With Republicans anxious about the potential loss of Congress — and with conditions seemingly deteriorating in Iraq — Mr. Bush addressed the question of whether he would alter his policies.
"We are constantly adjusting our tactics so that we achieve the objective, and right now it's tough, it's tough," Mr. Bush said in an Associated Press interview.
Mr. Bush summoned Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, to the White House for consultations Friday afternoon. The White House said Abizaid already was in town and Mr. Bush asked him over. The president also will consult by video conference on Saturday with Abizaid at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., and with Gen. George Casey, who leads the U.S.-led Multinational Forces in Iraq, to determine if a change in tactics is necessary to combat the increasing violence.
Despite calls for change, Mr. Bush said, "Our goal has not changed. Our goal is a country that can defend, sustain and govern itself, a country that which will serve as an ally in this war. Our tactics are adjusting."
There were fresh signs of Republican doubts about the war.
In a not so subtle dig at Mr. Bush's "cut and run" charges toward Democrats, his former No. 2 at the State Department, Richard Armitage, says the United States should "notify and walk," reports CBS News White House correspondent Jim Axelrod. Armitage says the United States should notify the Iraqis that the U.S. military will draw down troop levels over a reasonable time period. "We can't win this militarily," Armitage says.
Also, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who holds a seat deemed safe for the GOP, said in a campaign debate Thursday she would have voted against the war had she known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction.
The president is showing no flexibility on a phased withdrawal — it's called a non-starter. The idea of dividing Iraq into three separate regions is ruled out, too, reports Axelrod.
In other developments:
Democrats also kept up the pressure on Mr. Bush. In a letter to the president, a dozen House and Senate Democratic leaders urged him to bring home some U.S. troops and force the Iraqis to take more responsibility for their security. The Democrats said Mr. Bush should do more to pressure Iraqi leaders to disarm militias and find a political solution that would curb violence.
"The steadily mounting sectarian violence, growing insurgency and escalating casualty figures in Iraq are unacceptable and unsustainable," the Democrats said. "We urge you to change course, level with the American people and join with us to develop a policy that will work before the situation in Iraq is irretrievable."
Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said that while Bush might change tactics, he would not change his overall strategy.
"He's not somebody who gets jumpy at polls," Snow said of Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush, at a political fundraiser in Washington for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, railed against Democrats who criticize the war. Calling the Democrats the party of "cut and run," Mr. Bush said voters need to ask: "Which political party has a strategy for victory in this war on terror?' "
As of Friday, the U.S. combat death toll in Iraq during October stood at 75 — possibly heading for the highest for any month in nearly two years. Now in its fourth year, the war has claimed the lives of more than 2,785 Americans. Approval of Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq has dipped to 37 percent among likely voters in the AP-Ipsos poll early this month, down slightly from 41 percent last month.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Iraqi government must become less reliant on the United States to handle security. He also said U.S. officials are working with the Iraqis to develop projections on when that might happen.
"It's their country, they're going to have to govern it, they're going to have to provide security for it, and they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later," Rumsfeld said.
"The biggest mistake would be to not pass things over to the Iraqis, create a dependency on their part, instead of developing strength and capacity and competence," he said.
Doubts about the effectiveness of current tactics have risen, and the U.S. military has said its two-month drive to crush insurgent and militia violence in Baghdad has fallen short. Attacks in Baghdad rose by 22 percent in the first three weeks of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when compared to the three previous weeks.