Tips, questions, and suggestions
Sign up for emails
StateSide:Policy
Archive: December 2006
3,000th Death in Iraq Spurs Action Around U.S.
12/30/2006 4:00 PM ET
United for Peace and Justice is counting the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and they plan on protesting about it. On January 27, they will march in Washington, D.C.

They write: "More than 2,995 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. By the time you read this, the death toll may have reached 3,000. We must bear witness to this tragic milestone, even though many people are already beginning their celebrations of the new year. And when we do take action on this occasion, we must remind others that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, women and men have also died in this outrageous war and occupation. Our call to end this war and to bring all the troops home now must be heard in every corner of the country."

Others in the country will be marking the 3,000 death with various ceremonies: in Kansas, protestors will light candles and lay out more than 80 pairs of empty combat boots. In Chicago, anti-war activists will hand out black ribbons, each bearing the name of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. And in New Haven, Connecticut, opponents of the war plan to read aloud the names of 3,000 dead U.S. soldiers.

In all, organizers say some 140 demonstrations in 37 states are planned to mark the 3,000th U.S. military death in Iraq, a milestone that is likely only days away. By Thursday, some 2,989 U.S. troops had died in Iraq since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the unrelenting violence.

So far, the discontent has not translated into large anti-war demonstrations, with events over the last year attracting sometimes only a handful of activists, up to sometimes a few hundred, at each place. Turnout could be similarly low-key this time.

Along with commemorating U.S. soldiers, many events will also mourn dead Iraqi citizens.

Transcript
Developing Revised Iraq Plan to be Unveiled in January
12/28/2006 4:54 PM ET
Bush Accompanied by Cheney, Gates, Rice, Pace
White House photo by Paul Morse
Bush Accompanied by Cheney, Gates, Rice, Pace

The transcript of President Bush's statement after meeting his national security team in Crawford, Texas today:

THE PRESIDENT: I just had a meeting with my national security team; this is the first time we've had a chance to sit down with Secretary Gates since he came back from Iraq. General Pace went with the Secretary; they reported firsthand what they saw and what they found. It's an important part of coming to closure on a way forward in Iraq that will help us achieve our objective, which is a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. And Mr. Secretary, thank you for your timely trip and thank you for this important briefing.

I've got more consultation to do until I talk to the country about the plan. Obviously, we'll continue to work with the Iraqi government. The key to success in Iraq is to have a government that's willing to deal with the elements there that are trying to prevent this young democracy from succeeding.

We want to help them succeed. And so we'll continue to consult with the Iraqis. I'm going to talk to Congress -- not only will I continue to reach out to Congress, but members of my team will do so, as well. I fully understand it's important to have both Republicans and Democrats understanding the importance of this mission. It's important for the American people to understand success in Iraq is vital for our own security. If we were to not succeed in Iraq, the enemy -- the extremists, the radicals -- would have safe haven from which to launch further attacks, they would be emboldened; they would be in a position to threaten the United States of America. This is an important part of the war on terror.

I'm making good progress toward coming up with a plan that we think will help us achieve our objective. As I think about this plan I'm always -- have our troops in mind. There's nobody more important in this global war on terror than the men and women who wear the uniform, and their families. And as we head into a new year, my thoughts are with them. My thoughts are with the families who have just gone through a holiday season with their loved one overseas. My thoughts are with the troops as we head into 2007.

People always ask me about a New Year's resolution -- my resolution is, is that they'll be safe and that we'll come closer to our objective, that we'll be able to help this young democracy survive and thrive and, therefore, we'll be writing a chapter of peace. I can't thank our families enough for supporting their loved one who wears the uniform, and I can't thank those who -- soldiers and sailors and airmen and Coast Guard men and woman, folks in the Air Force -- who represent the United States of America. May God continue to bless them.

Thank you all very much.

Armed Forces May Recruit Noncitizens
12/26/2006 5:10 PM ET
The Boston Globe reports that the armed services is considering expanding the number of noncitizens in its ranks, including controversial proposals to open recruiting stations abroad. This would put them on a faster track to U.S. citizenship.

Reporter Bryan Bender writes:

"Foreign citizens serving in the US military is a highly charged issue, which could expose the Pentagon to criticism that it is essentially using mercenaries to defend the country. Other analysts voice concern that a large contingent of noncitizens under arms could jeopardize national security or reflect badly on Americans' willingness to serve in uniform."

He added that, "The idea of signing up foreigners who are seeking US citizenship is gaining traction as a way to address a critical need for the Pentagon, while fully absorbing some of the roughly one million immigrants that enter the United States legally each year. The proposal to induct more noncitizens, which is still largely on the drawing board, has to clear a number of hurdles. So far, the Pentagon has been quiet about specifics -- including who would be eligible to join, where the recruiting stations would be, and what the minimum standards might involve, including English proficiency. In the meantime, the Pentagon and immigration authorities have expanded a program that accelerates citizenship for legal residents who volunteer for the military."

Four of 10 Telephone Calls Made to Troops, Airman in Iraq
12/24/2006 5:48 PM ET
Bush Makes Calls in Christmas Eve Tradition
White House Photo by Eric Draper
Bush Makes Calls in Christmas Eve Tradition

The White House News Release

Camp David

The President made telephone calls to members of the Armed Forces who are stationed overseas, or who have recently returned from overseas locations, to wish them a Merry Christmas, and to thank them for their service to our Nation.

INFORMATION ON CALL RECIPIENTS

Sergeant Jonathan J. Corell, USA

Sergeant Jonathan Corell has been serving in Afghanistan for 18 months. During his tour, Sergeant Corell has shown exceptional combat leadership as the manager of two non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and six junior soldiers. He employs advanced skills in assault weaponry while scouting and patrolling, and has served in the Army for 3 years and 10 months. His wife, Danielle, lives in Syracuse, New York.

Private First Class Rebekah Vandiver, USA

Private First Class Rebekah Vandiver, based out of Schofield, Hawaii, is deployed to Speicher, Iraq. As a combat medic, she is responsible for the vital prescreening of all patients that enter the Battalion Aid Station, maintains medical supplies for the Aid Station, and is studying to learn more about advanced medical care and procedures. Her husband, Stephen, and three children live in Hawaii.

Sergeant Ricardo E. Contreras, USMC

Sergeant Ricardo E. Contreras is based at Camp Pendleton, California, and is deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. As a career counselor in the Marines, he is responsible for the retention and career development of the enlisted Marines in the 1st Marine Headquarters Group. On December 1, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his outstanding performance in counseling Marines on career options and playing a pivotal role in the Group's retention efforts. His wife, Deborah, lives in San Clemente, California.

Lance Corporal Michael P. Matherne, USMC

Lance Corporal Michael P. Matherne is a member of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron-211 and the Marine Air Group-16 out of Yuma, Arizona. He is serving in Al Asad, Iraq, as an aircraft communications/navigation weapons systems technician, where he repairs all communication, navigation, and weapons systems on the squadron's 16 AV-8B Harrier jets. Lance Corporal Matherne is recognized for his exceptional motivation and enthusiasm.

Petty Officer Second Class Dwayne W. Meyer, USN

Petty Officer Second Class Dwayne W. Meyer is a member of the Provincial Reconstruction Team at Naval Station North Island, San Diego, California. As a communications specialist in Kala Gosh, Afghanistan, he is responsible for repairing all communication devices to include state-of-the-art satellite radios. His wife, Rebecca, lives in Chula Vista, California.

Petty Officer Third Class Rahm Panjwani, USN

Petty Officer Third Class Rahm Panjwani serves aboard the USS BOXER. In 2005, he was honored as the USS BOXER Junior Sailor of the Year. He led 60 personnel in the safe receipt, transfer, and delivery of more than two million gallons of aviation fuel during 2,100 aircraft refueling evolutions and nine underway replenishments. As a Flight Deck Assistant Leading Petty Officer, he was responsible for supervising a 19-person aircraft refueling crew in a demanding, high risk flight deck environment. Hi wife, Heather, lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Master Sergeant John W. Gahan, USAF

Master Sergeant John W. Gahan serves in the 40th Airlift Squadron at Dyess AFB, Texas, and has been with the Air Force for 17 years and 3 months. He is deployed to Al Muthana Air Base, Iraq with the 23rd Air Force Squadron. As a C-130 Load Master and Combat Aviation Advisor, he provides upgrade training to new Iraqi C-130 fleet aviators. In his one-year temporary duty assignment to Iraq, Master Sergeant Gahan is training inexperienced Iraqi Air Force personnel and soon will transfer from his instructor billet to important duties on the Iraqi Transition Team. His wife, Karen, lives in Abilene, Texas.

Technical Sergeant Mark S. Pleis Jr., USAF

Technical Sergeant Mark S. Pleis Jr. serves in the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Europe, Stuttgart, Germany, where he lives with his wife, Erica, and two children. He supervises 30 joint military and civilian network controllers in the real-time management and operational direction of the $2.4 billion European Global Information Grid. His superlative performance in managing over 60 tactical satellite missions ensured that deployed service members had uninterrupted access to critical voice, data, and video services. He ranked first of 18 DISA non-commissioned officers from all services, and was selected as DISA Europe NCO of the quarter in the first quarter of 2006.

Petty Officer Third Class David A. Rosales, USCG

Petty Officer Third Class David A. Rosales is based in his homeport in Naval Support Activity, Bahrain, and serves on the USCGC MONOMOY. He plays an important role in all shipboard evolutions, including small boat launch and recovery, mooring details, general quarters and engineer of the watch (EOW). He is an underway EOW, Inport Officer of the Day, crane operator, small boat crewman and Assistant Damage Control Petty Officer, and ensures that all damage control equipment is inventoried and maintained. He has volunteered to serve an additional six months in the North Arabian Gulf.

Seaman Rayford B. Mitchell, USCG

Seaman Rayford B. Mitchell serves aboard the USCGC Diligence, which is based out of Wilmington, North Carolina, and is deployed to the western Caribbean Sea. He works with the deck department, where he completes hull and exterior maintenance. He is also responsible for the cleanliness and general material condition of the ship. Since the beginning of his service just over 1 year ago, SN Mitchell has consistently demonstrated an excellent work ethic, character, and stamina. He is a native of Columbia, South Carolina.

News Comes As President ConsidersMore Iraq Troops
12/23/2006 11:35 PM ET
The Hearst News Service that the Selective Service System is planning a test run of the military draft machinery for the first time since 1998.

As part of the exercise, the agency is expected to conduct a mock draft and convene an "appeals board" to handle draftees who claim status as conscientious objectors.

The test announcement comes as President Bush and Congress take up plans to expand the overall size of the Army and Marine Corps and train thousands more additional forces. Both services have been stretched thin by extended deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, though President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said they oppose bringing back the draft.

Meanwhile, the secretary for Veterans Affairs said Thursday that "society would benefit" if the U.S. were to bring back the draft and that it shouldn't have any loopholes. VA Secretary Jim Nicholson later issued a statement saying he does not support reinstituting a draft.

The draft ended in 1973 as the American commitment in Vietnam waned, beginning the era of the all-volunteer force. Registration for the draft was suspended in 1975 but was resumed in 1980 by President Carter after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. About 13.5 million men, ages 18 to 25, currently are registered with the agency.

Says "Moved by their Courage," "Owe Them All We Can Give"
12/23/2006 3:19 PM ET
Presents two Purple Hearts to SSgt. Marcus Wilson
White House photo
Presents two Purple Hearts to SSgt. Marcus Wilson

In a visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center Friday, President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush met 38 patients, most of them wounded in Iraq, and presented 16 Purple Hearts to 14 war veterans. More photos

Presents two Purple Hearts to SSgt. Marcus Wilson
White House photo
Presents two Purple Hearts to SSgt. Marcus Wilson

Presents two Purple Hearts to PFC Tony Brawdy
White House photo
Presents two Purple Hearts to PFC Tony Brawdy

Presents Purple Heart to Corporal Shane Parsons
White House photo
Presents Purple Heart to Corporal Shane Parsons

Presents Purple Heart to SSgt. Robert Cordero
White House photo
Presents Purple Heart to SSgt. Robert Cordero

Presents Purple Heart to PFC Jace Badia
White House photo
Presents Purple Heart to PFC Jace Badia

Transcript
"Coming Year Will Bring Change" in Iraq
12/23/2006 2:49 PM ET
The transcript of President Bush's weekly radio address today:

Good morning. As families across our Nation gather to celebrate Christmas, Laura and I send our best wishes for the holidays. We hope that your Christmas will be blessed with family and fellowship.

At this special time of year, we give thanks for Christ's message of love and hope. Christmas reminds us that we have a duty to others, and we see that sense of duty fulfilled in the men and women who wear our Nation's uniform. America is blessed to have fine citizens who volunteer to defend us in distant lands. For many of them, this Christmas will be spent far from home, and on Christmas our Nation honors their sacrifice, and thanks them for all they do to defend our freedom.

At Christmas, we also recognize the sacrifice of our Nation's military families. Staying behind when a family member goes to war is a heavy burden, and it is particularly hard during the holidays. To all our military families listening today, Laura and I thank you, and we ask the Almighty to bestow His protection and care on your loved ones as they protect our Nation.

This Christmas season comes at a time of change here in our Nation's capital -- with a new Congress set to arrive, a review of our Iraq strategy underway, and a new Secretary of Defense taking office. If you're serving on the front lines halfway across the world, it is natural to wonder what all this means for you. I want our troops to know that while the coming year will bring change, one thing will not change, and that is our Nation's support for you and the vital work you do to achieve a victory in Iraq. The American people are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers, and we will make sure you have the resources you need to accomplish your mission.

