By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Faced with a growing list of recommendations and a range of contradictory policy options from key advisers, President Bush yesterday delayed a planned announcement about a new strategy for the war in Iraq until the new year.
The administration had said the president would address the nation before Christmas but scrapped those plans as Bush grapples with a host of proposals for adjusting policy in the increasingly unpopular and costly war.
"He decided, frankly, that it's not ready yet," press secretary Tony Snow said. He did not offer a specific date for the speech, telling reporters: "[It] is not going to happen until the new year. We do not know when, so I can't give you a date, I can't give you a time, I can't give you a place, I can't give you a way in which it will happen."
The bipartisan Iraq Study Group last week issued a report calling the situation in Iraq "grave and deteriorating," while recommending fundamental changes in how the Bush administration handles the war. Also, the White House is conducting its own crash review of its war strategy. Meanwhile, Bush yesterday continued a series of highly visible briefings and meetings, first with military commanders and later with Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi.
"It shouldn't be surprising that he wants to take the time to digest that, to discuss it with his senior advisers, and then to put forward a way forward," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters. "And I'm quite certain that that will be in a reasonable length of time, but it has to be a way forward that, first and foremost, the president feels he's consulted fully, that he has been given the very best advice, and that he has a way forward in which he has confidence when he puts it before the American people."
Rice added that the delay would allow incoming Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is to be sworn in Monday, to be fully integrated into the decision-making process.
In its policy review, the administration is focusing closely on the "80 percent solution," that would bolster the political center of Iraq and effectively leave in charge the Shiite and Kurdish parties that account for 80 percent of Iraq's 26 million people and that won elections a year ago. Vice President Cheney's office has vigorously argued for the plan.
Other options under consideration include a short-term increase of 15,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad, a plan supported by the State Department, and accelerated training of Iraqi forces. Another possible strategy would redirect the U.S. military away from the internal strife to focus mainly on hunting terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda.
"Our objective is to help the Iraqi government deal with the extremists and killers, and support the vast majority of Iraqis who are reasonable people who want peace," Bush said after his Oval Office meeting with Hashemi.
Administration officials said the president hopes to reach a decision on a new strategy as he continues to consult with his advisers in the weeks ahead. "There really isn't a process in place as much as continued collaboration with all the key players," Snow said.
"There is still no final decision on the way forward," he added.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) criticized the delay, saying that Bush should act decisively to prevent Iraq from sliding deeper into chaos.
"Waiting and delaying on Iraq serves no one's interests," Reid said. "The president needs to understand how important and urgent change is for Iraq and for our troops. Talking to the same people he should have talked to four years ago does not relieve the president of the need to demonstrate leadership and change his policy now. The ball remains in his court, and time is running out."