At White House Meeting, No Big Changes on Iraq
Sunday, October 22, 2006
President Bush met with his top advisers and military commanders on Iraq yesterday in a White House session that, senior officials said, weighed options for forging a way forward amid the surging violence but did not contemplate any major shifts in strategy.
The participants in the 90-minute video conference -- who included Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the military commander in Iraq -- talked about tactical changes that could overcome the severe challenges posed by the war, officials said.
"The participants focused on the nature of the enemy, the challenges in Iraq, how to better pursue our strategy, and the stakes of succeeding for the region and the security of the American people," said White House spokeswoman Nicole Guillemard.
The meeting, which the White House called the third in a series Bush has held with this group to consult on the war, did not consider any significant policy changes, a senior official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss private meetings. And in his Saturday radio address, Bush offered no indications on any major shift, even as he acknowledged the increasing violence in Iraq.
"Our goal is clear and unchanging: Our goal is victory," he said. "What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that goal. Our commanders on the ground are constantly adjusting their approach to stay ahead of the enemy, particularly in Baghdad."
The high-level meeting came amid growing U.S. frustration with the deteriorating state of affairs in Iraq, where both civilian and U.S. military casualties have sharply increased in recent weeks. The surge in violence, coupled with the growing antipathy among the American public toward the war, is feeding a sense that the Bush administration will be forced to retreat from its open-ended support of the war.
In a news conference Friday, Rumsfeld emphasized that U.S. officials are pressing the Iraqi government to offer projections about when it will be able to take over a greater share of the responsibility for securing the country and making economic and political progress.
"The biggest mistake would be not to pass things over to the Iraqis," Rumsfeld said. "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."
White House officials denied a New York Times report, posted yesterday afternoon on the newspaper's Web site, that said the administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to take on that greater role in securing the country.
If the Iraqis fail to meet the timetable, the Times quoted an unnamed senior Pentagon official as saying, the Bush administration would consider an abrupt shift in policy short of troop withdrawals. It would mark the first time that the administration has used deadline threats to pressure the Iraqi government to more aggressively pursue progress.
"The story is not accurate," said Frederick L. Jones II, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
White House officials said the matter was not discussed at yesterday's meeting. Still, administration officials acknowledge that they have been pressing for months for the Iraqis to take greater responsibility for disarming warring militias and to take other steps to stabilize their country.