THE PRAETORIAN PRESIDENCY….So how’s the war going? Doyle McManus of the LA Times says the mood in Washington is grimmer than it’s been in decades:

Leslie H. Gelb, a former president of the private Council on Foreign Relations ? and a top Pentagon strategist during the Vietnam War ? said he had never seen confidence sink as quickly in Washington as it has in recent weeks.

“I’ve never heard the kind of dark defeatism I’m hearing now, both in and out of government, including the worst days of the Vietnam War,” said Gelb, a Democrat. “Support for this war is plummeting. In Vietnam, that happened much more slowly, and only after much higher casualties.”

….To counter that spreading sense of disorder and shore up public support, [President] Bush plans to give six major speeches on Iraq in the six weeks remaining before the transfer of sovereignty to the transitional government.

….Officials said there was no immediate sign that Bush was planning to announce any major new initiatives or shifts in policy in Monday’s speech. The main theme, one aide said, will be a familiar one: “Stay the course.” But it may be delivered in a more sober tone than before.

I’ve read several stories about Bush’s planned series of speeches, and they all say pretty much the same thing: they’re just speeches. There will be no policy changes announced.

For some reason, this reminds me of this passage from Jim Fallows’ Atlantic article “Blind Into Baghdad” from a few months ago:

This is the place to note that in several months of interviews I never once heard someone say “We took this step because the President indicated …” or “The President really wanted …” Instead I heard “Rumsfeld wanted,” “Powell thought,” “The Vice President pushed,” “Bremer asked,” and so on. One need only compare this with any discussion of foreign policy in Reagan’s or Clinton’s Administration?or Nixon’s, or Kennedy’s, or Johnson’s, or most others?to sense how unusual is the absence of the President as prime mover….It is possible that the President’s confidants are so discreet that they have kept all his decisions and instructions secret. But that would run counter to the fundamental nature of bureaucratic Washington, where people cite a President’s authority whenever they possibly can (“The President feels strongly about this, so …”).

Giving pretty speeches seems to be about Bush’s only job these days ? aside from fundraising, of course. In the background of almost everything you read and hear is the unspoken assumption that he’s barely even involved in any of the important decisions related to Iraq. Where once we used to worry about an Imperial Presidency, today we have a Praetorian Presidency.

Scary days.

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