WASHINGTON -- President Bush's acknowledged frustration and his team's reported discouragement over the war in Iraq is testing the White House's resolve as never before.
As the terrorists continue to wreak destruction in Baghdad and throughout Iraq, and U.S. casualties continue to rise, it has become the focus of the midterm elections in many states, dominating the national dialogue and, of course, last week's presidential news conference.
Bush showed no inkling that Iraq's increased sectarian violence and the intermittent raids on Iraqi, U.S. and coalition forces have weakened his resolve to stand by the infant democracy and its struggle to survive. But, for the first time, he admitted that "sometimes I'm frustrated" and acknowledged the war was "straining the psyche of the country."
While he continued to defend the conflict, tying it to the larger war on global terrorism and vowing to stand by the Iraqis until "the job is done," Washington Post reporter Peter Baker noted that this time Bush did not use the word he has used many times before to defend his policies there: Progress.
That frustration is testing the confidence in Bush's high command, too. "While still committed to the venture, officials have privately told friends and associates outside government that they have grown discouraged in recent months," Baker reported last week.
Exuding confidence in the mission is critical to its success and to public support -- in this war as in any other.
Biographer Stephen E. Ambrose wrote that in the planning and conduct of the war in Europe, supreme allied commander Dwight Eisenhower did not want anyone on his staff who harbored or expressed any doubts or pessimism about the success of their mission to liberate Europe.
Of course, World War II was an entirely different war than the shadowy, hit-and-run guerrilla war being fought In Iraq where unseen terrorists and disguised suicide bombers are fighting a war of attrition that they believe will wear us down to the point where we leave.
But Bush said last week that we will not leave during his presidency, at least not until the Iraqi defense forces are capable of fighting the Al Qaeda terrorists on their own. The U.S.-trained Iraqi military has taken command of a number of brigades, and will take over more units in the months to come, but they are not able to defend their country without our assistance.
It seems clear by now that a preliminary drawdown of U.S. troops later this year is not going to happen, setting up a scenario in the fall where the terrorists will attempt to kill as many U.S. soldiers and Iraqis as they can to influence the election's outcome.