‘HE HAS BUILT UP EXPECTATIONS’…. As far as the Bush White House was concerned, December posed a bit of a challenge: in the midst of the crisis in Iraq, the president had to a) ignore the Iraq Study Group; b) appear engaged as American support for the conflict evaporated; c) stop pretending we’re “absolutely” winning; and d) convince as many people as possible that he’s still capable of charting a course for “victory,” whatever that might be. He just needed time to put a new plan together.

It’s that last point that seems to have become problematic. As Greg Sargent noted, “Despite White House efforts to diminish public expectations by depicting the future of the war as a long, hard slog, Bush has inadvertently inflated the public’s expectations of him by dwelling so long on choosing his plan for what he calls the ‘new way forward.’” From the AP:

By the time he announces his Iraq plan in January, roughly two months will have passed since a humbling election for Republicans brought a promise of a “new way forward.”

There might as well be a drum roll.

“He has built up expectations,” said David Gergen, a former White House adviser in the administrations of presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. “People are saying, ‘OK, if you’ve spent all this time and effort on it, you better have a pretty darn good plan.’”

Oddly enough, managing expectations is supposed to be one of the White House’s strengths, but as the AP piece explained, this hasn’t worked according to plan. Every question about the war — of the president, of Tony Snow, of administration officials — has been put off of late with the same response, “We’re working on a new way forward right now.”

Not surprisingly, this has created a sense of anticipation. The scrutiny, naturally, will be intense. Americans are looking for something drastically different from the status quo, and opposition to a McCain-backed escalation plan is enormous.

Your move, Mr. President. No pressure.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.