WASHINGTON – President Bush is open to some of the major change in Iraq policy that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested in a classified memo days before he resigned, the White House's national security adviser said Sunday.
The memo discussed putting "substantial" U.S. forces near Iraq's borders with Iran and Syria, withdrawing American troops from vulnerable positions and moving to a quick reaction status, and "taking our hand off the cycle seat" through the start of "modest withdrawals" of U.S. and coalition forces.
"Of course they're being considered," Bush adviser Stephen Hadley said.
"At some point obviously, we would like to begin bringing troops back home. The president has said that — he's talked many times, 'As Iraqis stand up, we can stand down."' I think the important thing is that we're pushing on an open door," Hadley said.
He did not perceive Rumsfeld's memo as a late effort to save his job. Rumsfeld resigned Nov. 8, a day after Democrats swept to power in the elections. Bush has nominated former CIA Director Robert Gates to take over at the Pentagon; his confirmation hearing is set for Tuesday in the Senate.
The administration is conducting a broad review of Iraq strategy and is awaiting the release Wednesday of recommendations from the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan group of advisers.
"The president had asked agencies to begin a review of our policy in Iraq, and what Secretary Rumsfeld did, I think, very helpfully, was put together a sort of laundry list of ideas that ought to be considered as part of that review," Hadley said.
"The president really wanted us to open the aperture, consider all ideas, and it was input by Secretary Rumsfeld, helpful input into that process," he said.
As for the commission's upcoming report, Hadley said Bush wants to know what congressional leaders think of the recommendations. "He'll want to hear more what the Iraqi government will want to do. All of these things he will put together in the way forward on Iraq."
Also Sunday, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq was asked if he agreed with Rumsfeld's recommendation that the U.S. greatly reduce its military presence in Iraq.
"Strategically, over the long term, that is right thing to do. The question is whether in the current circumstances in the short term that is the right thing to do," Zalmay Khalilzad said.
Rumsfeld, in the memo first reported in Sunday's New York Times, said the Iraq strategy is not working and a major change in tactics is needed.
"We would have liked to see more progress sooner," the ambassador said when asked about Rumsfeld's bleak assessment. "There are areas in which changes are important to look at to see if we could do better."
Hadley appeared on ABC's "This Week,"' while the ambassador spoke on a cable news network.