This Christmas, millions of Americans are coming together to show our deployed forces and wounded warriors love and support. Patriotic groups and charities all across America are sending gifts and care packages to our servicemen and women, visiting our troops recovering at military hospitals, reaching out to children whose moms and dads are serving abroad, and going to airports to welcome our troops home and to let them know they are appreciated by a grateful Nation. One man who's making a difference this holiday season is Jim Wareing. Jim is the founder of New England Caring for Our Military. This year, Jim helped organize a gift drive by thousands of students from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Students from kindergarten to high school collected more than 20,000 gifts for our troops abroad. The gifts are being sent to troops stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Korea, Japan, and Africa. The care packages include books and puzzles, board games, phone cards, fresh socks, and T-shirts, and about 7,000 handmade holiday greeting cards and posters. Jim says, quote "It's probably always hard for troops to be far away from home, but especially hard on the holidays. I use this as an opportunity to try to pay them back for my freedom."

Citizens like Jim Wareing represent the true strength of our country, and they make America proud. I urge every American to find some way to thank our military this Christmas season. If you see a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, or a member of the Coast Guard, take a moment to stop and say, "Thanks for your service." And if you want to reach out to our troops, or help out the military family down the street, the Department of Defense has set up a website to help. It is: AmericaSupportsYou.Mil. This website lists more than 150 compassionate organizations that can use your help. In this season of giving, let us stand with the men and women who stand up for America.

At this special time of year, we reflect on the miraculous life that began in a humble manger 2,000 years ago. That single life changed the world, and continues to change hearts today. To everyone celebrating Christmas, Laura and I wish you a day of glad tidings.

Thank you for listening, and Merry Christmas.

The One Photo Released of Their Camp David Meeting
12/23/2006 2:39 PM ET
White House Photo by Eric Draper

Standing Ovations for Soldier Who Opposed War
12/21/2006 5:34 PM ET
It appears that Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the soldier who spoke out against the war and faces a court martial, has hundreds of supporters, reports the Honolulu Star Bulletin. Before, during and after a speech at the Church of the Crossroads in Moiliili, a sympathetic crowd of several hundred gave him a standing ovation.

Watada, a Honolulu native, faces a court martial next month on six counts for refusing to deploy to Iraq and for conduct unbecoming an officer, charges that carry a maximum six years' imprisonment.

In the speech, Watada acknowledged that his actions have divided the community. "That was not my intent," he said. But upon learning what he were the facts of the war, he said he was in turmoil.

He also called the war an "illegal act of aggression," saying that the Bush administration twisted policy to suit its goal of regime change in Iraq.

Exclusive
Contributed Before, After Appointed Iraqi Govt. Minister
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 12/21/2006 00:33 AM ET
I
Bush-Alsammarae meeting Sept. 2003
White House Photo
Bush-Alsammarae meeting Sept. 2003
raqSlogger has learned that the ex-Iraqi government minister who is the subject of a nationwide manhunt in Iraq contributed to George W. Bush's presidential campaigns before and after being appointed by U.S. authorities as Iraq's minister of electricity.

Aiham Alsammarae, an Iraqi-American who considered the Chicago area home for 27 years until 2003, escaped his Baghdad Green Zone jail Sunday in an effort to avoid facing prosecution on corruption charges.

After escaping, Alsammarae, in telephone interviews with U.S. newspaper correspondents, taunted Iraqi authorities, said he was fleeing death threats in Iraq, and claimed he had already left the country.

Campaign contribution records show Alsammarae donated $1,000 to the Bush campaign in 1999 and, after being appointed by U.S. Iraq administrator Paul Bremer as Iraq's electricity minister in August 2003, donated $250 to the Bush campaign in April 2004.

Also while serving as Iraq's minister of electricity, he donated $1,500 to the U.S. Republican National Committee and $250 to the Illinois Republican Party.

Prior to his appointment as an Iraqi government minister, and separate from his Bush presidential campaign and RNC contributions, Alsammarae donated nearly $5,000 to the Illinois Republican party and to Republican U.S. senate candidates.

After being appointed by Bremer in 2003, Alsammarae stayed on as the electricity minister in the government of Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi until May 2005.

Alsammarae and the Iraqi minister of public works met President Bush at the White House September 22, 2003.

Alsammarae was arrested on corruption charges this August and in October was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. That verdict was overturned last week, but he faced further corruption charges when he fled jail.

Transcript
"They Can't Run Us Out of the Middle East," "Can Be Smarter"
12/20/2006 12:30 PM ET
The full transcript of President Bush's Iraq-focused news conference this morning:

Thank you all. Good morning.

This week I went to the Pentagon for the swearing in of our nation's new secretary of defense, Bob Gates. Secretary Gates is going to bring a fresh perspective to the Pentagon, and America is fortunate that he has agreed to serve our country once again.

I'm looking forward to working with him.

Secretary Gates is going to be an important voice in the Iraq strategy review that's under way.

As you know, I have been consulting closely with our commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the strategy in Iraq and on the broader war on terror.

One of my top priorities during this war is to ensure that our men and women wearing the uniform have everything they need to do their jobs.

This war on terror is the calling of a new generation. It is the calling of our generation. Success is essential to securing a future for peace for our children and grandchildren. And securing this peaceful future is going to require a sustained commitment from the American people and our military.

We have an obligation to ensure our military is capable of sustaining this war over the long haul and performing the many tasks that we ask of them.

I'm inclined to believe that we need to increase in - the permanent size of both the United States Army and the United States Marines.

I've asked Secretary Gates to determine how such an increase could take place and report back to me as quickly as possible.

I know many members of Congress are interested in this issue. And I appreciate their input as we develop the specifics of the proposals.

Over the coming weeks, I will not only listen to their views; we will work with them to see that this become a reality.

2006 was a difficult year for our troops and the Iraqi people. We began the year with optimism after watching nearly 12 million Iraqis go to the polls to vote for a unity government and a free future.

The enemies of liberty responded fiercely to this advance of freedom.

They carried out a deliberate strategy to foment sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shia. And over the course of the year they had success. Their success hurt our efforts to help the Iraqis rebuild their country, it set back reconciliation, it kept Iraq's unity government and our coalition from establishing security and stability throughout the country.

We enter this new year clear-eyed about the challenges in Iraq and equally clear about our purpose. Our goal remains a free and democratic Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself, and is an ally in this war on terror.

I'm not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq, except that it's going to require difficult choices and additional sacrifices because the enemy is merciless and violent.

I'm going to make you this promise: My administration will work with Republicans and Democrats to fashion a new way forward that can succeed in Iraq.

We'll listen to ideas from every corridor. We'll change our strategy and tactics to meet the realities on the ground. We'll never lose sight that, on the receiving end of the decisions I make is a private, a sergeant, a young lieutenant or a diplomat who risks his or her life to help the Iraqis realize the dream of a stable country that can defend, govern and sustain itself.

The advance of liberty has never been easy. And Iraq is proving how tough it can be. Yet the safety and security of our citizens requires that we do not let up.

We can be smarter about how we deploy our manpower and resources. We can ask more of our Iraqi partners, and we will.

The one thing we cannot do is give up on the hundreds of millions of ordinary moms and dads across the Middle East who want the hope and opportunity for their children that the terrorists and extremists seek to deny them.

And that's a peaceful existence.

As we work with Congress in the coming year to chart a new course in Iraq and strengthen our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home.

This work begins with keeping our economy growing.

As we approach the end of 2006, the American economy continues to post strong gains.

The most recent jobs report shows that our economy created 132,000 more jobs in November alone, and we've now added more than 7 million jobs since August of 2003.

The unemployment rate has remained low at 4.5 percent. The recent report on retail sales shows a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season across the country.

And I encourage you all to go shopping more.

Next year marks a new start with a new Congress.

In recent weeks, I have had good meetings with the incoming leaders of Congress; including Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader-elect Harry Reid.

We agreed that we've got important business to do on behalf of the American people and that we've got to work together to achieve results.

The American people expect us to be good stewards of their tax dollars here in Washington. So we must work together to reduce the number of earmarks inserted into large spending bills and reform the earmark process to make it more transparent and more accountable.

The American people expect us to keep America competitive in the world, so we must work to assure our citizens have the skills they need for the jobs of the future and encourage American businesses to invest in technology and innovation.

The American people expect us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and increase our use of alternative energy sources.

So we must step up our research and investment in hydrogen fuel cells, hybrid plug-in and battery-powered cars, renewable fuels like ethanol and cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel, clean coal technology, and clean sources of electricity like nuclear, solar and wind power.

Another area where we can work together is the minimum wage. I support the proposed $2.10 increase in the minimum wage over a two- year period. I believe we should do it in a way that does not punish the millions of small businesses that are creating most of the new jobs in our country. So I support pairing it with targeted tax and regulatory relief, to help these small businesses stay competitive and to help keep our economy growing.

I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats to help both small-business owners and workers when Congress convenes in January.

To achieve these and other key goals, we need to put aside our partisan differences and work constructively to address the vital issues confronting our nation.

As the new Congress takes office, I don't expect Democratic leaders to compromise on their principles. And they don't expect me to compromise on mine.

But the American people do expect us to compromise on legislation that will benefit the country.

The message of the fall election was clear: Americans want us to work together to make progress for our country. And that's what we're going to do in the coming year. And now I'll be glad to answer some questions.

Q: Mr. President, less than two months ago, at the end of one of the bloodiest months in the war, you said: Absolutely, we're winning. Yesterday, you said: We're not winning; we're not losing. Why did you drop your confident assertion about winning?

BUSH: My comments - the first comment was done in this spirit: I believe that we're going to win. I believe that - and, by the way, if I didn't think that, I wouldn't have our troops there. That's what you've got to know. We're going to succeed.

My comments yesterday reflected the fact that we're not succeeding nearly as fast as I wanted, when I said it at the time, and that the conditions are tough in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad.

And so we're conducting a review to make sure that our strategy helps us achieve that which I'm pretty confident we can do. And that is have a country which can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.

You know, I - when I speak, like right now, for example, I'm speaking to the American people, of course. And I want them to know that I know how tough it is. But I also want them to know that I'm going to work with the military and the political leaders to develop a plan that'll help us achieve the objective.

I also want our troops to understand that we support them, that I believe that tough mission I've asked them to do is going to be accomplished, and that they're doing good work and necessary work.

I want the Iraqis to understand that we believe that, if they stand up, step up and lead, and with our help we can accomplish the objective.

And I want the enemy to understand that this is a tough task, but they can't run us out of the Middle East; that they can't intimidate America.

They think they can. They think it's just a matter of time before America grows weary and leaves; abandons the people of Iraq, for example.

And that's not going to happen.

What is going to happen is we're going to develop a strategy that helps the Iraqis achieve the objective that the 12 million people want them to achieve, which is a government that can - a country that can sustain itself, govern itself, defend itself.

A free country that will serve as an ally in this war against extremists and radicals.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

If you conclude that a surge in troop levels in Iraq is needed, would you overrule your military commanders if they felt it was not a good idea?

BUSH: That's a dangerous hypothetical question. I'm not condemning you; you're allowed to ask anything you want.

Let me wait and gather all the recommendations from Bob Gates, from our military, from diplomats on the ground - interested in the Iraqis' point of view - and then I'll report back to you as to whether or not I support a surge or not.

Nice try.

Q: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: The opinion of my commanders is very important. They are bright, capable, smart people whose opinion matters to me a lot.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

You have reached out to both Sunni and Shia political leaders in recent weeks. And now there's word that the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is supporting a moderate coalition in Iraq.

Has the U.S. reached out to him? How important is he in the equation moving forward? And what do you say to people who say more troops in Iraq would increase the sectarian split and not calm things down?

BUSH: Well, I haven't made up my mind yet about more troops. I'm listening to our commanders. I'm listening to the Joint Chiefs, of course. I'm listening in and out of government. I'm listening to folks on the Baker-Hamilton commission about coming up with a strategy that helps us achieve our objective.

And so, as I said to her - probably a little more harshly than she would have liked - you know, hypothetical questions, I'm not going to answer them today.

I'm not going to speculate out loud about what I'm going to tell the nation when I'm prepared to do so about the way forward.

I will tell you we're looking at all options. And one of those options, of course, is increasing more troops. But, in order to do so, there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished with more troops. And that's precisely what our commanders have said, as well as people who know a lot about military operations.

And I agree with them; that there's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops before, you know, I agree on that strategy.

Secondly, whatever we do is going to help the Iraqis step up. It's their responsibility to govern their country. It's their responsibility to do the hard work necessary to secure Baghdad.

And we want to help them.

Thirdly, I appreciate the fact that the prime minister and members of the government are forming what you have called a moderate coalition, because it's becoming very apparent to the people of Iraq that there are extremists and radicals who are anxious to stop the advance of a free society.

And, therefore, a moderate coalition signals to the vast majority of the people of Iraq that, We have a unity government, that we're willing to reconcile our differences and work together, and in so doing will marginalize those who use violence to use political objectives.

So we support the formation of the unity government and the moderate coalition. And the - and it's important for - that leader Sistani to understand that's our position. He is a - you know, he lives in a - he lives a secluded life. He - but he knows that we're interested in defeating extremism and we're interested in helping advance a unity government.

Q: Good morning, Mr. President.

Your former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, advocated for a lighter, more agile military force. Have you now concluded that that approach was wrong?

BUSH: No. I strongly support a lighter, agile army that can move quickly to meet the threats of the 21st century. I also supported his force posture review and recommendations to move forces out of previous bases that, you know, they were there for the Soviet threat, for example, in Europe.

So he's introduced some substantive changes to the Pentagon, and I support him strongly.

