Bush: No Bailing on Iraq Before Helping Find Political Solution
WASHINGTON – President Bush said Wednesday that he is not planning on bailing out of Iraq "before the job is done" and will reject other ideas that won't help the Iraqi government "take the necessary and hard steps" to get a political solution to end the violence there.
Bush spoke to reporters after meeting with military commanders at the Pentagon. The topic: options on a way forward in Iraq, including the possibility of sending more troops there to get better control of the insurgency and end sectarian violence.
Calling it a "candid and fruitful discussion," Bush said that in a round of consultations he heard both some interesting ideas and some "ideas that would lead to defeat."
"And I reject those ideas," Bush said with the Joint Chiefs of Staff by his side.
For weeks, Bush has been undertaking an extensive review of the situation in Iraq, and met with military advisers on Tuesday and Wednesday about whether to send more troops in to train the Iraqis and stop unsanctioned militias. Senior officials also urged the administration to pour significantly more funding into equipment for Iraqi security forces, according to a defense specialist familiar with the meetings.
Gen. John Abizaid, top U.S. commander in the Middle East, and Gen. George Casey, the top general in Iraq, want more armored vehicles, body armor and other critical equipment for the Iraqis, said the defense specialist, who requested anonymity because the discussions were private.
Currently, 140,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq. An additional 5,000 advisers are embedded with Iraqi forces.
One military official calls the strategy a "double down," saying the plan is risky, but is more likely to produce victory than anything else that's been suggested by the Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana.
The challenge to such a plan has been outlined by the Army itself, which revealed on Wednesday that it is going to have to rely more on National Guard and Reserve force to help meet extended troop commitments in Iraq. That's despite the fact that the active duty Army has grown recently by about 30,000 troops to 512,000 soldiers.
Bush is being flooded with plans from different panels convened to offer recommendations for getting Iraq back on track. He is delaying making public his new Iraq policy plan until after the first of the year.
Bush said he won't "be rushed into making a decision, a necessary decision."
"I also want the new secretary of defense to have time to evaluate the situation so he can provide serious and deliberate advice to me," he said. Incoming Defense Secretary Bob Gates will be sworn in on Monday. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley is also preparing a report for the president.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the delay was due in part to allow officials to work out the funding and in part because the president wants more information about the ramifications for the U.S. military, Iraq's internal politics, regional relations and other matters.
"What's happened is that the president has been clear that there are a number of things that he wants people to explore and he wants more detailed answers about various options. And, certainly, the work of the Pentagon or the State Department or the NSC or others does not end with the media," Snow said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., about to become Senate majority leader, criticized Bush's decision to delay unveiling the new Iraq plan.
"It has been six weeks since the American people demanded change in Iraq. In that time Iraq has descended further toward all-out civil war and all the president has done is fire Donald Rumsfeld and conduct a listening tour," Reid said. "Talking to the same people he should have talked to four years ago does not relieve the president of the need to demonstrate leadership and change his policy now."
The Iraq Study Group has recommended against adding more U.S. troops to the field, saying 100,000 additional combat soldiers would be needed to put down the insurgency. Instead, the panel wants to pull out about half the troops by March 2008.
The Pentagon plan is said to call for sending 20,000 to 40,000 more troops to Iraq to take on Shiite militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, and renew an offensive in the Sunni stronghold of al-Anbar province. There is some question, however, about how long the United States could maintain a deployment of 160,000 to 180,000 troops there.
That approach is supported by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who along with other U.S. lawmakers, was meeting Wednesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq.
It's also unclear whether the U.S. public would support such an action. Democrats won congressional majorities in the midterm election primarily over discontent with progress in Iraq. Recent polls suggest that only about 12 percent of the American public supports a troop increase while four times that many prefer a fixed timetable for withdrawal. A majority also says now that it wasn't worth it to go into Iraq in the first place.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly eight in 10 Americans favor changing the U.S. mission in Iraq from direct combat to training Iraqi troops, the newspaper reported.
Among the discussions that have been held in and outside of Washington, D.C., is one between Bush and Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi. Last week, the president also met with the leader of the largest Shiite bloc in Iraq's parliament, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim.
On Wednesday, Bush placed calls to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow described both men as moderates who have "pledged their cooperation — not merely in building broader support for the government but also taking action against those who want to destabilize through acts of terror."
Bush has spoken with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the president's top ally in Iraq, and last month, he met with al-Maliki in Jordan. Administration officials confirm that al-Maliki laid out a plan that would move U.S. troops to the suburbs of Baghdad and let Iraqis take over security inside the city. It's being studied. U.S. military officials like the idea of Iraqis taking more responsibility but are concerned the Shiite dominated forces can't be trusted to protect the Sunnis. That's the position taken by al-Hashemi in his meeting with Bush.
Administration officials also revealed that Saudi King Abdullah told Vice President Cheney when he visited Riyadh last month that the Saudis might have to step in to protect the Sunnis if the United States abandoned them by withdrawing precipitously from Iraq.
A leak of that news was seen as an attempt to undercut the Baker-Hamilton recommendations, which Cheney sees as less a victory plan than an exit strategy, but Snow said that is not official Saudi government policy. He wouldn't flatly deny the report, however.
"The Saudis are rightfully and rightly concerned about the adventurism of Iranians in Iraq and we share that concern," Snow said.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.