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Bush Puts Hard Sell On His Iraq Plan

One day after President Bush announced his strategy for Iraq in a prime-time address to the nation, he took his plan — to increase U.S. forces in Iraq by 21,500 and demand greater cooperation from Iraq's government — on the road.

To start selling his plan, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod, Mr. Bush picked about the friendliest audience he could find: soldiers at Fort Benning, Ga.

"The situation in Iraq is difficult, no question about it," Mr. Bush told about 300 soldiers and family members. "... It's important for our fellow citizens to understand that failure in Iraq would be a disaster for our future."

He said new brigades sent to Iraq will focus on quelling sectarian violence in urban areas, particularly Baghdad.

"They will help Iraqis take the lead in securing neighborhoods," Mr. Bush said. "They will have a clear and defined mission."

The mood was polite but muted, reports Axelrod. It was more somber than usual for a president talking to soldiers – perhaps because a surge means some of these troops will deploy to Iraq for their fourth or fifth tours.

While the president was taking his plan on the road Thursday, his top administration officials were out in force working to persuade a skeptical Democratic-led Congress to accept Mr. Bush's troop buildup as the last best chance for reversing Iraq's slide.

"All Americans know that the stakes in Iraq are enormous, and we all share the belief that the situation is currently unacceptable. On this we are united," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters.

Regardless, the plan drew fierce opposition from congressional Democrats, but the Senate's top Republican threatened a filibuster to block any legislation expressing disapproval of the plan.

Democrats had already pounced on Mr. Bush's plan to increase troops in Iraq as a bad mistake that ignores public sentiment and the advice of top generals.

"In choosing to escalate the war, the president virtually stands alone," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a Senate speech. However, he promised to give the plan careful consideration.

Many Republicans, too, are clearly tired of the war, which has cost more than

their lives, and played a major role in the Democratic takeover of Congress in last fall's elections.

"At this late stage, interjecting more young American troops into the crossfire of an Iraqi civil war is simply not the right approach," said Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla. "We are not going to solve an Iraqi political problem with an American military solution," he said in remarks on the House floor.

And Americans' opinions were not swayed very much by President Bush's Wednesday evening speech outlining his new strategy for the war in Iraq, according to a poll.

Fifty percent of those who saw the speech said they disapprove of the president's proposals, while 37 percent said they approve. Just one-third of those surveyed said they support Mr. Bush's call to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq.

Following the speech, 68 percent of Americans — the same number as prior to the speech — said they were uneasy about the president's ability to make decisions about Iraq.

Read more about the CBS News poll
Key Elements Of Bush Plan
Speech Excerpts
Congressional Response
World Reaction
Ahead of testimony on Capitol Hill, Gates told a White House briefing it remains unclear how long the military buildup ordered by Mr. Bush will last.

"It's viewed as a temporary surge, but I think no one has a really clear idea of how long that might be," Gates said.

In a Thursday briefing, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., looked ahead.

"I do not guarantee victory or success with this new strategy," McCain said. "I do guarantee the consequences of failure. If we do fail, then there's going to be chaos in the region and I believe that we will pay an even heavier price in American blood."

Democrats still spoke out against the proposed buildup. Reid said Mr. Bush ignored the results of November's midterm elections that ended 12 years of GOP control of Congress, ignored the advice of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and "a significant number of top generals."

"Putting more U.S. combat forces in the middle of a civil war is a mistake," Reid said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told CBS News' The Early Show that since the new Democratic-led Congress convened last week, "questions are now being asked of this administration that haven't been asked for almost four years."

Durbin said the while the president has the power to do largely as he sees fit in Iraq, "he's going to be held accountable like he's never been held accountable before."

Durbin said he told the president Wednesday: "You know I disagree with you, but I hope you're right."

Gates told reporters that he is recommending an overall increase in the military of 92,000 soldiers and Marines over the next five years, bringing the overall total to 202,000 in Marines and 547,000 in the Army worldwide. Mr. Bush said last month that he would propose extra troops for the armed forces, which have been strained by the protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gates also said that to ease the strain on U.S. forces in Iraq, he would have to cycle some reserve units back to the war zone faster than current Pentagon policy, which is to mobilize those units for a year after at least five years of being inactive.

Gates said today's "global demands" made that change necessary, but said it would "allow us to move closer to removing the stress on the total force."

Asked if the new U.S. and Iraqi offensive would go after Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-U.S. radical Shiite cleric, Gates said, "All lawbreakers are susceptible to being detained or taken care of in this campaign."

Sadr is a key ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

In remarks prepared for delivery to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rice stressed that Iraqi obligations for troops, money and the political will to allow the Bush plan to succeed. She promised oversight, without giving specifics.

"Iraqis are in the lead; we are supporting them," Rice said. "Improvement in the security situation, especially in Baghdad, will open a window of opportunity for the Iraqi government to accelerate the process of national reconciliation. We can and will measure whether this work is being done."

Rice told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith that the president had taken a lot of time to get the opinions of various members of Congress and had "come up with a considered strategy that gives us the best opportunity for success, given the sectarian violence that has really spiked since February."

On Iran, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, told reporters the kind of missions that Bush described Wednesday as efforts to "seek out and destroy" networks providing weapons to anti-American forces would take place only inside Iraq. Those missions would not extend, for instance, into Iran, he said.

"We can take care of the security for our troops by doing the business we need to do inside of Iraq," Pace said.

On another issue, Rice called the chaotic, controversial circumstances surrounding the hanging of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "extremely unfortunate" — some of the strongest criticism from the administration to date. When Mr. Bush was asked his reaction last week, he said only that he wished "the proceedings had gone on in a more dignified way."

Also Thursday, a coalition of labor, anti-war groups and liberal organizations was announcing a multimillion-dollar advertising and grass-roots campaign against the commitment of extra troops.

In his 20-minute speech, Mr. Bush took responsibility for mistakes in Iraq and outlined a strategy he said would pull it out of its spiral of violence. The plan would increase the U.S. troop presence from the current 132,000 to 153,500 at a cost of $5.6 billion.

"If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home," Mr. Bush said.

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