WASHINGTON – The United States may be ready to reduce troops in Iraq next year if Iraqis continue making progress at the current rate, President Bush's national security adviser said Sunday.
Stephen Hadley appeared on a round of Sunday talk shows to follow up on President Bush's speech on Iraq from the U.S. Naval Academy last week. Hadley echoed Bush's statement that decisions about troop withdrawals would be made when U.S. commanders there felt Iraqis were ready to govern and protect themselves without U.S. help, but said that could come as early as 2006.
"We think that if trends continue and we continue to make the progress and the Iraqis continue to make the progress we're making, we'll be in a position sometime next year for us to — for the commanders on the ground to make their assessments," Hadley said on ABC's "This Week." "And it may be at that point they will come to the president and say, we want to make some adjustments."
Hadley said the deaths in Iraq, now above 2,100, have been very difficult for the president. Still, he said Bush expects insurgent attacks will increase in the next couple of weeks before Iraq's Dec. 15 elections.
Hadley was repeatedly asked on "FOX News Sunday" whether Vice President Dick Cheney was wrong when he said last May that the insurgency was in its last throes, but he would not directly answer. "Clearly, there's a lot more work to do," he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he also thinks it is possible to bring U.S. troops home in the next year or two, "but it's going to be tough." He said one of the biggest mistakes that the Bush administration made in fighting the war was to have too few troops in Iraq.
"We've made serious mistakes, and I'm frustrated by them, and most Americans are, too," McCain said on "Meet the Press." "But most Americans, I think, still appreciate that if we had some kind of premature withdrawal that the consequences would be very severe."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said Bush has an uphill struggle to convince Americans that he can be successful in Iraq. He said civil war there is possible. "That would be catastrophic, not only for Iraq but the Middle East and for our interests," Lugar said.
Some Democrats criticized Bush for not being more aggressive about troops withdrawals.
Bush's former campaign rival, Sen. John Kerry said it's more dangerous for the mission to keep troops in Iraq in such large numbers. The Massachusetts Democrat has called for Bush to bring home 20,000 troops if the December elections are successful and he said Sunday that there should also be a political summit in the region immediately.
Kerry said if he would not have voted for the resolution authorizing war if he knew then what he knows now.
"They misled us and misled the nation," Kerry said.