By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 15, 2007
Faced with substantial opposition both in Congress and among the American public to their Iraq plans, President Bush and Vice President Cheney vowed yesterday to forge ahead with the deployment of more than 21,000 additional troops.
In an interview broadcast last night on CBS's "60 Minutes," Bush said he has the authority as commander in chief to move ahead with the deployment, regardless of what the Democratic-controlled Congress does in opposition.
"In this situation, I do, yeah," Bush said. "I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it. But I've made my decision. And we're going forward."
National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said yesterday that the money is already in place to begin moving additional troops to Iraq.
"We have authority in the -- we have money in the '07 budget, which has been appropriated by the Congress, to move these troops to Iraq, and the president will be doing that," he said on ABC's "This Week."
The addition of troops in Iraq, announced by Bush last week in a nationally televised speech, is part of an administration strategy aimed at quelling the sectarian violence there and at salvaging an unpopular war effort that the president himself has said is not succeeding.
Bush said on "60 Minutes" that the only option besides boosting troop levels would be to withdraw -- a move supported by some Democrats but one he called tantamount to defeat.
"I began to think, well, if failure is not an option and we've got to succeed, how best to do so? And that's how I came up with the plan I did," Bush said.
That plan has run into fierce opposition among Democrats and a growing number of Republicans, and a clear majority of the public now advocates a withdrawal of U.S. troops. Some congressional critics are advocating the idea of a nonbinding resolution to reflect their conviction that more troops will not provide the answer in Iraq.
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition" that such a resolution, drawing bipartisan support, "would be a strong message to the president to put pressure on the Iraqis to reach a political solution."
Earlier yesterday, Cheney said on "Fox News Sunday" that a resolution would not influence how the administration executes its policy.
"Congress, obviously, has to support the effort through the power of the purse, so they have got a role to play and we certainly recognize that," Cheney said. "But also, you cannot run a war by committee."
The vice president also took a swipe at critics of Bush's plan for not offering a different strategy to win a war that he calls pivotal to future U.S. interests.
"I have yet to hear a coherent policy out of the Democratic side, with respect to an alternative to what the president's proposed in terms of going forward," he said.
Bush, Cheney and Hadley emphasized that the rise in troop numbers will be coupled with new efforts to get Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to take tough action to improve security in the country.
"I told him it's time to get going," Bush said of Maliki, who in the past has blocked U.S. troops from engaging fighters loyal to militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Maliki has often bent to the demands of Sadr, who has a powerful Shiite militia in Iraq as well as a decisive number of seats in the Iraqi parliament.
Asked if Sadr is an enemy of the United States, Bush hedged. "If he is ordering his people to kill Americans, he is," he said.
Administration officials have said that Maliki is also under pressure from the Iraqi people to do what it takes to improve the poor security in Iraq, even if it means confronting fellow Shiites and other political supporters.
"The good news is, that's not only a message that's coming from the American people and from the American president. That is what the government is hearing from their own people," Hadley said. "The Iraqi people are sick of the violence. They want some security. They're telling their government it's time to step up."
At the same time, Iraqis have shown a growing distaste for the presence of foreign forces in their country. A September poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org found that 61 percent of Iraqis approved of attacks on coalition forces -- a 14-point increase from the previous January.
Despite the growing antipathy to the U.S. presence in Iraq both in that country and here, Bush said he is determined to see the war through.
"I'm not going to change my principles," Bush said. "I'm not going to, you know, I'm not going to try to be popular and change principles to do so."
"You cannot simply stick your finger up in the wind and say, 'Gee, public opinion's against, we better quit,' " Cheney agreed. That would "validate the al-Qaeda view of the world," he added.
In the "60 Minutes" interview, Bush said that although Iraq has descended into instability since the U.S. invasion in March 2003, the removal of Saddam Hussein nonetheless was worthwhile. Hussein's remaining in power, he asserted, would have only led to a potential nuclear arms race between Iran and Iraq, which would have created even greater instability.
Bush also said that he saw a tape of part of Hussein's execution, although he did not watch the part showing the former dictator being hanged. A chaotic and undignified scene in which Hussein was taunted -- and secretly taped by a cellphone camera -- accompanied the execution and seemed to fuel the sectarian bitterness tearing at Iraq.
"They could have handled it a lot better," Bush said of the execution.
Last week, the U.S. military arrested five Iranians in Iraq, accusing them of providing arms and other support to militants battling coalition troops. Iran has called for their release, asserting that they are diplomats -- a call that has been joined by Iraqi officials.
Bush said if the U.S. military catches Iranians in Iraq "harming U.S. citizens or Iraqi citizens, you know we will deal with them."
Cheney said Iran has created tensions in the Middle East with its pursuit of nuclear weapons and by meddling in Iraq.
"I think it's been pretty well known that Iran is fishing in troubled waters, if you will, inside Iraq," he said. "And the president has responded to that."
Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.