Media commentators speculated that US foreign policy may have reached a turning point after President George W. Bush drew parallels between the situation in Iraq and Vietnam. Bush made the comparison when he said the The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman could be right in arguing that the violent situation in Iraq was the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive, which helped increase public opposition to that war.

Bush’s admission came during one of the deadliest months for US forces since the invasion, with 70 US deaths so far. The Guardian’s Washington correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg, said there was a deepening sense the US was trapped “in an unwinnable situation” that was “further damaging Republican chances in mid-term elections that are less than three weeks away”.

In what the Financial Times called an uncharacteristically gloomy admission, US military spokesman Major-General William Caldwell said the recent surge in violence in Baghdad would require the Pentagon to review its entire security plan for the capital.

The bleak assessment came as official thinking appeared to be shifting on the war. Earlier this week the Los Angeles Times published part of a leaked report from a study group led by Bush family loyalist and former secretary of state James Baker, which is expected to recommend an exit plan for US forces in Iraq. Trumpeting the fact that it, too, called for an exit strategy two years ago, the Financial Times threw its weight behind Baker’s call for talks with Iran and Syria to help stop the Iraqi fighting. “This is the mark of a realist, not an appeaser.”

France’s Liberation also ran an I-told-you-so editorial, saying the US was beginning to show “a nervousness that reflects the lack of strategic perspective of the world’s premier power”. “George Bush and Tony Blair are asking themselves the same question: How can they limit the damage and withdraw in the not too distant future from the quagmire of Iraq?”

H. D. S. Greenway in The Boston Globe said Iraq threatened to destroy the entire US foreign policy frame. “The original goal of a democratic, Israel-friendly, base-providing, oil-guaranteeing, Middle East-transforming Iraq is past redeeming. The best that can be hoped for now is an exit that will be the least damaging to the stability of the region.”

Michael Young, a columnist for Beirut’s The Daily Star, picked on another aspect of Baker’s plan: the breaking up of Iraq into “three highly autonomous regions”. But Young was not convinced: “Partition is a dangerous proposition. A favoured course of uninspired diplomats, partitioning of territories has usually visited little more than trauma on countries, accompanied by war.”

Whereas Young backed his argument by pointing to countries such as India, Palestine, Korea and Cyprus, Ivan Eland in The San Francisco Chronicle used the example of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union to point out that decentralisation and partition can take place peacefully. The civil war would intensify if Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds were not allowed to govern themselves, Eland wrote. “Given Iraq’s recent history, these groups are fighting each other because they fear that the new central government will be used to oppress whatever groups are not in power.”

But not all commentators were content to await the release of the Baker commission report, which is due to be published after next month’s congressional elections. Among those launching a pre-emptive strike was Thomas Sowell in The Post Chronicle. “All this rhetoric about a withdrawal timetable is based on trying to make political hay out of the fact that the Iraq war is unpopular. But all wars have been unpopular with Americans, as they should be.”

The New York Post’s Ralph Peters warned that any softening of US strategy in Iraq would be “dishonest and cowardly”. “We’re confronted by hatreds born of blood and belief, and madmen whose appetite for blood is insatiable.”