Friday, January 26, 2007

Bush: "I'm The Decision Maker" On Iraq

CBS/AP) President Bush, on a collision course with Congress over Iraq, said Friday "I'm the decision maker" about sending more troops to the war. He challenged skeptical lawmakers not to prematurely condemn his plan.

"I've picked the plan that I think is most likely to succeed," Mr. Bush said in an Oval Office meeting with senior military advisers.

The president had strong words for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are lining up to support resolutions opposing his decision to send 21,500 troops to Iraq. He challenged them to put up their own ideas. "Some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work," he said.

Mr. Bush said lawmakers agree that failure in Iraq would be a disaster and that he chose a strategy that he and his advisers thought would help turn the tide in Iraq.

The president met with Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, newly confirmed by the Senate to command U.S. troops in Iraq.

"My instruction to him was 'Get over to the zone as quickly as possible, and implement a plan that will achieve our goals,"' Mr. Bush said.

"You're going into an important battle in the war on terror," he told Petraeus.

During a photo opportunity, Mr. Bush was asked about stepped-up activities in Iraq against Iranian activities thought to be fueling the violence.

Mr. Bush defended the policy, but said it is no indication that the United States intends to expand the confrontation beyond Iraq's borders.

"That's a presumption that's simply not accurate," Mr. Bush said.

But added: "Our policy is going to be to protect our troops. It makes sense."

The majority of senators oppose sending more troops to Iraq and have grave doubts about the change in strategy the president chose Patraeus to implement, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss. But they voted unanimously – 81-0 – to promote the general and send him over there to do his best.

"It's going to be an extremely complex mission," Sen. John Warner, a leading Republican on defense issues, said of the task awaiting Petraeus.

Warner, who has crafted a bipartisan resolution saying the Senate opposes the troop increase, said he hopes American troops will be instructed that "wherever possible, the Iraqis should bear the brunt of the sectarian violence."

In testimony to Congress this week, Petraeus said the situation in Iraq is "dire" but said he believed Mr. Bush's strategy would work – assuming the Iraqi government provided additional troops and helped crack down on militias.

Petraeus, who will replace Army Gen. George Casey. is just one of the new faces Mr. Bush is bringing to his team of top military and diplomatic officials in Iraq and the Middle East. He has already replaced Donald H. Rumsfeld with Robert Gates as defense secretary, and is changing the top military commander in the Middle East and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Petraeus, 54, has served two previous yearlong tours in Iraq as commander of the 101st Airborne Division during the invasion in March 2003 and as commander of the training program for the Iraqi Army in 2004-05.

After the Nov. 7 elections, Mr. Bush announced he would change his strategy in Iraq, including deployments of the additional troops.

"We'll now have our very best general in charge of the operations in Iraq," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. "If it can't be done under Gen. Petraeus, then it cannot be done at all. We ought to give him a chance to succeed."

Next Tuesday, the committee plans to hear from Navy Adm. William Fallon, Mr. Bush's pick to replace Gen. John Abizaid as the top commander in the Middle East. Casey, nominated to be the next Army chief of staff, is expected to testify on Feb. 1.

Fallon is expected to testify next Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services.

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