Officials: Bush to announce troop cut
By MATTHEW LEE and ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press
Writers 33 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - President Bush will tell the nation
Thursday evening that he plans to reduce the American
troop presence in Iraq by as many as 30,000 by next
summer but will condition those and further cuts on
continued progress, The Associated Press has learned.
In a 15-minute address from the White House at 9 p.m.
EDT, Bush will endorse the recommendations of his top
general and top diplomat in Iraq, following their
appearance at two days of hearings in Congress,
administration officials said. The White House plans
to issue a written status report on the troop buildup
on Friday, they said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because
Bush's speech is not yet final. Bush was rehearsing
and polishing his remarks even as the U.S. commander
in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan
Crocker were presenting their arguments for a second
day on Capitol Hill.
In the speech, the president will say he understands
Americans' deep concerns about U.S. involvement in
Iraq and their desire to bring the troops home, they
said. Bush will say that, after hearing from Petraeus
and Crocker, he has decided on a way forward that will
reduce the U.S. military presence but not abandon Iraq
to chaos, according to the officials.
The address will stake out a conciliatory tone toward
Congress. But while mirroring Petraeus' strategy, Bush
will place more conditions on reductions than his
general did, insisting that conditions on the ground
must warrant cuts and that now-unforeseen events could
change the plan.
Petraeus recommended that a 2,000-member Marine unit
return home this month without replacement. That would
be followed in mid-December with the departure of an
Army brigade numbering 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers. Under
the general's plan, another four combat brigades would
be withdrawn by July 2008.
That could leave the U.S. with as few as
130,000-135,000 troops in Iraq, down from about
168,000 now, although Petraeus was not precise about
whether all the about 8,000 support troops sent with
those extra combat forces would be withdrawn by July.
Petraeus said he foresaw even deeper troop cuts beyond
July, but he recommended that Bush wait until at least
March to decide when to go below 130,000 and at what
At the White House, Bush met with House and Senate
lawmakers of both parties and he publicly pledged to
consider their views. Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell, R-Ky., said the president didn't talk about
the nationwide address.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush
appears poised merely to bring the country back to
where it was before the election that put Democrats in
control of Congress with 130,000 troops in Iraq.
"Please. It's an insult to the intelligence of the
American people that that is a new direction in Iraq,"
she said. "We're as disappointed as the public is that
the president has a tin ear to their opinion on this
In his speech, Bush will adopt Petraeus' call for more
time to determine the pace and scale of future
withdrawals and offer to report to Congress in March,
one official said.
As Petraeus and Crocker have, Bush will acknowledge
difficulties, and the fact that few of the benchmarks
set by Congress to measure progress of the buildup
have been met, the official said. Yet, he will stress
that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal would be a
catastrophe for Iraq and U.S. interests.
The president will discuss "bottom up" security
improvements, notably in Anbar Province, which he
visited on Labor Day and where Sunni leaders have
allied themselves with U.S. forces to fight
insurgents. And, he will note incremental progress on
the political front despite unhelpful roles played by
Iran and Syria, the official said.
Crocker was particularly keen on detailing diplomatic
developments, including Saudi Arabia's move to open an
embassy in Baghdad and a third conference of Iraqi
neighbors to be hosted by Turkey in Istanbul at the
end of October.
In Congress, cracks in Republican support for the Iraq
war remained, as epitomized by heated questioning
Tuesday of Petraeus.
"Is this a mission shift?" asked Sen. Lisa Murkowski,
R-Alaska. "Are we continuing down the same path that
we have laid out before, entirely reliant on the
ability of the Iraqis to come together to achieve that
Sen. Norm Coleman said he wants a longer-term vision
other than suggestions that Petraeus and Crocker
return to Capitol Hill in mid-March to give another
assessment. "Americans want to see light at the end of
the tunnel," said Coleman, R-Minn.
Many rank-and-file Republicans say they are deeply
uneasy about keeping troops in Iraq through next
summer, but they also remain reluctant to embrace
legislation ordering troops home by next spring.
Democrats, under substantial pressure by voters and
politically influential anti-war groups, had
anticipated that a larger number of Republicans by now
would have turned against Bush on the war because of
grim poll numbers and the upcoming 2008 elections.
Indeed, Petraeus' testimony helped to solidify support
elsewhere in the GOP, keeping Democrats far from the
60 votes they needed to pass legislation ordering
"Americans should be happy that we can begin to reduce
troop levels months ahead of schedule," said Sen. Pete
"I'm optimistic that when the votes are counted,
they'll be roughly the same as they have been all
year," said McConnell, the Senate Republican leader.
"As you know, we've lost some, but not a lot and I
think that's a likely outcome again."
Echoing testimony given to the House on Monday,
Petraeus and Crocker acknowledged that Iraq remains
largely dysfunctional but said violence had decreased
since the influx of added U.S. troops.
Crocker said he fears that announcing troop
withdrawals, as Democrats want, would focus Iraqi
attention on "building the walls, stocking ammunition
and getting ready for a big nasty street fight" rather
than working toward reconciliation. "It will take
longer than we initially anticipated" for Iraq's
leaders to address the country's problems, he said.
The two days of testimony seemed to turn the debate
away from the list of 18 benchmarks by which the White
House and Iraq's government had said earlier this year
that they preferred to measure progress. The
administration has protested more recently that the
benchmarks offer an unrealistic or incomplete look at
The hearing fell on the anniversary of the Sept. 11,
2001, terrorist attacks.
In an unusual admission, Petraeus said he was not sure
whether his proposal on Iraq would make America safer.
A visibly heated Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked the
question to which Petraeus said: "Sir, I don't know,
actually. I have not sat down and sorted that out in
my mind. What I have focused on and riveted on is how
to accomplish the mission of the multinational force Iraq."