WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush will tell the nation Wednesday night that he should have sent more troops to Iraq to fight the war during the earlier stages of the nearly four-year conflict, a senior administration official revealed.
Speaking from the Library — a White House room never before used by the president for a public address — Bush will also acknowledge that the rules of engagement were flawed and will seek support for a new strategy to win the unpopular war, presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said.
The new approach includes sending 21,500 additional U.S. troops — 17,500 to Baghdad and 4,000 to al Anbar province — to join the 132,000 already there. Their purpose will be to help "break the cycle" of violence to "allow for the type of breathing space that the Iraqis need to get the type of political and economic reconciliation we all know that's necessary for that country to move forward," Bartlett told FOX News.
"President Bush would not commit one additional troop to Baghdad if it weren't based upon a new strategy with new outcomes to be expected," Bartlett said. "And that requires two basic things ... one, there has to be more Iraqi troops on the ground — what we saw last time is that the Iraqis made pledges to bring in Iraqi troops that didn't materialize — and, two, and just as importantly, is that the rules of engagement, the places where these troops can go and actually conduct operations, have to be different."
According to a senior administration official speaking on background ahead of the president's speech, Bush will say that the hopes of 2005 were dashed in 2006 by sectarian violence that overwhelmed the Iraqi political process. He will call the situation in Iraq unacceptable to the American people and to him and admit the current strategy is not working.
Two things are clear, said the official -- no silver bullet will fix the problems in Iraq and America cannot afford to fail.
The official said 80 percent of the sectarian violence is occurring within a 30-mile radius of Baghdad so getting the capital city under control is job one. This will be achieved through better, more complete operations, adequate resourcing that includes an Iraqi component and changing the rules of engagement to allow Iraqi and U.S. forces to "deal with" militias or whoever stands in the way of progress.
The troop surge will begin with the movement of paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division now stationed in Kuwait from Fort Bragg, N.C. Much of the expected increase would come from speeding up the timetable for some forces already scheduled to deploy, and keeping others there who were about to leave.
Bush will send 17,500 additional troops to Baghdad, with the first brigade, generally 3,500-4,000 forces, to arrive on Jan. 15, the next brigade on Feb. 15 and the rest every 30 days. Another 4,000 Marines will be sent to al Anbar province in two waves to help Iraqis go after Al Qaeda and establish local control in Sunni areas. The Iraqis will have a total of nine brigades of security forces
Bush was meeting with House and Senate lawmakers ahead of his Wednesday night speech to fill them in on the specifics of his plan. But Democrats are already planning ways to register their opposition to the troop build-up and possibly prevent it, possibly through resolutions that don't have the force of law but will recognize their opposition. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he thinks Democrats have enough GOP support to reject escalation.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has also sponsored legislation to require Bush to get congressional approval before sending more troops to Iraq.
Even Democratic 2008 presidential contender Tom Vilsack, who is leaving his post as Iowa governor, told state lawmakers Tuesday to register condemnation of Bush's plan.
"Now the president and the Congress are poised to make a big mistake even bigger," the Democrat told a joint session of the Iowa Legislature in his final condition of the state speech, The Des Moines Register reported.
On the other hand, 2008 Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said he supports an increase in troops, if it's combined with clear milestones and objectives.
"In consultation with generals, military experts and troops who have served on the ground in Iraq, I believe securing Iraqi civilians requires additional troops. I support adding five brigades in Baghdad and two regiments in Al-Anbar province. Success will require rapid deployment," Romney said in a statement.
Bartlett said the president knows that the troop surge will not be an easy sell, but "every bad element in the Middle East is trying to defeat us in Iraq. The War on Terror cannot be won if we fail in Iraq. The consequences could say not be more grave."
He added: "We don't view Ted Kennedy as a hostile enemy. We do view him to be an open and often critic of the war. He has been from the very outset. I don't think that's anything new."
Bush's address to the nation, coming just about a week before his State of the Union speech, is expected to last about 20-25 minutes. In it, he will describe the need for a gradual build-up of U.S. troops along with other steps, including with injections of cash into Iraq's economy and more benchmarks from the Iraqi government.
Bush is expected to say that the infusion of additional American forces will depend on Iraq taking specific steps to curb sectarian violence and make other moves to deal with political and economic problems. The speech will include a call for Iraqis to have control of all 18 Iraqi provinces by November 2007.
The plan also calls for decentralizing reconstruction efforts. Ten units known as Provincial Reconstruction Teams will be expanded to 19. Under State Department control, they will administer some of the economic aid, including an effort to provide small loans to start or expand businesses.
The PR campaign accompanying the new plan, which has been in the making for three months, also calls for detailed briefings to lawmakers and reporters, trips abroad by Cabinet members and a series of appearances by Bush starting with a trip Thursday to Fort Benning, Ga.
Since Friday, Bush has briefed about 100 lawmakers. On Tuesday, he spoke by telephone with key foreign allies. He filled in the leaders of Britain, Australia and Denmark, with more calls planned. The president also has worked closely with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other prominent Iraqi leaders to develop new scenarios to end sectarian violence
Bush is expected to link increases in both U.S. troops and economic aid to moves by the Shiite-led Iraqi government to bridge sectarian divisions. Those include taking steps to curb Shiite militias, enacting a plan to distribute oil revenue to all the country's sects and easing government restrictions on deposed leader Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., told FOX News that Bush is expected to announce that al-Maliki will put up a sizeable Iraqi contribution to the war effort — the senator said it was to be some $11 billion.
One Republican leadership aide confirmed the "sizeable contribution" but could only say it was "in the neighborhood" of $11 billion.
The senior New Mexico senator said Maliki "finally seems to have come to his senses" and accepted that a political solution with the Sunnis is key to any resolution of the war.
Domenici added that he went into his briefing at the White House Monday skeptical about a reported troop surge but emerged firmly on board with the plan. "I have to give it a chance," he said.
Other components of the president's plan include a bit over $1 billion to shore up Iraq's battered economy and create jobs and a call for friendly Mideast countries — some of which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is visiting starting Friday — to increase their aid to Iraq, said a second official, who also requested anonymity.
The president will ignore the recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that he include Syria and Iran in an effort to staunch Iraqi bloodshed, the official said.
FOX News' Bret Baier and Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.