However, that doesn't necessarily preclude increasing end strength for the Army and the Marines. And the reason why I'm inclined to believe this is a good idea is because I understand that we're going to be in a long struggle against radicals and extremists.

And we must make sure that our military has the capability to stay in the fight for a long period of time.

I'm not predicting any particular theater, but I am predicting that it's going to take a while for the ideology of liberty to finally triumph over the ideology of hate.

I know you know I feel this strongly, but I see this - we're in the beginning of a conflict between competing ideologies; a conflict that will determine whether or not your children can live in peace.

Failure in the Middle East, for example, or failure in Iraq or isolationism will condemn a generation of young Americans to permanent threat from overseas.

And, therefore, we will succeed in Iraq.

And, therefore, we will help young democracies when we find them.

Democracies like Lebanon; hopefully, Palestinian state, living side by side in peace with Israel; the young democracy of Iraq.

It is in our interests that we combine security with a political process that frees people; that liberates people; that gives people a chance to determine their own futures.

I believe most people in the Middle East want just that. They want to be in a position where they can chart their own futures. And it's in our interests that we help them do so.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

In the latest CBS News poll, 50 percent of Americans say they favor a beginning of an end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq; 43 percent said keep fighting, but change tactics.

By this, and many other measures, there is no clear mandate to continue being in Iraq in a military form.

I guess my question is: Are you still willing to follow a path that seems to be in opposition to the will of the American people?

BUSH: I am willing to follow a path that leads to victory. And that's exactly why we're conducting the review we are.

Victory in Iraq is achievable. It hadn't happened nearly as quickly as I hoped it would have. I know it's - the fact that there is still, you know, unspeakable sectarian violence in Iraq, I know that's troubling to the American people.

But I also don't believe most Americans want us just to get out now. A lot of Americans understand the consequences of retreat. Retreat would embolden radicals. It would hurt the credibility of the United States.

Retreat from Iraq would dash the hopes of millions who want to be free. Retreat from Iraq would enable the extremists and radicals to more likely be able to have safe haven from which to plot and plan further attacks.

And so it's been a tough period for the American people. They want to see success. And our objective is to put a plan in place that achieves that success.

I'm often asked about public opinion. Of course, I want public opinion to support the efforts. I understand that. But I also understand the consequences of failure.

And, therefore, I'm going to work with the Iraqis and our military and politicians from both political parties to achieve success. I thought the American - the election - it said they want to see more bipartisan cooperation. They want to see us working together to achieve common objectives.

And I'm going to continue to reach out to Democrats to do just that.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. President, Lyndon Johnson famously didn't sleep during the Vietnam War; questioning his own decisions. You have always seemed very confident of your decisions, but I can't help but wonder if this has been a time of painful realization for you, as you yourself have acknowledged that some of the policies you hoped would succeed have not. And I wonder if you can talk to us about that.

BUSH: Yes, thanks.

Q: Has it been a painful time?

BUSH: Most painful aspect of my presidency has been knowing that good men and women have died in combat. I - I read about it every night. I - my heart breaks for a mother or father or husband and wife or son and daughter. It just does.

And so, when you ask about pain, that's pain.

I - I reach out to a lot of the families. I spend time with them. I am always inspired by their spirit. They - most people have asked me to do one thing, and that is to make sure that their child didn't die in vain. And I agree with that; that the sacrifice has been worth it.

We'll accomplish our objective.

We've got to constantly adjust our tactics to do so. We've got to insist that the Iraqis take more responsibility more quickly in order to do so.

But I - you know, my heart breaks for them. It just does - on a regular basis.

Q: But beyond that, sir, have you questioned your own decisions?

BUSH: No, I haven't questioned whether or not it was right to take Saddam Hussein out. Nor have I questioned the necessity for the American people - I mean, I've questioned it - I've come to the conclusion that it was the right decision.

But I also know it's the right decision for America to stay engaged, and to take the lead, and to deal with these radicals and extremists, and to help support young democracies.

It's the calling of our time. And I firmly believe it is necessary.

And I believe the next president, whoever the person is, will have the same charge, the same obligations: to deal with terrorists so they don't hurt us, and to help young democracies survive the threats of radicalism and extremism.

It's in our nation's interest to do so.

But the most painful aspect of the presidency is the fact that I know my decisions have caused young men and women to lose their lives.

Q: You mentioned the need, earlier, to make sure that U.S. workers are skilled, that U.S. businesses keep investing in technology. You also mentioned that you want targeted tax and regulatory relief for small businesses in the coming year.

Can you describe those ideas a little more? And, also, can we really afford new tax breaks at this point, given the cost of the war on terrorism?

BUSH: The first question all of us here in Washington are going to ask is: How do we make sure this economy continues to grow? A vibrant economy is going to be necessary to fund not only the war, but a lot of other aspects of our government.

We have shown over the past six years that low taxes have helped this economy recover from some pretty significant shocks.

After all, the unemployment rate is 4.5 percent. And 7 million more Americans have been - have found jobs since August of 2003. And we cut the deficit in half a couple of years in advance of what we thought would happen.

The question that Congress is going to have to face and I'm going to have to continue to face is: How do we make sure we put policy in place that encourages economic growth in the short term? And how do we keep America competitive in the long term?

Part of the competitive initiative, which I have been working with Congress on, recognizes that education of young - of the young - is going to be crucial for remaining competitive. And that's why the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind is going to be an important part of the legislative agenda going forward in 2007.

I also spoke about energy in my opening remarks. In my judgment, we're going to have to get off oil as much as possible to remain a competitive economy.

And I'm looking forward to working with Congress to do just that. I'm optimistic about some of the reports I've heard about new battery technologies that will be coming to the market that'll enable, you know, people who - people to drive the first 20 miles, for example, on electricity.

That'll be the initial phase - and, then, up to 40 miles on battery technologies. That'll be positive, particularly if you live in a big city.

A lot of people don't drive more than 20 miles or 40 miles a day. And, therefore, those urban dwellers who aren't driving that much won't be using any gasoline on a daily basis. And that will be helpful to the country.

I'm pleased with the fact that we've gone from about a billion gallons of ethanol to over 5 billion gallons of ethanol in a very quick period of time - mainly derived from corn here in the United States. But there's been great progress and we need to continue to spend money on cellulosic ethanol.

That means new technologies that will enable us to use wood chips, for example, or switch grass as the fuel stocks for the development of new types of fuels that will enable American drivers to diversify away from gasoline.

We've spent a lot of time talking about nuclear power, and I appreciate the Congress' support on the comprehensive energy bill that I signed.

But nuclear power is going to be an essential source, in my judgment, of future electricity for the United States and places like China and India. Nuclear power is renewable, and nuclear power does not emit one greenhouse gas.

And it makes a lot of sense for us to share technologies that will enable people to feel confident that the new nuclear power plants that are being built are safe, as well as technologies that'll eventually come to the fore that will enable us to reduce the wastes, the toxicity of the waste and the amount of the waste.

Continue to invest in clean-coal technologies. Abundance of coal here in America. And we need to be able to tell the American people we're going to be able to use that coal to generate electricity in environmentally friendly ways.

My only point to you is: We got a comprehensive plan to achieve the objective that most Americans support, which is less dependency upon oil.

I think it's going to be very important to keep this economy growing short term and long term by promoting free trade. It's in our interest that nations treat our markets, our goods and services the way we treat theirs. And it's in our interest that administrations continue to promote more opening of markets.

We've had a lot of discussions here in this administration on - on the Doha round of the WTO - WTO negotiations. And I'm very strongly in favor of seeing if we can't reach an accord with our trading partners and other countries around the world to promote - to get this round completed, so that free trade is universal in its application.

Free trade's going to be good for producers of U.S. product and services, but free trade is also going to be the most powerful engine for development around the world.

It's going to help poor nations become wealthier nations. It's going to enable countries to be able to, you know, find markets for their goods and services, so that they can better grow their economies and create prosperity for their people.

So we've got a robust agenda moving forward with the Congress. And I'm looking forward to working with them. And there's a lot of places where we can find common ground on these important issues.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

This week we learned that Scooter Libby ...

BUSH: A little louder, please. Excuse me. Getting old.

Q: I understand, Mr. President.

BUSH: No, you don't understand.

Q: You're right. I don't.

This week, sir, we learned that Scooter Libby's defense team plans to call Vice President Cheney to testify in the ongoing CIA leak case.

I wonder, sir: What is your reaction to that? Is that something you'll resist?

BUSH: No, I read it in the newspaper today. And it's an interesting piece of news. And that's all I'm going to comment about an ongoing case: I thought it was interesting.

Q: Thank you, sir.

Mary's having a baby. And you have said that you think Mary Cheney will be a loving soul to a child.

Are there any changes in the law that you would support that would give same-sex couples greater access to things such as legal rights, hospital visits, insurance, that would make a difference, even though you said it's your preference - you believe that it's preferable to have one man-one woman ...

BUSH: No, I've always said that we ought to review law to make sure that people are treated fairly. On the - on Mary Cheney, this is a personal matter for the vice president and his family. I strongly support their privacy on the issue, although there's nothing private when you happen to be the president or the vice president. I recognize that.

And I know Mary. And I like her. I know she's going to be a fine, loving mother.

I'm not going to call on you again. Like, got too much coverage yesterday, you know.

Create a sense of anxiety amongst your - no, no. You handled yourself well, though. Go on.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

A question about the Iraq Study Group report. One of the things that it recommends is greater dialogue, direct talks with Syria and Iran.

James Baker, himself, secretary of state under your father, says that it's a lot like it was during the Cold War when we talked to the Soviet Union.

He says it's important to talk to your adversaries. Is he wrong?

BUSH: The - let me start with Iran.

We made perfectly clear to them what it takes to come to the table. And that is a suspension of their enrichment program.

If they verifiably suspend - that they've stopped enrichment, we will come to the table with our E.U.-3 partners and Russia and discuss a way forward for them.

It should be evident to the Iranians - if this is what they want to do.

I heard the foreign minister - or read the foreign minister say the other day that: Yes, we'll sit down with America after they leave Iraq.

Now, if they want to sit down with us, for the good of the Iranian people, they ought to verifiably suspend their program. We've made that clear to them. It is obvious to them how to move forward.

The Iranian people can do better than becoming - than be an isolated nation. This is a proud nation with a fantastic history and tradition.

And yet they've got a leader who constantly sends messages to the world that Iran is out of step with the majority of thinkers; that Iran is willing to become isolated, to the detriment of the people.

I mean, I was amazed that once again there was this conference about the Holocaust that heralded a really backward view of the history of the world. And all that said to me was is that the leader in Iran is willing to say things that really hurts his country and further isolates the Iranian people.

We're working hard to get a Security Council resolution. I spoke to Secretary Rice about the Iranian Security Council resolution this morning. And the message will be, that, you, Iran, are further isolated from the world. My message to the Iranian people is: You can do better than to have somebody try to rewrite history. You can do better than somebody who hasn't strengthened your economy. And you can do better than having somebody who's trying to develop a nuclear weapon that the world believes you shouldn't have. There's a better way forward.

Speculation Abounds on Who Will Replace Abizaid, Casey
12/20/2006 11:15 AM ET
The Los Angeles Times broke the story this morning: U.S. Central Command chief John Abizaid will retire in March.

At a news conference today in Baghdad, Abizaid confirmed his plans to retire in the spring, saying "the time is right."

The LAT reports Abizaid, whose responsibilities include oversight of U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, tried to retire previously but was rebuffed by Donald Rumsfeld.

The AP reports this morning that General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will step down soon -- maybe within weeks.

Speculation abounds on who will succeed Abizaid and Casey, with the frontrunners being David Petraeus and Peter Chiarelli, with other possibiltiies including Martin Dempsey and David McKiernan.

Transcript
U.S. Defense Secretary to Seek "Unvarnished" Truth in Iraq
12/18/2006 5:53 PM ET
DoD Photo
From the Pentagon's Web site:

Secretary Gates' Swearing-In Remarks As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Pentagon Auditorium, The Pentagon, Monday, December 18, 2006

---------------------

Thank you. Mr. President, I am deeply honored by the trust you have placed in me. You have asked for my candor and my honest counsel at this critical moment in our nation's history, and you will get both.

Mr. Vice President, thank you for administering the oath of office. I first worked closely with the Vice President when he was a very successful Secretary of Defense, and I hope some of that may rub off.

My sincere thanks to the members of the United States Congress who are here today. I appreciate the prompt and fair hearing that I received in the Senate and the confidence that senators have placed in me.

Chairman Pace, thank you. I look forward to working with you and the Joint staff.

To the service chiefs and the service staffs, to all the uniform military here today, I value your professionalism and your experience, and I will rely on your clear-eyed advice in the weeks and months ahead.

Finally, I want to thank Becky, my wife of 40 years; and my children, Eleanor and Brad, for their infinite patience. I want to thank other family and friends who are here, but single out one especially -- my 93-year-old mother. She told me that if she could make it from Kansas to Texas A&M football games every fall, she certainly could be in Washington for this ceremony. (Laughter and applause.)

I, too, want to say a few words about my predecessor. Donald Rumsfeld has devoted decades of his life to public service. He cares deeply about our men and women in uniform, and the future of our country. I thank him for his long and distinguished service, and wish him and Joyce and their family all the best.

It is an honor to have the opportunity to work with the people in this Department, dedicated professionals whose overriding priority is the defense of our nation. Long ago, I learned something about leading large institutions: Leaders come and go, but the professionals endure long after the appointees are gone. The key to successful leadership in my view is to involve in the decision-making process early and often those who ultimately must carry out the decisions. I will do my best to do just that.

This Department, as always, is carrying on many different activities all at the same time. All are valuable, all are important. However, as I said in my confirmation hearings, Iraq is at the top of the list.

