For Bush, what's at stake is the ability to push ahead with this new plan to rally the public. He's had a series of speeches which have framed the Iraq issue in a way that is likely to prop up support some, but the election is his chance to connect that to real events.

This is not really a strategy document from the Pentagon about fighting the insurgency. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion.

They are in big trouble. Bush's speeches, even as late as December, managed to shore up public opinion a little bit. But what you can do with speeches at this point is pretty limited. It's not even clear who's listening.

If FEMA had responded well, we wouldn't be where we are today.

It's certainly very unusual to have even retired military officers being this public about their opposition. But I don't think it's improper at all. They've been careful not to violate the core tenet of civilian control - none of them has said these things publicly while on active duty.

This kind of story hits at one of the president's few remaining strengths, the perception that he is principled. The president's credibility on Iraq is already low outside the Republican Party, and this digs the hole deeper.