CNN’s John King reported this afternoon that President Bush is planning a “substantial policy shift” on Iraq and is “very seriously considering…agreeing with Sen. John McCain and increasing U.S. troop levels in the short-term.”
King said the White House has postponed the announcement of the policy shift to January because Bush “has asked for more advice about” how he could send 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, and administration officials “need more time to put all that on the table.”
King said the White House sees a political benefit to delaying the announcement. “If you are going to disagree with the Iraq Study Group and not accept its major recommendations, then let some time go by, let the American people forget about that a little bit” and “buy some time for critics” to attack the ISG.
KING: I talked to a number of senior administration officials today, and also some of the outsiders who have been consulted by the administration as part of this review, including one retired general, and they say they think the president wants more time for the reason Ed Henry just noted: because it’s not just one thing, you know, the whole litany — it’s not because of this or because of that. These officials all believe the president is planning to do something big. He is planning to do a substantial policy shift, and one of the sources I spoke to says he believes the president is very seriously considering, in the short term, agreeing with Sen. John McCain and increasing U.S. troop levels in the short-term and also resisting the recommendations from the Iraq Study Group that he put on the table the idea that the United States would begin to withdraw troops. The retired generals have said they believe, like the active duty generals, that any talk of withdrawing troops is a bad idea, and the president, we are told, has asked for more advice about, how could he do it? If he wanted to send in 20,000, 15,000 more troops for a few months to try to improve the situation, primarily in Baghdad, how would could that happen? So they need more time to put all that on the table. They need more time for the new defense secretary to study it. Another issue is this regional diplomacy. The president will not meet directly with Iran or Syria at a high level, but if they could pull off some sort of regional conference and essentially call the bluff of Iran and Syria, saying, “Can you come to the table with a serious proposal to help?” They think if the Iraqi government can do that, that might help as well. They’re also worried, Wolf, you’ve seen all these reports. Is the Iraqi government in trouble? Is there stirring up within Iraq against the Maliki government? So,the main reasons are policy questions what the president will do, but they’re also watching warily what is happening in Baghdad.
BLITZER: What about domestic politics, because as you know, some Democrats already suspicious that the president is going to delay the speech, not necessarily for strictly policy reasons, but maybe politics might be at play.
KING: What senior administration officials say is it is policy, policy, policy. The president is looking at big changes and he needs to get this right, so he is going to take the time necessary. But they also do believe there is a political benefit. You might get criticism now, as you just heard Dana say, from the Democrats. Why not before Christmas? But they believe there is a political benefit. If you are going to disagree with the Iraq Study Group and not accept its major recommendations, then let some time go by, let the American people forget about that a little bit, buy some time for critics. And you can the Wall Street Journal editorial page, other conservatives attacking, attacking, attacking the findings of the Iraq Study Group. Let that criticism take hold, especially if you are going to say, thank you for your report but I don’t agree with that much of it.