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Bush to host national security team meeting at Texas ranch as he decides on new U.S. policy in Iraq

Bush to host national security team meeting at Texas ranch as he decides on new U.S. policy in Iraq

After weeks of deliberation, President George W. Bush is focusing on a national security team meeting at his Texas ranch that will take him a step closer to deciding a new U.S. policy in Iraq.
With each passing day that he gathers advice, Bush is creating more than what he has billed as a new way forward in Iraq. He is building expectations that will be hard to meet no matter what he unveils.
By the time he announces his Iraq plan in January, roughly two months will have passed since Democrats won control of the House and Senate in the Nov. 7 election that was widely viewed as a referendum on U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Anticipation of Bush's decision is high not just because people are weary of war, but also because of the way Bush has gone about deciding his next move.
Saddled with a reputation for stubbornness, Bush has gone the other direction. He has made a visible effort to seek advice _ from the military, diplomats, academics, retired generals, a special study commission, Iraqi officials, Republican leaders, even Democrats he once ridiculed.
"The president wants to make sure the consequences of crafting a new way forward in Iraq are thought through and due consideration is given to the outcome of any new action that would be taken," deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said Tuesday in Crawford, where Bush is spending the week.
On Thursday, the president hosts a National Security Council meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Pentagon officials said Tuesday that Gates is not likely to offer a single solution but, rather, a broad set of recommendations for changing the course in Iraq. A senior Defense Department official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because Gates' advice to Bush is secret, said the recommendations "would involve many aspects of how we can do things differently."
Bush, suffering low approval ratings for his handling of Iraq, is not expected to make any final decisions at the meeting. Stanzel said there could be other National Security Council meetings before the president makes up his mind. He is to announce his decisions in a speech between now and his State of the Union policy address to Congress on Jan. 23.
Bush has promised a new approach, yet even Gates, his new defense secretary, has acknowledged that "there are no new ideas in Iraq."
Indeed, some of the main ideas under consideration _ sending in more troops, embedding more U.S. advisers in Iraqi units, engaging in more aggressive diplomacy _ are not novel. And if Bush does come up with a remarkably fresh approach after nearly four years of war, that will raise the question of why he had not thought of it before.
No decisions have been made about possibly increasing U.S. troops in Iraq, but senior defense officials say Gates has signed orders that will send the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade to Kuwait shortly after the new year. That could be part of a short-term surge of troops to Iraq to quell ongoing violence.
On Tuesday, the U.S. military reported that seven more American soldiers had died, pushing the U.S. military death toll for the month to 90. With five days remaining in the month, December is already the second deadliest month for the U.S. military this year, behind the 105 soldiers killed in October.
The latest deaths also brought the number of U.S. military members killed since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 2,978 _ five more than the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Asked whether the president felt a sense of urgency to announce his strategy sooner, rather than later, given the rising death toll in Iraq, Stanzel replied: "He's wanting to make sure that we give all consideration to all the options. ... Coalition forces in Iraq are continuing to take the fight to the enemy, and the president will announce a new way forward when he's comfortable announcing that."
There might as well be a drum roll.
"He has built up expectations," said David Gergen, a former White House adviser in the administrations of presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. "People are saying, 'OK, if you've spent all this time and effort on it, you better have a pretty darn good plan.'"
Gergen said while Bush's new plan may not rally the nation, it may extend the nation's patience.
"That has to be his goal, from a political perspective," Gergen said. "For a president, buying time to try something new is often the most important thing you can do in a crisis."
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Associated Press Writer Ben Feller in Washington contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-07-31 06:50 GMT+08:00