Bush buys time, leaves Iraq for next president-papers

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NEW YORK, Sep 14 (Reuters) US President George W Bush's pledge to bring some troops home from Iraq may buy him time with Republican doubters, but his strategy is little changed and he left the task of ending the war to the next president, US newspaper editorials said today.

Bush told Americans in a televised address that forces in Iraq could be cut by about 20,000 by July and he linked the reduction to what he said was progress on the ground, especially in volatile Anbar province and even in Baghdad.

The Washington Post said Bush's strategy of a gradual withdrawal was ''the least bad plan'' since a more hasty troop drawdown would result in massive civilian casualties.

But the paper's editorial said Bush's speech was marred by important omissions: ''The president failed to acknowledge that, according to the standards he himself established in January, the surge of US troops into Iraq has been a failure,'' it said, pointing to the lack of political accord between Iraq's Sunni Arabs, Shi'ites and Kurds.

The New York Times' editorial headlined ''No Exit, No Strategy'' blasted Bush for ''refusing to recognize the truth of his failure in Iraq.'' ''No amount of smoke could obscure the truth: Mr. Bush has no strategy to end his disastrous war and no strategy for containing the chaos he unleashed,'' it said. ''It seems the burden of ending the war will fall to the next president.'' The Wall Street Journal carried an opinion piece that said Republicans had emerged on the front-foot from the past week, in which the top US general in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador reported progress in the war.

STAY THE COURSE? ''Gen. (David) Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker assured the US public that Iraq really is making strides both militarily and politically, and that the US still very much has the opportunity to deliver victory,'' it said.

''The most obvious winners are congressional Republicans. The pressure they had faced to join with Democrats on withdrawal deadlines has now ebbed,'' it said, adding that Bush had bought himself another six to nine months in Iraq.

But the Louisville Courier-Journal was among several newspapers that said the progress reported by Petraeus and Crocker was tenuous. ''Those are assessments to which the Bush administration and its nervous Republican congressional allies will cling desperately, like shipwrecked sailors grabbing at flotsam in a heaving sea,'' it wrote.

''Americans need to be presented with fresh alternatives, such as carefully measured troop withdrawals, intensified regional diplomacy and de facto partition to separate Iraq's warring sectarian factions,'' it said.

''What they are getting is just a new variation of the Bush 'stay the course' foolishness.'' Bush gave no specifics on a timeframe for any troop cuts beyond mid-2008 and said he thought it was important that the United States maintain a ''security engagement'' in Iraq that extends beyond the end of his presidency in January 2009.

The New York Post said Bush had revealed no dramatic changes in overall policy, ''effectively consigning the future of Iraq, if not the entire West Asia, to the American presidential political process.'' It likened the Iraq war to Korea in the 1950s -- ''a seemingly stalemated war in a strategically vital region that dominated a bitterly partisan presidential campaign.'' ''More than 54 years after the fighting ended, America still maintains a significant military presence there,'' it said.

REUTERS RAR AS2100

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