The President also went out of his way last week to say he was inclined to favor an expansion of "end strength" in the Army and the Marine Corps in general. That decision is about Iraq but is not about a surge: Bush had a near revolt on his hands from the service chiefs, who feel the Iraq deployment has depleted readiness, hurt morale and left the U.S. with only the thinnest reserves to fight elsewhere in the world. The Army chief of staff said in public that the Army was "broken" and the Marine Corps Commandant made similar complaints. Bush had to do something to ease that condition and he knows there is support for such an expansion in Congress. While it would take several years to recruit, train and equip the new units, Bush's inclination here underscores how much damage the war has done to force structure. My own guess is that Bush will tout this expansion regularly in the coming weeks, not so much because it would do anything to ease conditions in Iraq in the the near term it won't but because it implies that he is mobilizing, once again reapplying his game face.
Which brings us to the last development of the week. Bush tried to make it clear in his press conference that whatever Americans' dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war, next year would not look much different from the one that is coming to a close. This was, said the Administration official, a deliberate warning to Americans not to expect a lot of change. "The year 2007 could bring many of the same challenges and sacrifices as 2006," he said. "This was designed to let people know we have a lot more fight left."
It was also plain to see last week that Bush's new approach on Iraq if it can be called that will include a diplomatic push by Secretary of State Condi Rice, aimed not at Iran and Syria, as the Baker Hamilton commission proposed, but at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How sustained an effort this is likely to be is unknowable. Nor is there any word yet on what the Bush team plans to do about the political situation inside Iraq. It appears that the new Bush military strategy is likely to look a lot like the old, only more so.