Officials: Bush to Announce Troop Cut
Officials: Bush to Announce Troop Cut
Sep 11, 11:18 PM (ET) By MATTHEW LEE and ANNE FLAHERTY
WASHINGTON (AP) - 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
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 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
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withdrawn by July 2008.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combat forces would be withdrawn by July.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 pace.
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 war."
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 political reconciliation?"
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 troops home.
"Americans should be happy that we can begin to reduce troop levels
months ahead of schedule," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
"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
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 situation.
The hearing fell on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
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."