Every once in a while a politician stumbles into telling the truth. Even George W. Bush. Unwittingly, of course.

At his Tuesday press conference, Bush dropped one of the biggest bombshells of his presidency: American troops would not leave Iraq on his watch. Not in 2006 or 2008. Let John McCain or Hillary Clinton make that call. Bush’s plan for victory amounts to: someone else clean up my mess. If Bush were a five-year-old, he’d undoubtedly receive a spanking.

His "plan" is the inverse of Colin Powell’s famous Pottery Barn rule. Bush broke Iraq, never acknowledged owning it and now refuses to fix it.

The White House quickly tried to spin their own spin. The President’s counselor, Dan Bartlett, said Bush’s comment had been "over-interpreted." White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush never said what he said. Troops will come home, McClellan insisted, just not all of them. And don’t you dare ask when, pesky media. It’s your fault we’re talking about this in the first place.

 

I think some of the coverage also seemed to leave the impression with readers or viewers that the President was saying that there will be large or significant numbers of troops in Iraq after he leaves office, and that’s not what the question was. The question was will there be zero — when will there be zero or no American troops in Iraq. So he was referring to that specific question.

 

I’m sure that explanation will satisfy the 61 percent of Americans who disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war. CNN’s John Roberts rightly told Bartlett: "You’ve given Democrats a real opening here."

If only they would take it. Sure, Harry Reid called Bush "dangerously incompetent." And Ted Kennedy noted that "the patience of the American people is wearing thin." No surprise there. But most of the party’s leaders, including virtually all of the prospective nominees for the ’08 nomination, stuck to silence.

MSNBC right-winger Joe Scarborough, of all people, nicely summarized the current debate: "When it comes to getting out of Iraq, Republicans may be clueless, but Democrats are spineless."