WASHINGTON – Awaiting the recommendations of a commission exploring U.S. options in Iraq, the White House on Thursday emphatically ruled out some proposals to end the war.
Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said a suggestion to divide Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions, each with high degrees of autonomy, was a "nonstarter." Similarly, he said a phased withdrawal of American troops — perhaps by 5 percent every two months — also was a "nonstarter."
"You withdraw when you win," Snow said. "Phased withdrawal is a way of saying, `Regardless of what the conditions are on the ground, we're going to get out of Dodge.' "
The notions of partitioning Iraq and withdrawing troops have been floated recently as a blue-ribbon commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III searches for a bipartisan approach. Baker has said there are alternatives other than "stay the course and cut and run."
Among other ideas, the panel is considering whether to set a timetable for withdrawal and whether to solicit help from Iran and Syria to stop the fighting, according to Leon Panetta, a member of the advisory group and one-time chief of staff for former President Clinton. Panetta says no decisions have been made.
The commission's work has been portrayed by some as a way of providing political cover for Bush to change course and scale down the U.S. role, which has cost the lives of at least 2,785 members of the U.S. military since the beginning of the war in March 2003. In October alone, more than 70 American troops have been killed, putting the month on course to be the bloodiest for U.S. forces in nearly two years.
Snow said Bush would take the commission's recommendations seriously but that they were simply advisory suggestions. The White House has said Bush would not feel bound by the group's proposals, which are not due to be released until after the November elections.
The White House also tried to clarify Bush's remarks Wednesday when he said the surge of violence in Iraq "could be" comparable to the 1968 Tet offensive that prompted Americans to lose support for the Vietnam War.
"The president was making a point that he's made before, which is that terrorists try to exploit pictures and try to use the media as conduits for influencing public opinion in the United States," Snow said.
Acknowledging that the Tet offensive "was successful from a propaganda point of view," Snow said the violence in Iraq would not have the same result.
"The important thing to remember is, the president's determined it's not going to happen with Iraq because you have a president who is determined to win," he said. "And the strategy is a threefold strategy that involves security, economics and political reconciliation, working with the Iraqis. And we'll continue to make adjustments as necessary to pursue victory."
"But the one thing that nobody should have any doubt about is that we're going win," Snow said.
He agreed that the Tet offensive had become shorthand for the point at which the Vietnam War changed course but, again, said there was no parallel with Iraq.
"We do not think that there's been a flipover point," Snow said. "But more importantly, from the standpoint of the government and the standpoint of this administration, we are going to continue pursuing victory aggressively."