WASHINGTON – President Bush's words about the war in Iraq (search) have moderated since the feisty "Bring 'em on!" directed at those who would attack U.S. forces and undermine creation of a free government.
Consider his remarks on June 28, when he said that Iraq's prime minister and president had told him "that their goal is to eventually take full responsibility for the security of their country. And America wants Iraqi forces to take that role."
Those words signaled that Bush has begun working up to the moment when the United States officially makes its move toward the door -- leaving Baghdad.
Few expect the Bush administration to acknowledge it is packing up to leave Iraq. The temporary government has just taken over and is trying to steady itself.
Bush, mindful that terrorist would welcome a haven in a weakened, abandoned Iraq, has taken pains to avoid giving the impression of a full-fledged American pullout.
"Iraq today still has many challenges to overcome. We recognize that," Bush also said June 28 while in Turkey for a NATO (search) summit.
Foreign policy analysts see some recent U.S. actions as reflecting a decided shift toward an exit strategy. They say the United States is showing more deference to the United Nations (search) and to NATO allies that have agreed to train Iraq's military.
A government in exit mode engages in "the so-called Vietnamization process," said James McCormick, political science chairman at Iowa State University. Major decisions about security are left to local officials or the incoming leadership, with offers to help when needed.
"That was the classic part of the exit strategy that the Nixon administration tried" in Vietnam, McCormick said. "We're seeing some of that, but the problem is the Iraqi security forces are not sufficiently developed for that turnover to take place."
Last week, U.S. envoy Nicholas Burns (search) told reporters in Belgium that the administration expected NATO instructors to begin training Iraqi security forces this summer. There is "every reason now for us all to help" the Iraqis, Burns said.
Analyst Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute (search) noted that Bush allowed U.N. envoyLakhdar Brahimi (search) to determine who would run Iraq in the short term and expressed a willingness to leave Iraq if the interim government made that request.
"That does not seem, to me, to fit the standard-issue definition of tough and resolute," Ornstein said. "They're clearly changing their policy today in Iraq. It's radically different than it was a year ago, or six months ago, and it's clearly changed in response to the environment and political circumstances."
Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, 2003. On July 2, 2003, Bush promised that the United States would stay in Iraq until it had completed the creation of a free government there. To those who would attack U.S. forces in an attempt to deter that mission, Bush said: "My answer is bring 'em on."
Since then, Bush has had to bow to a few realities, such as an insurgency that has killed or wounded more American soldiers than anticipated, and his inability to get large-scale troop commitments from other countries to ease the load on the U.S. military.
The United States set a June 30 deadline for transferring power in Baghdad and beat its own deadline by two days. Other signs of an exit, such as timelines for drawing down U.S. forces, are not yet evident, said Cato Institute analyst Christopher Preble.
"You can't have an exit strategy without that," Preble said. "It is essential that the Bush administration go public with such a plan, so that the Iraqi government can take prudent measures to prepare for their own defense."
On the day of transfer, Bush said the United States and Iraq were "moving forward on every element of our five-part plan" for Iraqi self-rule. He committed the United States to being there for the Iraqis, hunting down insurgents and protecting the country's infrastructure as Iraq's new leaders prepare for elections.
Still, the president said, "The struggle is, first and foremost, an Iraqi struggle."