Bush de­lays Iraq plans un­til 2007; new course ‘not ready’

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Joseph Curl

The White House on Dec. 12 said Pres­i­dent Bush will not lay out his plan to chart a new course in Iraq un­til early next year, as new polls showed Amer­i­cans are more pes­simistic than ever about the na­tion’s abil­ity to win the nearly four-year war.

The pres­i­dent held a sec­ond day of talks with top of­fi­cials, this time U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­ders on the ground and the U.S. am­bas­sador to Iraq. In the days af­ter the Iraq Study Group re­port was re­leased two weeks ago, the White House said it planned to re­lease a new com­pre­hen­sive plan be­fore Christ­mas.

“That is not go­ing to hap­pen un­til the new year,” press sec­re­tary Tony Snow said. “He de­cided that, frankly, it’s not ready yet.”

The ex­pec­ta­tion to com­plete a plan be­fore the hol­i­days is com­pli­cated by in­com­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, who was not sworn in to take Don­ald H. Rums­feld’s place un­til Dec. 18. Mr. Gates has said he plans to travel to Bagh­dad for a crash course about the sit­u­a­tion on the ground in Iraq be­fore mak­ing his own rec­om­men­da­tions to the pres­i­dent.

“His in­put is not only go­ing to be valu­able, but nec­es­sary,” Mr. Snow said.

More, though, the com­ple­tion of a new plan means tak­ing in­put from dozens of ad­vis­ers on the diplo­matic, po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary strat­egy. “It’s a com­pli­cated busi­ness, and there are a lot of things to take into ac­count,” Mr. Snow said.

The pres­i­dent is try­ing to con­sol­i­date con­flict­ing ad­vice on how to change course in Iraq, where sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence has spi­raled out of con­trol. The bi­par­ti­san Iraq Study Group rec­om­mended pulling out most U.S. com­bat troops by early 2008, but Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, has called for a short-term in­crease in U.S. troops.

Top mil­i­tary of­fi­cials with whom Mr. Bush met on Dec. 12 backed Mr. McCain’s stance, but Democrats on Capi­tol Hill, who won con­trol of both cham­bers six weeks ago, are call­ing for a swift exit from Iraq. In­com­ing Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid crit­i­cized the White House de­ci­sion to de­lay the pres­i­dent’s plan.

“It has been six weeks since the Amer­i­can peo­ple de­manded change in Iraq. In that time, Iraq has de­scended fur­ther to­ward all­out civil war and all the pres­i­dent has done is fire Don­ald Rums­feld and con­duct a lis­ten­ing tour. Wait­ing and de­lay­ing on Iraq serves no one’s in­ter­ests,” he 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 ball re­mains in his court, and time is run­ning out.”

But Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice said at the State De­part­ment that “it only makes sense for the pres­i­dent to take what­ever time he needs to have con­fi­dence in the course that he will put for­ward be­fore the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Three new pub­lic opin­ion polls taken af­ter the re­lease of the Iraq Study Group’s re­port painted a grim pic­ture for the pres­i­dent. One, a CBS News poll found Amer­i­cans have never been as pes­simistic about the war, with more than 60 per­cent say­ing it was a mis­take to in­vade the coun­try.

But the White House saw a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. “If you take a look at poll data, and there’s a lot of dis­cus­sion about that, what’s in­ter­est­ing is that a ma­jor­ity of the Amer­i­can pub­lic not only thinks that we’re ca­pa­ble of win­ning, but we should,” Mr. Snow said.

Other polls were equally grim. More than half of the re­spon­dents, 55 per­cent, in a USA To­day-Gallup poll said they want most U.S. troops with­drawn within a year, but only 18 per­cent think that will hap­pen.

An ABC News poll found seven in 10 Amer­i­cans dis­ap­proved of Mr. Bush’s han­dling of Iraq and 61 per­cent said the war there was not worth fight­ing. In the sur­vey, three out of four said they sup­ported the three ma­jor rec­om­men­da­tions made by the Iraq Study Group: di­rect talks with Iran and Syria, with­draw­ing most U.S. com­bat troops by March 2008, and be­gin­ning a new push to re­solve the Is­rael-Pales­tinian con­flict.

But the pres­i­dent has re­jected di­rect talks with ter­ror­ism spon­sors Iran and Syria, al­though two weeks ago he called an idea to use a re­gional group of Iraq’s neigh­bors to ad­dress so­lu­tions “in­ter­est­ing.”

Mr. Bush con­ferred on Dec. 12 via video­con­fer­ence with se­nior mil­i­tary com­man­ders in Iraq and else­where in the Mid­dle East, Mr. Rums­feld and Mr. Gates. Later, the pres­i­dent met in the Oval Of­fice with Iraq’s vice pres­i­dent, Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, in an ef­fort to bol­ster the fledg­ling gov­ern­ment of Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki.

“Our ob­jec­tive is to help the Iraqi gov­ern­ment deal with the ex­trem­ists and killers and sup­port the vast ma­jor­ity of Iraqis who are rea­son­able peo­ple who want peace,” Mr. Bush said af­ter the meet­ing. “We want to help your gov­ern­ment be ef­fec­tive.”

Mr. al-Hashemi said be­fore his visit that he in­tended to ex­press to Mr. Bush his “dis­may” over the Shi’ite-led Iraqi gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of se­cu­rity. He ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of not do­ing enough to deal with mili­tia at­tacks and said he was es­pe­cially con­cerned about Bagh­dad, where Sunni-Shi’ite vi­o­lence has flared in sev­eral neigh­bor­hoods in re­cent weeks.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Bush met with Iraqi Vice Pres­i­dent Tariq al-Hashemi in the Oval Of­fice on Dec. 12, of­fer­ing to help the fledg­ling Iraqi gov­ern­ment “be ef­fec­tive.”

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