In the days since the Senate confirmed me, I have participated in most of the National Security Council meetings on Iraq, I have received a number of briefings here at the Department of Defense, and I have discussed the situation and way forward in Iraq in depth with the President.

I intend to travel quite soon to Iraq and meet with our military leaders and other personnel there. I look forward to hearing their honest assessments of the situation on the ground and to having the benefit of their advice -- unvarnished and straight from the shoulder -- on how to proceed in the weeks and months ahead.

Another pressing concern is Afghanistan. The progress made by the Afghan people over the past five years is at risk. The United States and its NATO allies have made a commitment to the Afghan people, and we intend to keep it. Afghanistan cannot be allowed to become a sanctuary for extremists again.

How we face these and other challenges in the region over the next two years will determine whether Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations at a crossroads will pursue paths of gradual progress towards sustainable governments, which are allies in the global war on terrorism, or whether the forces of extremism and chaos will become ascendant.

All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again. But, as the President has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come.

Finally, there is the matter of what is referred to as defense transformation. As I mentioned in my Senate testimony, I was impressed by how deployable our military has become since I last served in government.

Before he came to office, the President said that one of his top priorities was to help our military become more agile, more lethal, and more expeditionary. Much has been accomplished in this; much remains to be done. This remains a necessity and a priority.

I return to public service in the hope that I can make a difference at a time when our nation is facing daunting challenges and difficult choices. Mr. President, I thank you again for the opportunity to do that, and thank all of you for being here. (Applause.)

Transcript
Disclosure Comes as Bush Meets Pentagon Chiefs
12/13/2006 4:19 PM ET
After talking Iraq today with U.S. military chiefs at the Pentagon, President Bush did something unusual for a U.S. official: disclosured how many enemy forces have recently been killed or captured -- "nearly 5,900" over October, November and the first week of December.

Here is the full transcript:

Defenselink.mil

I've just concluded a very productive meeting with the secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Pete Pace, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the vice president.

I thank these -- I thank these men who wear our uniform for a very candid and fruitful discussion about the -- about how to secure this country and how to win a war that we now find ourselves in. We spent a lot of time talking about a new way forward in Iraq, to help the Iraqi government confront and defeat the enemies of a free Iraq. We all agree it's in our nation's interest that we help this government succeed. We recognize that there are enemies that would like to topple this young democracy so they could have safe haven from which to plot and plan attacks against moderate nations in the Middle East, as well as attacks against the United States. It's in our interest that we help this government succeed.

There has been a lot of violence in Iraq, and the violence has been horrific. Scores of innocent men, women and children are being brutally killed by ruthless murderers. Our troops are engaged in offensive operations. And we mourn the loss of life. We are saddened by the loss of every single life amongst our servicemen and women.

Our folks are very active in Al Anbar and in Baghdad, which is where the enemy is concentrated. Our commanders report that the enemy has also suffered. Offensive operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists, and insurgents, and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November, and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy.

While our enemy is far from being defeated, there should be no doubt in anybody's mind that every day and night, the Iraqi government and our brave men and women of the Armed Forces are taking the fight to the enemy; that in spite of the fact that I am conducting a strategic review of the best way forward in Iraq, there are a lot of operations taking place day and night. Yesterday, the secretary, and the vice president, and General Pace and I were on the CVTS with General Casey, and he's talking about the hard work our troops and Iraqi troops are doing to defeat these enemies.

I do want to say something to those who wear our uniform. The men and women in uniform are always on my mind. I am proud of them, I appreciate their sacrifices, and I want them to know that I am focused on developing a strategy that will help them achieve their mission.

Oh, I know there's a lot of debate here at home, and our troops pay attention to that debate. They hear that I am meeting with the Pentagon, or the State Department, or outside officials; that my national security team and I are working closely with Iraqi leaders. And they wonder what that means.

Well, I'll tell you what it means. It means I am listening to a lot of advice to develop a strategy to help you succeed. There's a lot of consultations taking place, and as I announced yesterday, I will be delivering my plans after a long deliberation, after steady deliberation. I'm not going to be rushed into making a difficult decision, a necessary decision to say to our troops, "We're going to give you the tools necessary to succeed and a strategy to help you succeed."

I also want the new secretary of Defense to have time to evaluate the situation, so he can provide serious and deliberate advice to me. I do want our troops to understand this, though -- that this government and this group of military leaders are committed to a strategic goal of a free Iraq that is democratic, that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself and be a strong ally in this war against radicals and extremists who would do us harm; secondly, that our troops deserve the solid commitment of the commander in chief and our political leaders and the American people.

You have my unshakable commitment in this important fight to help secure the peace for the long term. I pledge to work with the new Congress to forge greater bipartisan consensus to help you achieve your mission. I will continue to speak about your bravery and your commitment and the sacrifices of your families to the American people.

We're not going to give up. The stakes are too high and the consequences too grave to turn Iraq over to extremists who want to do the American people and the Iraqi people harm.

I thank you for your service. I'm proud to be your commander in chief. We'll honor the sacrifices you are making by making sure your children and grandchildren can grow up in a more peaceful world. God bless.

I'll take a couple of questions. AP man.

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you. You've been gathering advice, as you said, from leaders here and from leaders in Iraq. As you've gone through that extensive process, have you heard any new ideas at all, anything that would change your thinking?

BUSH: I've heard some ideas that would lead to defeat, and I reject those ideas. Ideas such as leaving before the job is done. Ideas such as not helping this government take the necessary and hard steps to be able to do its job. I've heard interesting ideas. I won't share them with you, because I want to -- I want to make sure I continue to collect those ideas and put them together in a strategy that our military and the commanders and our national security team understand, will lead to an IraQUESTION: that can govern and sustain and defend itself.

I put off my speech. Actually, I was quite flexible about when I was going to give my speech to begin with, but -- and one of the main reasons why is I really do want the new secretary of Defense to have time to get to know people and hear people and be a part of this deliberation. And he will not be sworn in until next Monday.

I also -- one of the interesting things about this experience is that there's a lot of ideas and a lot of opinions, and I want to make sure I hear from as many of those ideas and opinions as possible. Today I heard from -- some opinions that matter a lot to me, and these are the opinions of those who wear the uniform. These generals have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue. There's nobody who cares more about our troops than they do and nobody who wants us to achieve more than -- than to achieve our objectives than they do.

And it was a fascinating discussion we had.

These are smart people and capable people, and people whose judgment I listen to. And at the appropriate time, I will stand up in front of the nation and say: Here's where we're headed.

But one thing people have got to understand is we'll be headed toward achieving our objectives. And I repeat, if we lose our nerve, if we're not steadfast in our determination to help the Iraqi government succeed, we will be handing IraQUESTION: over to an enemy that would do us harm, the consequences of which -- of leaving IraQUESTION: before the job is done, for example, would be grave for the American citizens. As we learned on September the 11th, the enemy has got the capacity to strike us. And there's no doubt in my mind a failure in IraQUESTION: would make it more likely the enemy would strike us. It would certainly make it more likely that moderate people around the Middle East would wonder about the United States' will. Moderate people -- moderate governments in the Middle East would be making irrational decisions about their future. It would be a disaster for governments that have got energy resources to be in the hands of these extremists. They would use energy to extract blackmail from the United States. And when you couple all that with a regime that is -- doesn't like the United States, having a nuclear weapon, you can imagine a world of turmoil. And we're not going to let it happen.

Karen?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. You said you would reject plans that would lead to defeat. Would you put the Baker-Hamilton report in that category?

BUSH: No, my opinion of Baker-Hamilton hasn't changed. One, I appreciated their look. Secondly, I thought it was interesting that both Democrats and Republicans could actually work in concert to help achieve an objective. And the objective they stated that was necessary, in their report, was a government that could defend itself, govern itself, sustain itself, and serve as an ally in the war on terror.

I thought there were some good ideas in there. And I, as I told both Baker and Hamilton and the American people after I received the report, I take every one of their considerations seriously.

QUESTION: Does it give the new Defense secretary time to get more in the mix? What is the strategy that you're looking to build? Is it a military strategy for success in IraQUESTION: or a political one?

BUSH: I think that our military cannot do this job alone. Our military needs a -- a political strategy that is effective, and that includes things such as an oil law passed by the Iraqis that basically says to the people, all of you, regardless of where you live or your religion, get to share in the bounty of our nation. It -- it requires a reconciliation effort, including a rational de-Ba'athification law.

QUESTION: That's not something you can do with your new strategy, is it?

BUSH: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely I can do that with my new strategy. I mean, it is a -- I can hold people to account. It's something the military recognizes that they're not -- you know, that's -- that's not their job. It's my job to convince the Maliki government to make the hard decisions necessary to move his country forward.

But the good news is he agrees. In my conversations with him, I have said, you know, are you going to promote a unity government or will you be so, you know, divisive in your approach that you can't achieve the objectives that the Iraqi people, you know, expect you to achieve? How I do know they expect to achieve? They voted. (Laughs.) Twelve million of them actually went to the polls and expressed their opinions.

And so there needs to be a political track. And we're working very hard with the Maliki government to achieve that political -- that's what I've been doing the last couple of days. As a matter of fact, today on the telephone I spoke to the two Kurdish leaders. The -- these men have been outspoken about the desire to have a moderate governing coalition, which we support.

I spent -- met with the -- the major Sunni leader yesterday, all talking about how we hope that there is political reconciliation and a commitment to a political process that says to the Iraqi people, you know, we're -- you count, you matter, and -- for the future of our country. There needs to be an economic component. As you know, part of our successful strategies in parts of IraQUESTION: have been based upon a "clear, hold and build." Well, "build" means getting projects up and running in key parts of the country, so that people see the benefits of -- of either working with coalition forces and/or the benefits of supporting a government.

And so no, this -- this is much more than a military operation.

And finally, there's the foreign policy piece that's necessary. And -- and we spend a lot of time in our government talking to people like Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Jordan or Turkey, and sending messages, clear messages, to countries like Syria and Iran. And I am -- I believe, for example, the Saudis are committed to a -- a government that will bring peace and stability, and that's a unity government. It's in their interest they do so. And we're working hard with them to figure out a strategy to help the Maliki government succeed. I'm pleased when -- when Iraqi leaders go to Saudi Arabia and talk to my friend the king of Saudi Arabia and talk about how they can work together to achieve stability. It's in Saudi's interest, it's in Jordan's interest, it's in the Gulf Coast (sic) countries' interests that there be a stable Iran, Iran that is capable of rejecting Iranian influence -- I mean IraQUESTION: that is capable of rejecting Iranian influence. It's in our interests that we succeed in Iraq, so that we can continue to -- to send a clear message to those in Iran that are desirous of a free society that freedom is possible in your neighborhood.

And so the stakes are high in this -- in this fight. Nobody knows that better than the -- than the gentlemen standing behind me. They clearly understand the stakes that are confronted -- that confront this nation. And I am proud to have listened to their points of view, and I'm proud to be working with them as they help lead the greatest military ever assembled -- a military, by the way, in which we've got brave volunteers, people who understand the stakes of this fight, saying, "I want to be in. I want to serve my country." It's a remarkable period in American history right now.

And as I deliberate the way forward, I keep in mind that we've got brave souls that need to -- to -- need to know that we're in this fight with a strategy to help them achieve the objectives that we've got.

Listen, thank you all very much.

Report says Military to Recommend Many More Troops in Iraq
12/13/2006 09:59 AM ET
The LA Times reports Bush will hear a bold pitch for victory when he visits with U.S. military chiefs at the Pentagon today. If the report is accurate, such advice would seemingly be over the objections of General Peter Chiarelli, the day-to-day U.S. military operational commander in Iraq, who's made clear he opposes boosting overall U.S. troop strength there.

Tells Cal Thomas Radio Show "'War on Terror" Label a Mistake
12/12/2006 10:54 PM ET
Here's the key excerpt from Rumsfeld's interview Monday on the Cal Thomas radio program:

CT: With what you know now, what might you have done differently in Iraq?

DR: I don't think I would have called it the war on terror. I don't mean to be critical of those who have. Certainly, I have used the phrase frequently. Why do I say that? Because the word 'war' conjures up World War II more than it does the Cold War. It creates a level of expectation of victory and an ending within 30 or 60 minutes of a soap opera. It isn't going to happen that way. Furthermore, it is not a 'war on terror.' Terror is a weapon of choice for extremists who are trying to destabilize regimes and (through) a small group of clerics, impose their dark vision on all the people they can control. So 'war on terror' is a problem for me.

I've worked to reduce the extent to which that (label) is used and increased the extent to which we understand it more as a long war, or a struggle, or a conflict, not against terrorism, but against a relatively small number of terribly dangerous and violent extremists. I say violent extremists because an extremist who goes off in a closet is extreme, but he's not bothering people. An extremist who has those views and insists on imposing them on free people strikes at the heart of who free people are. There are people who want to be able to get up in the morning and go where they want, do what they want and that is exactly the opposite of the vision of violent extremists.

In-Depth Report
Big ISG Lapse: Overlooking the Army of Contractors in Iraq
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 12/12/2006 8:14 PM ET
With the focus on troop levels, shouldn't we be thinking about what to do with the second largest force in Iraq?

More than three years after the invasion of Iraq, the Department of Defense was finally pressured into counting the number of civilian contractors working in support of the U.S. mission. The resulting census, scheduled for release in a few weeks, will not even include subcontractors in its total. Even so, the Pentagon's deliberately underestimated figure of 100,000 raises troubling questions about how this manpower may be utilized in Iraq as U.S. policy moves forward.

In 1992 then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney hired Brown and Root to create a feasibility study of using contractors in a number of military scenarios. It is not surprising as Vice President, that Halliburton a company he CEO of was an integral of the war effort in Iraq and that contractors would play a major role in the War on Terror.


