Bush to announce new Iraq strategy next year
WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush will delay announcing a new Iraq strategy until the new year, the White House said on Tuesday amid polls showing Americans are more pessimistic about the war and want a change.
After Bush held talks with U.S. military commanders about their assessment and possible options, the White House said the president’s new policy would be presented next year, probably in January.
“He decided that, frankly, it’s not ready yet,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
Aides previously said Bush hoped to announce a new strategy next week, before the Christmas holiday.
Bush is facing conflicting advice on how to shift course. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group report last week recommended pulling out most U.S. combat troops by early 2008 with a rapid increase in training of Iraqi forces.
But Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), an Arizona Republican, has called for a short-term increase in U.S. troops, and other military experts who met with Bush on Monday disagreed with the Iraq Study Group’s position on withdrawing troops.
New public opinion polls offered Bush a sobering picture of American doubts about his policy. A CBS News poll found Americans have never been as pessimistic about the war, with more than 60 percent saying it was a mistake.
“The president believes that in putting together a way forward he will be able to address a lot of the concerns that the American public has, the most important of which is, what is your plan for winning?” Snow said.
Bush presided over a secure videoconference on Tuesday with U.S. military commanders in Baghdad, Gens. John Abizaid and George Casey, and his national security team at the White House, including Robert Gates, who will be sworn in as the new defense secretary next week.
GATES INPUT SOUGHT
Bush wants Gates, who plans an early visit to Iraq, to review options, Snow said. “His input is not only going to be valuable, but necessary as a man who is going to be responsible for implementing a large part of this.”
Bush met Iraq’s vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, as he tries to bolster support for the struggling government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
“Our objective is to help the Iraqi government deal with the extremists and killers, and support the vast majority of Iraqis who are reasonable people who want peace,” Bush told Hashemi in the Oval Office.
“Whatever the sacrifices, my family and the country, at the end of the day, we have no other option but to maintain this momentum and to struggle until we meet that success,” said Hashemi. Gunmen have killed two of his brothers and a sister.
Bush has held a series of meetings this week to discuss the future in Iraq after giving a largely cool reception to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton.
“The touchstone is not the Baker-Hamilton commission, it’s the situation in Iraq and it’s the situation in the region. That is the touchstone,” Snow said.
More than half of the respondents, or 55 percent, in a USA Today/Gallup poll said they want most U.S. troops withdrawn within a year, but only 18 percent believe that will happen.
An ABC News poll found seven in 10 Americans disapproved of Bush’s handling of Iraq and 61 percent said the war there was not worth fighting.
A new poll by the Pew Research Center said that for the first time in a Pew survey, half of Americans say they think Iraq will turn out to be another Vietnam, while just a third expect the U.S. to accomplish its goals there.
The unpopular war gave Democrats control of Congress in November elections which they see as a mandate for a new direction.
“Waiting and delaying on Iraq serves no one’s interests. The president needs to understand how important and urgent change is for Iraq and for our troops,” incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said.