WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After watching all of the talk about Iraq in President Bush's news conference Thursday, I couldn't get a certain song by the popular band Green Day out of my head -- "Wake Me Up When September Ends."
You know the one that begins, "Summer has come and passed/The innocent can never last/Wake me up when September ends."
Five years into the war, it has come to this: All the commander-in-chief really has left is a plea for patience from his fellow Republicans until mid-September. That's when he's getting a progress report from Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, on how the surge of nearly 30,000 U.S. troops is working.
But senior Republicans like Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana have told the president he can't wait until September -- he has to change course now.
At Thursday's press conference, the president, long accused by critics of being stubborn, seemed to be trying so very hard to show he's not dismissing the GOP criticism.
Mr. Bush said he "listened very carefully to what they have to say," but in the next breath made clear maybe he's not necessarily listening that closely to the Republican pleas to let them help him chart a new course. Watch Ed Henry explain how the president's political support is eroding »
"I don't think Congress ought to be running the war," he said. "I think they ought to be funding our troops. I'm certainly interested in their opinion, but trying to run a war through resolution is a prescription for failure as far as I'm concerned, and we can't afford to fail."
I thought it was significant that while the president has previously said the war is testing the American psyche, he added a new line today. "There's war fatigue in America," said Mr. Bush, who also let his guard down a bit to admit he's feeling a bit of political fatigue himself.
While the president again repeated that he doesn't govern by polls, he did acknowledge a glimmer of frustration about how low his standing is with the American people -- even as he stood his ground when pressed by Ed Chen of Bloomberg News about how he can prosecute the war with such little popular support.
"You know, I guess I'm like any other political figure -- everybody wants to be loved, just sometimes the decisions you make and the consequences don't enable you to be loved," the president said. "And so when it's all said and done, Ed, if you ever come down and visit the old, tired, me down there in Crawford, I will be able to say I looked in the mirror and made decisions based upon principle, not based upon politics. And that's important to me."
Also important to the president is victory in Iraq, which is becoming increasingly difficult, based on Bush's own interim report to Congress on the Iraqi government.
The report shows the Iraqis lag far behind in meeting key political benchmarks. Nevertheless, the president again told reporters the glass is half-full, focusing on some progress on the military side.
"Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won, see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism," he said.
Optimism about a report showing the Iraqi government is still in desperate shape? That's a tough sell to the American people, as are suggestions this week by White House spokesman Tony Snow that the president's new strategy is only just beginning because the last group of the surge troops arrived in Iraq in late June -- Mr. Bush announced the plan in January and troop levels started increasing in February.
"Nearly five years of combat, 3,610 American lives lost, 26,500 wounded, and more than $450 billion spent, and the White House says we are at the 'starting line' in Iraq?" said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Illinois. "The president's strategy of more troops, more money, and more time in Iraq only will produce one thing -- more of the same. It's time for a new direction in Iraq."
Not surprisingly, Democrats continue to hammer the president. What's different now is that senior Republicans are calling for a new direction too, and yet the president is still digging in. And that got me thinking about another line in that Green Day song that might be hauntingly applicable if the war drags on into the next presidency.
"Seven years has gone so fast," the song says. "Wake me up when September ends." E-mail to a friend
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