Civilian contractors in Iraq first emerged as an item of public concern following the slaying of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah in March 2004. A few days later, Rep. Ike Skelton, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote a letter to Sec. Rumsfeld requesting detailed information on private security contractors working in Iraq. Rumsfeld's response one month later cited the number of 20,000 hired guns working for sixty firms. It did not cover the other contractors required to support the war effort in Iraq.

The only thing certain about the Pentagon's first publicly-acknowledged estimate of security contractors was that it was incorrect. Its list of sixty firms does not even cite a number who were publicly known to be operating in Iraq at that time--including Vinnell, MPRI, CACI, SAIC, and Titan. In 2005 the Pentagon confirmed the GAO official estimate of 25,000 security contractors, once the contractors and subcontractors.

It seems suspicious that the statistics-obsessed military appears unable to count its own Contractor badge registrations (required for entry to most U.S. installations in Iraq). The implication seems to be that the U.S. government does not want to publicly acknowledge the strength of its secret army of civilian and security contractors.

Last year at this time the Dept of Labor came with its own estimate of 75,000 contractors in Iraq using the number of applicatons for Defense Base Insurance. It also estimated that 650 contractors had been killed in Iraq. Grim proof that contractors may not be fighting our war, but they are being killed by it.

Now Renae Merle of The Washington Post has sneak previewed another Pentagon's forthcoming report that a suspiciously round estimate of 100,000 Americans, Iraqis and third-country nationals working under contracts with U.S. agencies. The report deliberately does not cover subcontractors. If subcontractors had been included in the evaluation, the count would have almost certainly surpassed 160,000--the number of U.S. troops presently operating in Iraq.

Public debate about the use and number of troops in Iraq has been fierce, but little has been mentioned about the civilian presence. It is now time to ask what impact this secret army will have on future plans.

Secretary of State tells AFP She'll Let Historians Decide
12/12/2006 11:54 AM ET
The State Department this morning distributed the transcript of a lengthy AFP interview conducted last night with Condoleezza Rice. Key Iraq-related excerpts are below:

Interview With Sylvie Lanteaume and David Millikin of Agence France Presse

Secretary Condoleezza Rice Washington, DC December 11, 2006

(5:30 p.m. EST)

QUESTION:Well, I'll begin very briefly on Baker-Hamilton since I think that's quite a topic of conversation. Has the possibility of opening unconditional direct talks with Syria and Iran, as recommended by the Baker-Hamilton report and many others in the region and beyond, been definitively taken off the table as the Administration finalizes its Iraq policy review?

SECRETARY RICE: I think that we do not think this is an issue of whether you talk to Iran or Syria, but what you're likely to get. The fact of the matter is that Syria is engaged in a policy that is being demonstrated right now on the streets of Lebanon, where there is an attempt to bring down the Siniora government using or supporting extremist forces in Lebanon.There has been no cooperation with the international community's demand for an international tribunal, which is really what an awful lot of this is about. And Syria is engaged in policies that are if not 180 degrees, 170 degrees antithetical to the interests of mainstream forces in the Middle East. And we are not the only ones who recognize this. The French recognize this. Read what Jacques Chirac has said about talks with Syria. Look at the isolation that Syria is experiencing from moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia and others.

So the Syrians, if they want to stabilize Iraq, if that is in Syria's interest to stabilize Iraq, and I assume that people -- that countries understand their interests. If it's in Syria's interest to stabilize Iraq, then they'll do it. If it's not in their interest to stabilize Iraq, then they won't or they're looking for compensation, and I do not want to get into a circumstance in which we're talking about compensation. And I just want to take one moment here to say something. Our friends in the Middle East, the struggling democratic forces like those of Prime Minister Siniora and the March 14th coalition in Lebanon, need to understand that we are fully and completely, along with the international community, in support of them and their goals and their legitimacy in Lebanon. And we understand what forces are trying to undo that, including Syria and Iran. And in no way is the United States going to get into a situation where it is even a conceivable notion on the part of Syria or Iran that the future of Lebanon would somehow be compromised for other interests of the United States. We're simply not going to get into that situation.

Now, as to Iran, we have said that we will change 27 years of American policy, and I've said to my Iranian counterpart through you and others, anyplace, anytime, anywhere, once they suspend their enrichment program. And about any subject. We didn't say you can only come and talk about the nuclear issue. The Iranians have not wanted to do that. Why? Because the Iranians are seeking nuclear technology that can lead to a nuclear weapon to strengthen their capacity to carry out a policy that supports extremist forces throughout the Middle East. And if there's any thought that the Iranians are going to talk about Iraq over here and stabilizing Iraq over here, and then the nuclear issue over here, I just don't see it. And again, so you have to ask what is the price and what is the compensation.

Now, in the context of Iraq's neighbors and the international community, if Syria and Iran come to the table responsibly, ready to support Iraqi efforts with their neighbors, we have no problem with that. And the Iraqis are carrying out their own diplomacy with their neighbors. And Iran and Syria are participants in the international compact. So there are plenty of opportunities for Iran and Syria to support a more stable future for Iraq. They don't need us to tell them how they might do that, and I would be concerned that the reason that they would want to have us to tell them that is because there would be some expectation of compensation, and compensation is clearly not on the table.

QUESTION: Okay. Madame Secretary, you said that thousand of mistakes were made in Iraq.What is your biggest personal regret?

SECRETARY RICE: I think I said thousands and thousands. (Laughter.) Look, Sylvie, I think I've said several times I'm enough of an historian to know that the -- history will judge what turned out to be mistakes and what turned out to be right policies. I'm sure that there are many, many, many things that we could have done differently, maybe should have done differently, perhaps (we) didn't foresee; absolutely. It's a huge historical undertaking and that's going to be the case.

Have we made adjustments? Yes. I'll tell you an adjustment that we've made. You know, we started out with a reconstruction program that was probably too centralized and probably too big and maybe focused on -- you know, with large contracts to do things because we really wanted to make an impact on -- you know, the fact that the electrical grid was in the, you know, in the 30s from the Iraqis and that, you know, you wanted to be able to deliver water. And we did a lot of that. But we found that by now having these provincial reconstruction teams, we can actually deliver infrastructure projects in a much more effective and efficient way at the local level than we were ever able to do at the national level. We found that smaller amounts of money to a commander and a provincial reconstruction leader, with the input of a provincial council, (they) can fix a problem right there on the spot.

So yeah, there are important adjustments like that that we have had to make. But I absolutely don't -- it's not that I just don't regret having participated in the liberation of Iraq or the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but I'm very proud that this country finally helped to liberate 25 million Iraqis from a tyrant who had put 300,000 of them in mass graves, who had used weapons of mass destruction against Iranians and against Kurds and against Shia, who was still fighting us day in and day out with no-fly zones, who had caused two wars in his region.

Yeah, the aftermath and the reconstruction and the fighting, and particularly the sectarian violence, is very bad and it's very hard to take; and if you are at all responsible for the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, you feel a personal responsibility for what's going on there every day, a personal responsibility for it. But you also feel a personal responsibility to support and be committed to these people who are struggling out of the ashes of that tyranny to build something new and different in the entire Middle East.

And so I think that, you know, Iraqis have got to take responsibility for their future, but they sure deserve to have committed friends who understand the challenge of what they're doing. And I feel an equal responsibility to do that.

QUESTION:Thank you, Madame Secretary.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

2006/1105

Novak Reports Khalilzad Likely Next U.S. Ambassador to U.N.
12/09/2006 2:42 PM ET
Robert Novak provides this breaker: President Bush has tentatively decided on appointing the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, as John Bolton's successor as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Here's the story. If true, it begs the question: who should be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq? Suggestions? E-mail us.

Full Transcript of the Bush-Blair White House Newser
12/07/2006 2:59 PM ET
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you all. Please be seated. I just had a good visit with Prime Minister Tony Blair. I appreciate you coming back, Mr. Prime Minister. I always enjoy our discussions, and I appreciate your clear view that we are confronted with a struggle between moderation and extremism. And this is particularly evident in the broader Middle East.

I talked about my recent trip to Jordan, where I talked to Prime Minister Maliki. I briefed the Prime Minister on my visit with His Eminence, Mr. Hakim, one of the major political players in Iraq. We discussed the report I received yesterday from the Iraq Study Group, a report chaired by Secretary of State -- former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. I told the Prime Minister I thought this was a very constructive report. I appreciated the fact that they laid out a series of recommendations, and they're worthy of serious study. I also updated the Prime Minister on the reviews that are being conducted by the Pentagon and the State Department and our National Security Council. I talked to him about the consultations I'm having with the United States Congress.

We agree that victory in Iraq is important; it's important for the Iraqi people, it's important for the security of the United States and Great Britain, and it's important for the civilized world. We agree that an Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself as an ally on the war on terror is a noble goal. The Prime Minister and I seek a wide range of opinions about how to go forward in Iraq, and I appreciate your opinions and your advice.

The increase in sectarian attacks we're seeing in and around Baghdad are unsettling. It has led to much debate in both our countries about the nature of the war that is taking place in Iraq. And it is true that Sunni and Shia extremists are targeting each other's innocent civilians and engaging in brutal reprisals. It's also true that forces beyond Iraq's borders contribute to this violence. And the Prime Minister put it this way, he said, "The violence is not an accident or a result of faulty planning. It is a deliberate strategy. It is the direct result of outside extremists teaming up with internal extremists -- al Qaeda with the Sunni insurgents, and Iran with the Shia militia -- to foment hatred and to throttle, at birth, the possibility of a non-sectarian democracy." You were right, and I appreciate your comments.

The primary victims of the sectarian violence are the moderate majority of Iraqis -- Sunni and Shia alike -- who want a future of peace. The primary beneficiaries are Sunni and Shia extremists, inside and outside of Iraq, who want chaos in that country so they can take control and further their ambitions to dominate the region.

These Sunni and Shia extremists have important differences, yet they agree on one thing: the rise of free and democratic societies in the Middle East where people can practice their faith, choose their leaders, and live together in peace would be a decisive blow to their cause.

And so they're supporting extremists across the region who are working to undermine young democracies. Just think about the Middle East. In Iraq, they support terrorists and death squads who are fomenting sectarian violence in an effort to bring down the elected government of Prime Minister Maliki. In Lebanon, they're supporting Hezbollah, which recently declared its intention to force the collapse of Prime Minister Siniora's democratically-elected parliament and government. In Afghanistan, they're supporting remnants of the Taliban that are seeking to destabilize President Karzai's government and regain power. In the Palestinian Territories, they are working to stop moderate leaders like President Abbas from making progress toward the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

In each of these places, radicals and extremists are using terror to stop the spread of freedom. And they do so because they want to spread their ideologies -- their ideologies of hate -- and impose their rule on this vital part of the world. And should they succeed, history will look back on our time with unforgiving clarity and demand to know, what happened? How come free nations did not act to preserve the peace?

Prime Minister Blair and I understand that we have a responsibility to lead and to support moderates and reformers who work for change across the broader Middle East. We also recognize that meeting this responsibility requires action. We will take concerted efforts to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. Prime Minister Blair informed me that he will be heading to the Middle East soon to talk to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I support that mission. I support the mission because it's important for us to advance the cause of two states living side by side in peace, and helping both parties eliminate the obstacles that prevent an agreement from being reached. And your strong leadership on this issue matters a lot.

We'll support the democratic government of Prime Minister Maliki as he makes difficult decisions and confronts the forces of terror and extremism that are working hard to tear his country apart.

Britain and America are old allies, and the Prime Minister and I are strong friends. But Britain and America aren't standing together in this war because of friendship. We're standing together because our two nations face an unprecedented threat to civilization. We're standing together to prevent terrorists and extremists from dominating the Middle East. We stand together to prevent extremists from regaining the safe haven they lost in Afghanistan, a safe haven from which they launched attacks that killed thousands of our citizens.

We stand together because we understand the only way to secure a lasting peace for our children and grandchildren is to defeat the extremist ideologies and help the ideology of hope, democracy, prevail. We know the only way to secure peace for ourselves is to help millions of moms and dads across the Middle East build what our citizens already have: societies based on liberty that will allow their children to grow up in peace and opportunity.

It's a tough time. And it's a difficult moment for America and Great Britain. And the task before us is daunting. Yet our nations have stood before in difficult moments. Sixty-five years ago this day, America was jolted out of our isolationism and plunged into a global war that Britain had been fighting for two years. In that war, our nation stood firm. And there were difficult moments during that war, yet the leaders of our two nations never lost faith in the capacity to prevail.

We will stand firm again in this first war of the 21st century. We will defeat the extremists and the radicals. We will help a young democracy prevail in Iraq. And in so doing, we will secure freedom and peace for millions, including our own citizens.

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Thank you very much, Mr. President, and thank you, firstly, for stressing again the strength of the relationship between our two countries, which is important for us, but I think it's important for the wider global community, as well. Thank you also for the clarity of your vision about the mission that we're engaged in at the moment, which is a struggle between freedom and democracy on the one hand, and terrorism and sectarianism on the other. And it's a noble mission, and it's the right mission, and it's important for our world that it succeeds.

And so the question is, how do we make sure that it does, indeed, succeed? And in respect of Iraq, I, like you, welcome the Baker-Hamilton study group. It offers a strong way forward. I think it is important now we concentrate on the elements that are necessary to make sure that we succeed, because the consequences of failure are severe. And I believe this is a mission we have to succeed in and we can succeed in.

