WASHINGTON – President Bush will detail his new Iraq strategy in an address to the nation Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET, the White House announced Monday.
Besides an order to increase up to 20,000 troops in the country, FOX News confirmed Monday that the plan also will include establishing a set of benchmarks that the government there will be expected to reach in an effort to stabilize the country in the face of heightening sectarian tensions.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Monday the president "understands there is a lot of public anxiety" about the war. He also said Americans want to prevent another attack on U.S. soil, and repeated the Bush administration's long-held view on the war in Iraq, saying confronting terrorists there is better than doing it here.
Snow said he would not discuss resolutions and budget items that would have to be approved by Congress, but the White House welcomes "debate about the particulars in the way forward."
The list of benchmarks sought by the administration are ones discussed with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during a two-hour, secure video teleconference last Thursday. Al-Maliki is expected to outline them in a speech to his country on either Monday or Tuesday.
The benchmarks were first published in Monday editions of The New York Times and will include rallying more Sunnis and Baath Party members to be part of the political process and working on a structure for distributing the country's oil revenue equally.
The officials said the U.S. would hold Iraq to the timetables set, but would not go into any specific details on what any possible penalties could be.
As Bush's policy speech neared, several lawmakers — both Democrat and Republican — were making their positions known on possible troop level hikes, greater financial commitment and no timeframe for withdrawal.
Though much of the talk is centered on opposition to the president's plan, some members also recognize they are limited in their ability to stop him.
"There are going to be many, many hearings, 10, 15, a series of hearings by various different committees over the next three weeks, four weeks, on this proposal. This is a serious issue confronting this country. Iraq has probably been our biggest immediate challenge, how we move forward. All of us would like to have success," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer , D-Md., on "FOX News Sunday."
"There's not much I can do about it. Not much anybody can do about it. [Bush] is commander in chief," said Sen. Joe Biden , D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on NBC's "Meet the Press." "If he surges another 20, 30, or whatever number he's going to, into Baghdad, it'll be a tragic mistake, in my view, but, as a practical matter, there's no way to say, 'Mr. President, stop.'"
Bush's proposal is expected to add as many as 20,000 American troops through extending deployments and bringing reinforcements in early. Most of those troops would head to Baghdad to try to stop neighborhood violence but some Marines -- likely two battalions -- will be placed in al-Anbar province.
The president's plan also may suggest supplementing much-needed reconstruction and a jobs program for Iraqis with a $1 billion investment.
Some familiar with the plan say Bush is favoring extending micro-loans to small business, helping place Iraqis in State Department-run programs that coordinate local reconstruction efforts and increasing the amount of money that military commanders can spend quickly on local projects to improve the daily lives of Iraqis.
That would include upping appropriations for the Commander's Emergency Response Program, set up in 2003 to give field commanders money to solve local problems quickly and show American compassion and good will. The program was allocated $753 million in the 2006 budget year.
The president has already shifted personnel at the top of the U.S. military hierarchy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates started working last month. Last week, Bush announced he was replacing Gen. George Casey, head of the Multinational Forces in Iraq with Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. He picked Adm. William Fallon, who commands American forces in the Pacific, to replace retiring Gen. John Abizaid as head of U.S. Central Command.
Abizaid and Casey have both expressed qualms in recent weeks about boosting U.S. forces in Iraq, saying 20,000 more troops would only be a short-term fix that could not be sustained nor useful without a change in U.S. strategic goals. About 140,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq now.
The 110th Congress convened last week, and despite Democratic insistence on a five-day work week, House leaders agreed to start this week's schedule on Tuesday so lawmakers — particularly those from Ohio and Florida — could attend or participate in BCS national football championship activities.
That means the countdown for the "the first 100 hours" agenda won't start until Tuesday. While the topics are aimed at domestic priorities, lawmakers are also gearing up for the president's proposal. Some members of Congress are expected to meet with Bush on Wednesday. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., is offering up a policy address that will criticize any increase in troops and hearings are scheduled on Capitol Hil on the president's proposal. Among them, on Thursday, Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace will testify in front of the House Armed Services Committee on the way forward in Iraq.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said one of his priorities — to be addressed in upcoming hearings — is to make sure the money being allocated for Iraq isn't misspent.
"It seems to me our top priority as the chief investigative and oversight committee is to make sure that taxpayers' funds are no being wasted, that there's no fraud and abuse," Waxman told ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."
"These are the taxpayers' dollars and what we've seen so far in Iraq, according to the government's own auditors, is billions of dollars that have gone to waste and corruption and graft. We're going to look into that more carefully. Only a small part of the money spent in Iraq has been audited, but what we've seen is very, very frightening," Waxman said.
Congress is also expecting another emergency budget request to pay for the war itself after the Pentagon announced it needs $100 billion more to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of this fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
That kind of request will not be received well from the Democrat-controlled Congress. On CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted that Democrats may try to deny funding to the Pentagon if the president chooses to escalate the war.
"If the president wants to add to this mission he is going to have to justify it. And this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions," Pelosi said.
Pelosi added that Congress will not abandon U.S. troops in Iraq, but Democrats will sort out which money is paying for "escalation" and which for existing security operations.
Rather than escalation, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have proposed a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces effective within the next four to six months.
"Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed. Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake. They, like us, believe there is no purely military solution in Iraq. There is only a political solution," they wrote in a letter to the president delivered Friday. "Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain. ... We are well past the point of more troops for Iraq."
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., immediately scolded the two leaders for "criticizing this new approach even before it is announced."
"In less than 24 hours after opening the new Congress, with calls of working together in the sprit of bipartisanship and putting aside divisive rhetoric, it is disappointing and more than a touch ironic" that Democrats are already rejecting the plan, he said.
While Pelosi and Reid urged against a U.S. troop build up in Iraq, another letter sent to the White House by 28 Republican members of Congress encouraged Bush to move "the 21 Iraqi battalions which are trained and equipped, and which are located in peaceful provinces, into the fight in Baghdad."
The signers noted that eight of the 18 Iraqi provinces experience less than one attack a day and Iraqi forces would be better used elsewhere.
"The key to establishing an adequate security apparatus in any new nation is developing operational capability in military forces. The way to develop mature Iraqi forces is to move all of them into the fight," wrote the Republicans led by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a 2008 presidential hopeful.
In Baghdad, al-Maliki announced Saturday that Iraqi forces would launch a new effort to wrest control of neighborhoods in the capital from Sunni insurgents and Shiite death squads.
Despite the hesitation by some Democrats and Republicans to commit more U.S. bodies to Iraq, some Republicans say they back the president's plan.
"I think we need to keep in mind the goal there is to win," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "And the definition of winning is to have a reasonably stable government that's an ally in the War on Terror, that is stable enough to allow us to begin to draw down our troops. ... I think to basically begin to withdraw before the job is finished is a mistake. If the president recommends what we seem to believe he's going to recommend, I intend to support him."
Separately, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., added that the Pelosi-Reid doctrine will have disastrous consequences, but an increase in U.S. forces must be accompanied by a political solution in Iraq.
"A surge of troops is a result of the current strategy not working, and it, by itself, will not lead to a successful outcome. But a precondition to political stability and economic recovery is security," Graham said, appearing with Biden. "So I will support the idea of putting more American troops on the ground in Iraq with a purpose ... To me, it is a strategy that is based on the needs of the moment. Even though it may not be politically popular for the moment, I think it is in our best interests long term."
FOX News' Bret Baier and Rudi Bakhtiar and The Associated Press contributed to this report.