Bush Seeks Advice On Iraq

President Bush, left, accompanied by Secretary Of State Condoleezza Rice, gestures while speaking to the media following their meeting at the State Department in Washington, Monday, Dec. 11, 2006. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Bush on Monday opened intensive consultations on Iraq, aiming to reverse the course of the nearly 4-year-old war and energize his final two years in office.

Mr. Bush went to the State Department to review diplomatic and political options the latest in a series of consultations that dominate his agenda.

Later, in the Oval Office, he was to seek advice from a handful of experts, including Stephen Biddle of the Council of Foreign Relations, Eliot Cohen of the School of Advanced International Studies and three retired Army generals: Wayne Downing, Jack Keane and Barry McCaffrey.

"Like most Americans, this administration wants to succeed in Iraq because we understand success in Iraq would help protect the United States in the long run," Mr. Bush said after his State Department briefing.

Today's trip to the State Department was a highly public visit designed to show that Mr. Bush is at least listening to other opinions about a new course, reports CBS News White House correspondent Jim Axelrod.

But Americans believe the war in Iraq is going badly and getting worse, and think it's time for the United States either to change its strategy or start getting out, according to a new CBS News poll.

The White House remained tightlipped on how Mr. Bush is likely to change strategy, saying the president is awaiting reports from his national security team before announcing a plan to the nation. That is expected to happen before Christmas.

The president said his aim is to coordinate advice from his diplomatic and military advisers "so that when I do speak to the American people, they will know that I've listened to all aspects of government."

On Tuesday, Mr. Bush will meet via video conference with senior military commanders, then talk with Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi in the Oval Office. On Wednesday, he will confer with senior defense officials at the Pentagon.

Since the election, lawmakers of both parties have been to the White House to discuss the war with Bush.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said he saw no "gigantic difference" in the pace of public strategy sessions on the president's schedule. But he added that Mr. Bush's travels to the State Department and the Pentagon sent a message.

"It's important that the American people be aware both of his consultation and his level of concern about getting it right," Snow said.

More than 2,900 U.S. military members have died in Iraq. The war has weighed down the Bush presidency and helped shift control of Congress to the Democrats, who have long accused President Bush of being stubborn and isolated. According to Kenneth Sherrill, professor of political science at Hunter College in New York, "The reason why [President Bush] is in such a bad situation is that the Republicans in Congress have to run for re-election. He doesn't. They're not under any pressure to be loyal to him. They're under pressure to keep their jobs."

Monday in Missouri, outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan critiqued the Bush administration's Iraq policy in his last major speech before he leaves office.

The administration has rejected calls for troop withdrawals until Iraq can govern and defend itself, warning that retreat could create a haven for terrorists and kill a fledgling democracy.

"I don't think he's looking for an easy answer. He's looking for the right answer. And the right answer isn't one person's idea," said Republican strategist Ron Kaufman, who worked in the White House under Bush's father.

"If some retired general or some historian can add to the final solution, then he's doing the right thing," Kaufman said.

At the State Department, President Bush met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her senior advisers on Iraq, and with diplomats who serve as leaders of U.S. joint civilian-military units called provincial reconstruction teams.

The U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, participated by videoconference. "It was a good give and take," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "The president had questions throughout the entire set of briefings."

Afterward, Mr. Bush delivered a statement but took no questions in the Treaty Room, with Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney standing behind him. Looming behind them all were portraits of two former secretaries of state, James A. Baker III and Lawrence Eagleburger — both members of a bipartisan commission that has bluntly told Bush his Iraq policy is not working.

President Bush's public remarks echoed his previous statements and gave no indication of any change of strategy.
  • Joel Roberts

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