And I think there are three elements that we can take forward. The first is to make sure that we are supporting the Maliki government in making sure that that government's non-sectarian nature is reflected in the policies of that government and the way that it conducts itself. I think in respect of governance and security and capability -- particularly economic capability -- there is much that we are doing, but can do even more in order to make sure that they are supported in the vital work that they do, and in the work of reconciliation, in bringing the different parts of Iraq together in order to give effect to the will of the Iraqi people, expressed in their democratic election.

I think, secondly, it's important that all of us who are engaged in this, but particularly those in the region, live up to their responsibilities in supporting the Maliki government, in ensuring that Iraq is able to proceed in a democratic and non-sectarian way.

And I think that, finally, as you rightly emphasize, it is important that we do everything we can in the wider Middle East to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This is something that I know you feel deeply and passionately about; you are the first President who committed yourself to the two state solution. And I believe that by moving this forward we send a very strong signal not just to the region, but to the whole of the world that we are evenhanded and just in the application of our values, that we want to see an Israel confident of its security and a Palestinian people able to live in peace and justice and democracy.

And that brings me back, finally, to the point that I began with, because I think it is the central point -- yes, it is immensely tough at the moment and very challenging, and everybody knows that. But there are only two ways that the Middle East can go. Its people can either be presented with a choice between a secular or a religious dictatorship, which is not a choice that any free people would ever choose, or alternatively, they can enjoy the same possibilities of democracy that we hold dear in our countries. And this is not a view that we hold -- I hold because of idealism alone. It is because I also believe that the only realistic path to security is by ensuring the spread of liberty.

So, Mr. President, thank you again for welcoming me here, and we will work closely with you in the time to come in order to achieve the mission we have set ourselves.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, sir. Thank you. We'll answer a couple of questions.

Q Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, neither of you has shown much doubt about your Iraq policies. Do you acknowledge that your approach has failed, as Baker-Hamilton suggests? And are you willing to engage directly with Syria and Iran and pull out most combat forces by early 2008, unless there's unexpected circumstances?

PRESIDENT BUSH: The thing I liked about the Baker-Hamilton report is it discussed the way forward in Iraq. And I believe we need a new approach. And that's why I've tasked the Pentagon to analyze the way forward. That's why Prime Minister Blair is here to talk about the way forward, so we can achieve the objective, which is an Iraq which can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror.

And the Baker-Hamilton report did some very interesting things. First, it shows that Republicans and Democrats can work together to achieve -- to come up with a strategy to achieve an objective, something the American people don't think is possible to happen. In other words, they've seen elections, and they saw all the bitterness and finger-pointing and name-calling and wonder whether or not we can work together on this important cause. And I believe we can. And the Baker-Hamilton commission showed it's possible for people of goodwill to sit down at the table and design a way forward.

And so that's why I'm sitting down with the members of Congress to say to both Republicans and Democrats, this is an important cause. It's important for our security; it's important to help lay the foundations for peace, and I want to hear your ideas. And I thought the report did a good job of showing what is possible. Congress isn't going to accept every recommendation in the report, and neither will the administration. But there's a lot of very important things in the report that we ought to seriously consider.

And as the Prime Minister talked about, there's three aspects to the report. One is, how do we empower the Maliki government so that the Maliki government -- the elected government of the Iraqis -- can help with the economy, can help secure peace, can do hard work necessary to achieve stability and to achieve the objective?

It talked about the regional -- the countries in the region, and the responsibilities of the region to help this Iraqi government. And the idea of having an international group is an interesting idea. We've already got the compact, and I think the Baker-Hamilton report suggests that we broaden the compact beyond just economic measures.

But one thing is for certain, when people-- if people come to the table to discuss Iraq, they need to come understanding their responsibilities to not fund terrorists, to help this young democracy survive, to help with the economics of the country. And if people are not committed, if Syria and Iran is not committed to that concept, then they shouldn't bother to show up.

Thirdly, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is important to have -- is important to be solved. I'm committed to a two state solution. I believe it is in Israel's interest and the Palestinian people's interest to have two states living side by side for peace. And the Prime Minister shares that goal. And he is willing to take time to go over and help remove obstacles toward achieving that goal.

And there are two notable obstacles. One, one is the prisoner; and secondly, is for there to be a unity government that recognizes the principles of the Quartet, with which Israel can negotiate. And we want to help.

And so I view this as a very important way forward, important concepts. And the American people expect us to come up with a new strategy to achieve the objective which I've been talking about and which is laid out in the Baker-Hamilton report.

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I think the analysis of the situation is not really in dispute. The question is, how do we find the right way forward? And what we've got at the moment is something that is at one level very simple to describe, but at another level very profound and difficult to deal with -- and that is that the outside extremists are linking up with internal extremists, basically to create the circumstances of sectarianism, where it's very, very difficult then for democracy and ordinary institutions to function.

And I think the Baker-Hamilton report allows us to, as the situation has evolved in Iraq, to evolve our strategy in order to meet it in the ways that I've just described. But I think we've got to be very, very clear about this: It will require everybody to face up to their responsibilities. Us, of course, because we are principal actors in this; but also the Iraqi government, they've got to be prepared to make the moves necessary -- full governance, full capability, reconciliation and full help and security -- and we will be there to support them.

But then there are responsibilities, as the President was saying a moment or two ago, on the region and the neighbors. And let me come directly to the Iran and Syria point. The issue for me is not a question of being unwilling to sit down with people or not, but the basis upon which we discuss Iraq has got to be clear and it's got to be a basis where we are all standing up for the right principles, which are now endorsed in the United Nations resolutions, in respect of Iraq. In other words, you support the democratic elected government; you do not support sectarians and you do not support, arm or finance terrorists.

Now, the very reason we have problems in parts of Iraq -- and we know this very well down in the south of Iraq -- is that Iran, for example, has been doing that, has been basically arming, financing, supporting terrorism. So we've got to be clear the basis upon which we take this forward. And as I say, it's got to be clear the basis upon which we take this forward. And as I say, it's got to be on the basis of people accepting their responsibilities.

And finally, in relation to what the President was just saying a moment or two ago on Israel and Palestine, I think that one thing that is very clear is that the old Middle East had within it the origins of all the problems we see. I mean, this terrorist problem that we faced in the last few years, it didn't originate, I'm afraid, a few years ago. It's been building up over decades. It's come out of a series of states of oppression, of warped ideology, based on a perverted view of the faith of Islam. This has been building up for a long period of time. And it has basically come out of the Middle East.

Now, my view in the end is that you go back to the origins of this and say, well, how do we resolve it? And the only way we resolve it is by having the right vision and then the practical measures to achieve it.

Now, I think the vision is absolutely correct. What we've got to do now -- and this is exactly why the President was talking about the way forward -- is that we've got to get the right way forward -- this is where Baker-Hamilton helped -- in order that we have the practical policy that bolsters and gives effect to the vision, because the vision is the right vision. You leave a Middle East in which the Israel-Palestine issue is not solved, in which there's no moves towards democracy, in which Iraq goes back in its old state, in which the Iranian people have no chance to express themselves, maybe not in the months or one year, two years, but you'll have the same problem. You know, the reason we are faced with this issue is because in the end, everything that happened in that region erupted, in fact, on the streets of New York. But it -- the origins of this went way, way back before that.

And so it is -- there's a tendency I think sometimes to see this as a battle between the idealists on the one hand and the realists on the other. In my view, the only modern form of realism is one that has ideals at the center of it.

Q Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as grave and deteriorating. You said that the increase in attacks is unsettling. That won't convince many people that you're still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq, and question your sincerity about changing course.

PRESIDENT BUSH: It's bad in Iraq. Does that help? (Laughter.)

Q Why did it take others to say it before you've been willing to acknowledge for the world --

PRESIDENT BUSH: In all due respect, I've been saying it a lot. I understand how tough it is. And I've been telling the American people how tough it is. And they know how tough it is. And the fundamental question is, do we have a plan to achieve our objective. Are we willing to change as the enemy has changed? And what the Baker-Hamilton study has done is it shows good ideas as to how to go forward. What our Pentagon is doing is figuring out ways to go forward, all aiming to achieve our objective.

Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir. I talk to families who die. I understand there's sectarian violence. I also understand that we're hunting down al Qaeda on a regular basis and we're bringing them to justice. I understand how hard our troops are working. I know how brave the men and women who wear the uniform are, and therefore, they'll have the full support of this government. I understand what long deployments mean to wives and husbands, and mothers and fathers, particularly as we come into a holiday season. I understand. And I have made it abundantly clear how tough it is.

I also believe we're going to succeed. I believe we'll prevail. Not only do I know how important it is to prevail, I believe we will prevail. I understand how hard it is to prevail. But I also want the American people to understand that if we were to fail -- and one way to assure failure is just to quit, is not to adjust, and say it's just not worth it -- if we were to fail, that failed policy will come to hurt generations of Americans in the future.

And as I said in my opening statement, I believe we're in an ideological struggle between forces that are reasonable and want to live in peace, and radicals and extremists. And when you throw into the mix radical Shia and radical Sunni trying to gain power and topple moderate governments, with energy which they could use to blackmail Great Britain or America, or anybody else who doesn't kowtow to them, and a nuclear weapon in the hands of a government that is -- would be using that nuclear weapon to blackmail to achieve political objectives -- historians will look back and say, how come Bush and Blair couldn't see the threat? That's what they'll be asking. And I want to tell you, I see the threat and I believe it is up to our governments to help lead the forces of moderation to prevail. It's in our interests.

And one of the things that has changed for American foreign policy is a threat overseas can now come home to hurt us, and September the 11th should be a wake-up call for the American people to understand what happens if there is violence and safe havens in a part of the world. And what happens is people can die here at home.

So, no, I appreciate your question. As you can tell, I feel strongly about making sure you understand that I understand it's tough. But I want you to know, sir, that I believe we'll prevail. I know we have to adjust to prevail, but I wouldn't have our troops in harm's way if I didn't believe that, one, it was important, and, two, we'll succeed. Thank you.

Q Prime Minister, if I may, briefly --

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: You're not going to do a follow up, are you? (Laughter.)

Q No, no, forgive me. I just wanted to ask you about your Middle East mission, if I may. Given your trip to the Middle East, isn't the truth of what the Arab-Israeli solution -- sorry, isn't the truth of what the Arab-Israeli problem requires is not, however hard you try, another visit by a British Prime Minister, but the genuine commitment -- and not merely in words -- of an American administration that's serious about doing something about it?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, I believe that we have that commitment. I mean, you're right in this sense, there would be no point in me going unless it was part of a mission that was supported fully by our American allies. But it is -- we agree -- the vision -- I mean, the one thing that I find very frustrating about the situation, Israel-Palestine, is that there is actually an agreement as to the solution we want to see, which is a two- state solution. And, really, everybody is agreed to that. So the question is how do you get there?

And there are critical obstacles that stand in the way of that that require detailed attention and management, and it's not merely myself who's going to be engaged in this, of course, but as you know, the Secretary of State has been very closely involved in this. She's been visiting the region recently, and I know is, again, fully committed to it.

I think what is interesting from what you have from this today is an acceptance and, indeed, a clear belief that you look at these issues together. And there is a -- there is a kind of whole vision about how we need to proceed that links what happens inside Iraq with what happens outside Iraq. And again, I think that the Baker-Hamilton report put this very simply and very clearly.

You know, there is -- there is no way that you ever succeed in these things unless you just carry on trying, and that's what we will do. And one of the things I learned in all the long years that you followed me in relation to Northern Ireland is that you just -- you don't accept that you ever give up. You just carry on doing it. And I am sure that it is possible to resolve this, and I also do believe that if we do, then it would -- it would send a signal of massive symbolic power across the world.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Steve.

Q Thank you, sir. You mentioned Iran and Syria as part of this regional effort. Are you willing to engage with them directly as the report -- as the report recommends? And back to the issue of the troops, is it possible to get them out of Iraq by early 2008, as the report talks about? And when do you hope to have this report? Sorry to --

PRESIDENT BUSH: How many questions do you got, Steve?

Q Sorry about that. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: You mean, when -- when do I hope to announce the strategy, is that what you're talking about? After I get the reports. And Baker-Hamilton is a really important part of our considerations. But we want to make sure the military gets their point of view in. After all, a lot of what we're doing is a military operation. I want to make sure the State Department is able to help us analyze the strategy to make sure that we've got the right political emphasis, not only inside Iraq but outside Iraq.

I appreciate the Prime Minister's answer to this lad -- we call them lads, in Great Britain -- lad's question, is that --(laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: You've made a friend, I think, there. (Laughter.) It's a long time since anyone's called him that. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: You got to understand -- well --

Q He calls me a number of other things.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Our Secretary of State is very much engaged in this issue. She works hard on the issue. And as much as we'd like to impose the settlement, it's important for you to understand, sir, that the Israelis and the Palestinians must accept responsibility and must sign off on an agreement. It's kind of easy to sit back and say, okay, we're going to impose this on them. We can help, and we will help.

So Steve, that's -- we're spending a lot -- I know, I'm heading back. We're spending a lot of time considering the new course, because the decisions that we make affect lives. They affect the lives of our soldiers, they affect the lives of the Iraqi people. But one thing is central to this new course, and that is the Iraqi government must be given more responsibility so they can prove to their people and to their allies that they're capable of making hard decisions necessary for their young democracy to move forward.

Second part of your long question?

Q Well, are you willing to engage direct talks with --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, Iran and Syria.

Q -- just a regional effort --

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, no, I understand. Steve, let me talk about engaging Iran. We have made it clear to the Iranians that there is a possible change in U.S. policy, a policy that's been in place for 27 years, and that is that if they would like to engage the United States, that they've got to verifiably suspend their enrichment program. We've made our choice. Iran now has an opportunity to make its choice. I would hope they would make the choice that most of the free world wants them to make, which is there is no need to have a weapons program; there is no need to isolate your people; there's no need to continue this obstinance when it comes to your stated desires to have a nuclear weapon. It's not in your interest to do so.

