reported by Hans Blix’s inspectors, whose observations were ultimately deemed not nearly so relevant as the conditions on the ground at the Weekly Standard and in Douglas Feith’s alternative intelligence unit at the Pentagon.

Like Bush’s oft- and self-described “patience,” Bush’s invocation of “conditions on the ground” is clearly intended to suggest for us the actions of a pragmatic leader, guided in his work by nothing more elaborate than what the circumstances unambiguously demand. This fable mitigates the image an uninformed rube, hewing only to the Archimedean advice of Jesus and Dick Cheney. Most Americans, of course, understand these empirical pretensions for what they are and have stopped paying attention (I suspect) to nearly everything the man has to say.

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