On his recent trip to Iraq, President Bush commented about the future of the US mission. "General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tell me if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces," he said near the end of his speech in Anbar province.
Speculation abounded back in Washington. Was Bush hinting that at least some US troops might be coming home soon? Was he heeding the calls of his Joint Chiefs of Staff, who advocate cutting the US presence in half over the next year? Could the war even end on Bush’s watch?
Not likely. In an interview with USA Today published this morning, White House chief of staff Josh Bolten said that "I don’t think that any realistic observer thinks that by the time the president leaves office in 2009 it’ll be possible— safely–to get all or even most of the American troop presence out."
Critics of the war have suspected all along that President Bush would try to run out the clock and pass the mess in Iraq off to his successor. "Josh Bolten basically says ‘we’re gonna be there with troops for a long time,’" responded John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff from 1998-2001. "’We’re handing this baby off.’"
President Bush admitted as much in a rare moment of candor in March 2006. "Will there come a day," he was asked, "when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?"
"That, of course, is an objective," Bush answered. "And that will be decided by future Presidents and future governments of Iraq."
A year later, Bush said he envisioned a "Korea model" presence for US troops in Iraq. At least 37,000 troops have been stationed in the Korean peninsula for over 50 years.