And should they agree to verifiably suspend their enrichment, the United States will be at the table with our partners.

It's really interesting to talk about conversations with countries -- which is fine; I can understand why people speculate about it -- but there should be no mistake in anybody's mind, these countries understand our position. They know what's expected of them.

There is -- if we were to have a conversation, it would be this one, to Syria: Stop destabilizing the Siniora government. We believe that the Siniora government should be supported, not weakened. Stop allowing money and arms to cross your border into Iraq. Don't provide safe haven for terrorist groups. We've made that position very clear.

And the truth of the matter is, is that these countries have now got the choice to make. If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it's easy -- just make some decisions that will lead to peace, not to conflict.

Is that the third part of your question? You've got to stop these long questions, Steven. Steven.

Q Combat troops out by early 2008, is that --

PRESIDENT BUSH: One of the things the report did mention, and I think you've said it in your comment, if conditions so allow. And we want our combat troops out as quick as possible. We want the Iraqis taking the fight. But it's very important to be -- as we design programs, to be flexible and realistic. And as the report said -- I don't -- got the exact words, but it was along the lines of depending upon conditions, I believe is what the qualifier was. And I thought that made a lot of sense. I've always said we'd like our troops out as fast as possible. I think that's an important goal.

On the other hand, our commanders will be making recommendations based upon whether or not we're achieving our stated objective. And the objective, I repeat, is a government which can sustain, govern, and defend itself -- free government of Iraq that can do that -- and will be an ally in this movement -- against this movement that is threatening peace and stability. And it's real.

I like to remind people it's akin to the Cold War in many ways. There's an ideological clash going on. And the question is, will we have the resolve and the confidence in liberty to prevail? That's really the fundamental question facing -- it's not going to face this government or this government, because we made up our mind. We've made that part clear. But it will face future governments. There will be future opportunities for people to say, well, it's not worth it, let's just retreat. I would strongly advise a government not to accept that position because of the dangers inherent with isolationism and retreat.

Q I'll try to be succinct. Mr. President, two years ago you said that you were ready to expend political capital on the Israel-Palestinian situation. With hindsight, do you think you've fulfilled that intention? How closely do you see a linkage between what happens in Israel-Palestine and a settlement in Iraq, achieving your goals?

Prime Minister, given that you were so recently in the Middle East and the situation hasn't exactly improved since then, is there anything specific you're hoping to achieve next week when you go back?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Want me to start? I'm getting older, so you're going to have to repeat the second part of your question. (Laughter.) Let me answer the first part. What's important is for people to accept the goal of two states living side-by-side for peace. And what has changed in the Middle East is that Israel and Palestine -- at least the current leadership of both countries, or both -- one entity and one country -- accept that goal. That's important.

To that end, the previous Prime Minister made a decision to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza, which I felt was a good decision, which would expedite the potential arrival of a state. And so to answer your question, yes, we're spending a lot of capital getting people headed in the same direction, which if you look at the history of the Middle East, is a change.

Secondly, one of the reasons why there hasn't been instant success is because radicals and extremists are trying to stop the advance of a Palestinian state. Why? Because democracy is a defeat for them. That's what I strongly believe. I find it interesting that when Prime Minister Olmert reaches out to Palestinians to discuss a way forward on the two state solution, Hezbollah attacks Israel. Why? Because radicals and extremists can't stand the thought of a democracy. And one of the great ironies is that people in the Middle East are working hard to prevent people in the Middle East from realizing the blessings of a free society in their democracy.

And so, no question progress has been spotty. But it's important for people to understand one of the reasons why is, is because radicals are trying to prevent it, and they're willing to kill innocent people to prevent progress. Now, our goal is to help the Abbas government strengthen its security forces, and we're doing that. Our goal is to help the Abbas government form a government that adheres to the principles of the Quartet. We can't abandon the principles of the Quartet just because it may sound easy. You can't do that. When nations lay out principles, you've got to adhere to those principles -- just like when we laid out a vision, you adhere to that vision.

And so the Prime Minister's visit, like Condi's visit recently to the Middle East, are all aiming to help countries remove obstacles necessary to achieve the vision. And it's hard work, but it's necessary work. And so I do believe there is a -- I know there's a change of attitude. And now the fundamental question is, can we help the moderates prevail? And make no mistake about it, radicals and extremists will kill in order to stop the progress. And that's what's difficult. But it should be a signal to those of us who have got the comfort of liberty to understand the consequences of this ideological struggle we're fighting. One of the consequences is denial of a Palestinian state.

This is ironic, isn't it -- I think it is, and it's sad.

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I think, first of all, it's important to understand how much has begun, how much work there's been. I mean, I know I've had many, many meetings on this issue over the past few months. I know Secretary Rice has been immensely active on it over these past months, as well. Now, some of that is visible and out there at press conferences and meetings, and a lot of it is behind the scenes.

But in essence, what we've got to do is to try to resolve two issues. First of all, we need to get the release of Corporal Shalit, which, as Prime Minister Olmert made clear the other day, would then allow the release of many Palestinian prisoners, as well. And this is obviously a very important issue.

But then, secondly, and this is, I think, really -- one of the core questions is, we are prepared to release the money to the Palestinian Authority. We are prepared to take the peace process forward and get into a process of negotiation. But we need a government on both sides that is committed to the basic principles of that negotiation. And at the present time, we are not able to achieve a national unity government on the Palestinian side. And the reason for that is that we are saying, not as a matter of dogma at all, but you can't have a government that everyone can deal with, and you can then negotiate a peace between Israel and Palestine, unless it's on the basis that everyone accepts the other's right to exist. So that's the difficulty. It's not a kind of technical point, it's absolutely at the heart of it.

Now, what we have got to do is to find either a way of unlocking the problem of forming that national unity government on the principles laid down by the United Nations, as well as the rest of the Quartet, or alternatively, a different way forward, but whatever way forward will have to be on the basis you get an empowered Palestinian government with whom everyone can negotiate and deal with.

Now, you know, again, it's a very, very obvious thing. It's not just for the Israelis and the Palestinians, but also for the whole of the region. You know, you can't negotiate this unless everyone accepts the basic principles of the negotiation. But if people were to do that, and after all, we're only asking people to accept the position that the United Nations, and really, the whole of the international community, you could move this forward quickly. I mean, I don't think there's any doubt at all that if you could get an empowered Palestinian government able to negotiate -- Israel has made it clear it is prepared to negotiate.

I'm not saying there aren't very tricky issues. There are things like Jerusalem, the right of return, which are very, very difficult. But actually, it's not beyond our wit to put it together. We could put it together. But you need to get these initial steps taken.

Now what I'm wont to do when I go out there is just explore what is the way that we get that ability to get the negotiation underway, trying to work round these obstacles. And it's something -- we were talking about Iran and Syria moments ago, it's something all of those countries could help with if they wanted to help with it. So I kind of feel one thing that is important is that everyone understands that there's no shortage of willingness, energy, commitment on our side.

And believe me, I've thought about this with the President many, many times, and I don't believe there's any shortage of those qualities on his part at all. But we need to get this -- we need to get the door unlocked because it's kind of barred at the moment. It needs to be opened. And that's the task, I think, for the next period.

PRESIDENT BUSH: L.A. Times Man.

Q Mr. President, you have said that you have the Baker-Hamilton report, you also have the -- you're waiting to hear from the Pentagon, you're waiting to hear from the State Department. This report was prepared by a bipartisan group, the only one you'll get. Secretary Baker has a special relationship with the family. Should this report not get extra consideration? Does it not carry more weight than any of the others?

PRESIDENT BUSH: That's an interesting question. It's certainly an important part of our deliberations, and it was certainly an important part of our discussions this morning. Some reports are issued and just gather dust. And truth of the matter is, a lot of reports in Washington are never read by anybody.

To show you how important this one is, I read it, and our guest read it. The Prime Minister read -- read a report prepared by a commission. And this is important. And there are some -- I don't think Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton expect us to accept every recommendation. I expect them -- I think -- I know they expect us to consider every recommendation, Jim. We ought to pay close attention to what they advise. And I told them yesterday at our meeting that we would pay close attention, and would seriously consider every recommendation. We've discussed some of their recommendations here at this press conference. And we are -- we will spend a lot of time on it.

And I -- and so you ask its relative importance. I'd call it a very important report, and a very important part of our working to a new approach, a new way forward in Iraq.

And I can't -- I really do thank those citizens for taking time out of busy lives to spend time helping us look at different options. These are distinguished souls; they got plenty to do. They're busy people, and yet they took nine months out and they talked to a lot of people. They went to Iraq, they thought about it a lot, and it was a very considerate, important report. And I will take the recommendations very seriously.

Q Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group said that leaders must be candid and forthright with people. So let me test that. Are you capable of admitting your failures in the past, and perhaps much more importantly, are you capable of changing course, perhaps in the next few weeks?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think you're probably going to have to pay attention to my speech coming up here when I get all the recommendations in, and you can answer that question, yourself. I do know that we have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed. I do understand that progress is not as rapid as I had hoped. And therefore, it makes sense to analyze the situation and to devise a set of tactics and strategies to achieve the objective that I have stated.

And so if the present situation needs to be changed, it follows that we'll change it if we want to succeed. What's really interesting is the battle has changed in Iraq from the rejectionists and former Baathists and definitely foreign fighters who have entered the country that were trying to destabilize the new government to one that Mr. Zarqawi stated clearly -- he said, look, let's kill Shia in order to create enough chaos and confusion and doubt of the government, and set off a sectarian battle. And he succeeded in that extent. He didn't succeed at avoiding us, but he did succeed at starting off sectarian strife. And now the fundamental question is, what strategy is necessary to deal with this type of violence?

We'll continue after al Qaeda. Al Qaeda will not have safe haven in Iraq. And that's important for the American people to know. We've got special operators, we've got better intelligence. And al Qaeda is effective at these spectacular bombings, and we'll chase them down, and we are, along with the Iraqis. The strategy now is how to make sure that we've got the security situation in place such that the Iraqi government is capable of dealing with the sectarian violence, as well as the political and economic strategies, as well.

So, yes, I think you'll see something differently, because it's a practical answer to a situation on the ground that's not the way we like it. You wanted frankness -- I thought we would succeed quicker than we did, and I am disappointed by the pace of success.

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Look, there isn't any -- as I said a moment or two ago, there isn't any doubt about how tough this is. It's hugely challenging. But what the report did not say is that we should just get out and leave it. What it did say is that it's immensely important that we succeed.

Now, the question is, therefore, how do we do it? And in that regard, I think the report is practical, it's clear, and it offers also the way of bringing people together.

The other thing that we want to do, because this is part of succeeding in this mission, is actually to make people understand that this is something where you've got to try and bring people together around a set of common objectives and a practical set of methods to achieve those objectives.

The issues that the report raises -- I mean, these aren't issues that, obviously, no one has ever thought of; these aren't issues that haven't been part of the continual discussion and debate and iteration within the coalition and, indeed, between us and the Iraqi government. But those essential elements we want to make sure, in the light of the changing situation that there is there, that, one, we have the Iraqi government able to operate effectively, but in a non-sectarian way, because that's what we began with. Secondly, that we make sure that everyone in the region is supporting that. And, thirdly, that we set this within the context of a broader vision for the Middle East, not least in respect of Israel and Palestine.

Now, in respect of the elements of that strategy, this report gives us a basis on which we can move forward -- but we've obviously then got to look at the practical measures that are necessary in order to give effect to those elements. And that's what we'll do. And I think that, you know, the one thing that no one who is dealing with this on a day to day basis has any doubt about is how tough it is. But the question is how we make sure that we overcome those tough conditions and succeed, because the need to succeed is so huge.

Q Prime Minister, just a brief supplementary -- sorry, I didn't get to ask you the question. You promised some time -- I'm sorry.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Look, I agree, this is a total violation of -- (laughter.) Our press corps is calling you down, man. I mean, there you are -- no, go ahead. (Laughter.)

Q You're encouraging it.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm not encouraging it. You're not a member of the American press, it's the Prime Minister. (Laughter.)

Q He's my guy. (Laughter.)

Q Only because you cut me off, Mr. President --

PRESS: Ohhhhh! (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Okay. (Laughter.)

Q Prime Minister, you promised the British military whatever it takes to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the former head of the British Army says the British military is not being funded properly for the job it's being asked to do. Do you accept that?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: We get from our military advice as to what they need and we do our level best to meet it. I mean, we'll -- I haven't actually read Mike Jackson's comments. I think it's Mike's speech you're talking about. And let me tell you he's someone I have enormous amount of respect for, and did a fantastic job when he was chief of our staff.

But in relation to this, we've worked closely with the military the whole time. It's important we carry on doing it. And I've simply made the point that in the last few years, and not least yesterday in the pre-budget report of the chancellor, we gave another significant increase in funding. But it's important we do this. This is a mission which it is -- because it's important that we succeed, it's important that we equip our armed forces properly. But I've got nothing -- if you'll forgive me, I've not got anything to comment on in detail until I've actually read the speech that he made. Not that -- I'm not saying you wouldn't give me a fair resume of it. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Okay.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Good job.

END 11:58 A.M. EST

Baker, Hamilton Speak and Answer Questions
12/07/2006 1:46 PM ET
LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIR, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: Earlier today, the report of the Iraq Study Group to President Bush and to members of the United States Congress. We are pleased to present our report now to the American people. It represents the unanimous views of our 10 members.

