l APRIL 13: “One of the interesting things people ask me is, ‘Can you ever win the war on terror?* Of course you can.” July 14: “I have a clear vision and a strategy to win the war on terror.” August 29: “I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.” President Bush's shift of position on victory against terrorism, from certitude in April to doubt in August, is remarkable although many will think that his latest appreciation of the true nature of the war on terror is broadly correct and much to be preferred to his earlier gung-ho approach. Still, the question remains: What has made him change his mind on the eve of his endorsement by the Republican Convention for a second term? Or has he really changed his mind? After the President expressed his doubts in a TV interview on Monday his press secretary, Scott McLellan, told reporters that he had been speaking about winning the war “in the conventional sense” and that it would require a “generational” commitment to defeat terrorism.

THIS is the second change in the President's hardline position in a few days. Last week he acknowledged that the US had “miscalculated” over the insurgency in Iraq that followed the speedy military victory there. At first sight it may seem that such shifts leave Mr Bush open to criticism from his opponent in the presidential campaign. Yet when Mr Kerry was asked on Monday whether the war on terrorism could be won, he replied, “Absolutely.” Many people will think Mr Bush is now right and Mr Kerry is wrong.