On behalf of the Iraq Study Group, Jim Baker and I thank Congressman Frank Wolf, who took the initiative to create the study group; senators John Warner and Joe Biden; Congressman Chris Shays and others for supporting our efforts. And, of course, we thank all of the members of the Congress on both sides of Capitol Hill, on both sides of the aisle.

I want to say a word of appreciation to Jim Baker for his extraordinary leadership. It has been a high personal privilege for me to work with him.

And, of course, I extend my thanks to all members of the Iraq Study Group who have worked very hard and have come together to support this report.

The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. Attacks on U.S. forces and U.S. casualties continue at an alarming rate.

The Iraqi people are suffering great hardship. The democratically-elected government that replaced Saddam Hussein is not adequately advancing the key issues of national reconciliation, providing basic security, or delivering essential services. Economic development is hampered.

The current approach is not working. And the ability of the United States to influence events is diminishing.

The United States has committed staggering resources. Our country has lost almost 2,900 Americans, 21,000 more have been wounded. The United States has spent an estimated $400 billion in Iraq, and costs could rise well over a trillion dollars.

Many Americans are understandably dissatisfied. Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward. No course of action in Iraq is guaranteed to stop a slide toward chaos, yet, in our view, not all options have been exhausted.

We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq set forth by President Bush, an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. We recommend a new approach to pursue that goal. We recommend a responsible transition. Our three most important recommendations are equally important and reinforce one another.

First, a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly.

Two, prompt action by the Iraqi government to achieve milestones, particularly on national reconciliation.

And three, new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and in the region.

The United States must encourage Iraqis to take responsibility for their own destiny. This responsible transition can allow for a reduction in the U.S. presence in Iraq over time.

The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations. As this transition proceeds, the United States should increase the number of troops embedded in and supporting the Iraqi army. And U.S. combat forces could begin to move out of Iraq.

By the first quarter of 2008, subject, of course, to unexpected developments on the ground, all U.S. combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid reaction, and special operation teams, and in training, equipping, advising and force protection. A key mission for those rapid reaction and Special Forces would be targeting Al Qaeda in Iraq.

It is clear that the Iraqi government will need assistance from the United States for some time to come, yet the United States must make it clear to the Iraqi government that we could carry out our plans, including planned redeployments, even if the Iraqi government did not implement their planned changes. The United States must not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of troops deployed in Iraq.

We also make several recommendations to reset the U.S. military as these redeployments go forward. A military solution alone will not end the violence in Iraq. We must help the Iraqis help themselves.

President Bush and his national security team should convey a clear message to Iraqi leaders: The United States will support them if they take prompt action to make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and improving the daily lives of Iraqis. If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones, the United States then should reduce its political, military or economic support for the Iraqi government.

Let me now turn over to the floor to Secretary Baker.

JAMES BAKER, CO-CHAIR, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: Thank you very much, Lee, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you, Lee Hamilton, for your hard work. And I might add, your distinguished service to our nation in the past.

And thanks as well to all of our colleagues on the Iraq Study Group who have worked on this difficult issue. And they've worked on it in a bipartisan spirit and a very collaborative way.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no magic formula that will solve the problems of Iraq. But to give the Iraqi government a chance to succeed, United States policy must be focused more broadly than on military strategy alone or on Iraq alone. It must seek the active and constructive engagement of all governments that have an interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, including all of Iran's neighbors -- Iraq's neighbors.

To gain this constructive engagement, the United States should promptly initiate a new diplomatic offensive and, working with the government of Iraq, should create an international Iraq support group to address comprehensively the political, economic and military matters necessary to provide stability in Iraq. That support group should include Iraq, of course, but also all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria; the key regional States, including Egypt and the Gulf States; the United Nations Security Council perm five member countries; a representative of the United Nations secretary-general; and the European Union.

Given the central importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict, many countries both in and out of the region, the United States must, again, initiate active negotiations to achieve a stable Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts, and in the manner that we outlined specifically in the report.

Ladies and gentlemen, all together in this report, we make 79 recommendations. In addition to military, political and diplomatic recommendations which, as Lee has said, are equally important and reinforce each other, these recommendations cover a range of other areas: criminal justice, oil, reconstruction, the United States budget process, the training of U.S. government personnel, and United States intelligence. These recommendations are important, and they will greatly increase our ability to achieve a responsible transition in Iraq.

We agreed upon our recommendations after considering a full range of other approaches. I suppose some of you will have questions about some of those other approaches, so let me say a word or two about them.

We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution. In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable.

While we do recommend a fivefold increase in U.S. forces training Iraqi troops from, let's say, a high of 4,000 to a high of 20,000, we do not recommend increasing U.S. forces by in excess of 100,000 troops, as some have suggested. Additional fully combat-ready United States forces of that magnitude are simply not available.

We have not recommended a division of Iraq into three autonomous regions based on ethnic or sectarian identities with a weak central government. As a practical matter, such a devolution, in our view, could not be managed in an orderly -- on an orderly base. And because Iraq's major cities are peopled by a mixture of warring groups, a disorderly devolution would likely result in a humanitarian disaster or a broad-based civil war.

We also did not recommend a precipitous withdrawal of troops because that might not only cause a bloodbath, it would also invite a wider regional war.

The approach we do recommend has its own shortcomings. We recognize that implementing it will require a tremendous amount of political will and will require a unity of effort by government agencies. Most of all, it will require cooperation by the executive and the legislative branches of our government.

Events in Iraq could overtake what we recommend. And for that reason, we believe that decisions should be made by our national leaders with some urgency.

As it is now, people are being killed day after day, Iraqis and the brave American troops who are trying to help them. Struggling in a world of fear, the Iraqis themselves dare not dream. They have been liberated from the nightmare of a tyrannical order only to face the nightmare of brutal violence. As a matter of humanitarian concern, as a matter of national interest, and as a matter of practical necessity, it is time to find a new way forward, a new approach.

We believe that a constructive solution requires that a new political consensus be built, a new consensus here at home and a new consensus abroad. And it is in that spirit that we have approached our study group's task on a bipartisan basis. So I am especially pleased to note for you that our group offers and supports each and every one of our recommendations unanimously.

We, of course, recognize that some people will differ with some of these recommendations. We nevertheless hope very much that in moving forward, others will wish to continue to broaden and deepen the bipartisan spirit that has helped us come together.

We'd be delighted to respond to your questions.

The first hand up was the lady in the black right there.

ROBIN WRIGHT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Robin Wright.

BAKER: Robin, yes. How are you, Robin?

We can't hear you up here. It's not on.

WRIGHT: Robin Wright with "The Washington Post."

You talked about no course of action guaranteeing to stop the slide, but what do you think the odds are if every single one of your recommendations is implemented, that this situation in Iraq can be turned around?

And secondly, you talked about urgency. Your process took nine months. Was there ever any concern that with the situation sliding so rapidly, that your own report might be too late?

BAKER: Well, I'll take the last part of that, and then maybe we'll both answer the first part.

There was never any concern on the part of our group. We felt it was extraordinarily important to try and keep this process out of politics if we could. And therefore, we did not want to bring it out during -- during the political season, during the midterm election. So we decided right off the bat that we wanted to wait until after the election.

We did so. We only took one month to get the report out after the election was concluded.

With respect to the chances for success, I don't know whether anybody has a crystal ball that could put a percentage on there for you. I'll tell you this -- and we say this in our report -- if we do what we recommend in this report, it will certainly improve our chances for success.

HAMILTON: We cannot, of course, predict the future. We believe that the situation in Iraq today is very, very serious.

We do not know if it can be turned around, but we think we have an obligation to try. And if the recommendations that we have made are effectively implemented, there is at least a chance that you can see established a stable government in Iraq and stability in the region.

The task ahead of us is daunting. Very, very difficult. And we recognize that. But it is not, by any means, lost.

BAKER: Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: To follow up on that...

BAKER: And then...

BASH: Sure.

BAKER: Two right there.

BASH: Just to follow up on that, can the president pick and choose what recommendations he decides to implement, or is this approach, as far as you're concerned, an all or nothing approach if it is intended to work?

BAKER: Well, this is not legislation, and it's not an executive order. And it doesn't bind anyone.

It doesn't bind the leadership on the Hill, and it doesn't bind the president. But it is the only recommended approach that we'll enjoy, in our opinion, complete bipartisan support, at least from the 10 people that you see up here.

HAMILTON: I think -- I think it's very important to emphasize, as your question suggests, that in order to solve the difficulties in Iraq, you do have to have a comprehensive approach. And we tried to put together a comprehensive approach with these 79 recommendations.

Now, we're not the only group in town making recommendations here. But you cannot solve this problem by dealing with the military problem or by dealing with the economic reconstruction problem, or by dealing with the political problems in Iraq. It's too far along the way for that. So a comprehensive approach has to be taken.

We were immensely pleased today when President Bush indicated to us that this report presents to the American people a common opportunity to deal with the problems in Iraq. And if that kind of attitude prevails, then you will see a bipartisan solution that we put together in the country.

And I think it's a matter of faith for all of us up here that American foreign policy is going to be much stronger if we're united. Executive and legislative, but also the American people are supporting the foreign policy.

BAKER: And I'm going to get to the back of the room.

HAMILTON: Yes.

MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS: Mr. Secretary, Congressman Hamilton, commissioners, Major Garrett, FOX News.

Gentlemen -- Madam Supreme Court Justice -- I've only had a chance to briefly read this, but I searched in vain for a phrase or a word the president uses routinely, "victory". And I'm wondering if it's fair to say that the conclusion of the Iraq Study Group is that victory is so difficult to define right now, the more important, the more immediate policy objective for the United States government and the Iraqi government is to avoid catastrophe in Iraq.

And if that is, in fact, what the Iraq Study Group is saying, isn't that going to be part of an elaborate communication process with the American people to rally around avoiding catastrophe, as opposed to rallying around definable victory? BAKER: We stayed away from a lot of terms that have been bandied about during the campaign season in the political debate. You probably won't find "civil war" in here either. You won't find "victory," but you will find "success".

And so I think what our report says on balance, if you read it, is, that if you implement the recommendations we make, the chances for success in Iraq will be improved.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: You're certainly a group of distinguished elder statesmen, but tell me, why should the president give more weight to what you all have said given, as I understand, you went to Iraq once, with the exception of Senator Robb. None of you made it out of the Green Zone. Why should he give your recommendations any more weight than what he's hearing from his commanders on the ground in Iraq?

HAMILTON: The members of the Iraq Study Group are, I think, public servants of a distinguished record. We don't pretend now. We did not pretend at the start to have expertise.

We've put in a very intensive period of time. We have some judgments about the way this country works and the way our government works. And some considerable experience within our group on the Middle East.

We recognize that our report is only one. There will be many recommendations. But the report will stand on its own and will be accepted or rejected on its own.

We tried to set forth here achievable goals. It's a very easy thing to look at Iraq and sit down and set out a number of goals that really have no chance at all of being implemented. We took a very pragmatic approach because all of these people up here are pragmatic public officials. We also hope that our report will help bridge the divide in this country on the Iraq war and will at least be a beginning of a consensus here, because without that consensus in the country, we do not think ultimately you can succeed in Iraq.

BAKER: Let me add to that that this report by these -- this bunch of has-beens up here is the only bipartisan report that's out there.

Yes -- to Barbara.

BARBARA SLAVIN, "USA TODAY": Barbara Slavin of "USA Today".

One of the aspects of your report is outreach to Iran and Syria. What indications do you have from the discussions that you had in preparing the report that these two countries are prepared to be at all helpful?

And I notice that you've taken the nuclear issue out of the equation. You say that should not be discussed in connection with Iraq. Why would the Iranians agree to come to a table and talk about Iraq unless the nuclear question and other questions are addressed?

BAKER: Why did they agree to come to the table and talk about Afghanistan without talking about the nuclear issue? They did, and they helped us. And it was important.

In our discussions with them -- and the report points this out, Barbara -- we -- didn't get the feeling that Iran is chomping at the bit to come to the table with us to talk about Iraq. And, in fact, we say we think they very well might not. But we also say we ought to put it to them, though, so that the world will see the rejectionist attitude that they are projecting by that action.

With respect to Syria, there's some strong indications that they would be in a position, if we were able to enter into a constructive dialogue with them, that they could -- would be in a position to help us and might want to help us. But we're specific in the report -- there must be 10 or 11 or 12 things we say there that we will be asking of Syria.

The suggestion that somehow we're going to sacrifice the investigations of Pierre Gemayel and assassinations of Gemayel and Hariri or others is just ridiculous. So we're talking not about talking to be talking, we're talking about tough diplomacy.

The hand that's behind you there.

HAMILTON: May I simply add to that, that I think all of us feel here that both Iran and Syria have a lot of influence in the region and have a lot of impact on Iraq. Iran probably today is the national power that has the single greatest influence inside Iraq today. We will be criticized, I'm sure, for talking with our adversaries, but I do not see how you solve these problems without talking to them.

We have no exaggerated expectations of what can happen. We recognize that it's not likely to happen quickly. On the other hand, if you don't talk to them, we don't see much likelihood of progress being made.

You cannot look at this area of the world and pick and choose among the countries that you're going to deal with. Everything in the Middle East is connected to everything else. And this diplomatic initiative that we have put forward recognizes that.

BAKER: And let me just add to that, if I might, that for 40 years, we talked to the Soviet Union during a time when they were committed to wiping us off the face of the earth. So you talk to your enemies, not just your friends.

Right here.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) with Bloomberg News.

As clearly as you can, can you talk about this notion of significantly increasing the number of U.S. troops embedded with Iraqis? Does that imply a top-line increase to the 139,000 troops in Iraq right now, or simply shifting a greater proportion of those in Iraq to embedded units?

BAKER: Secretary Perry will answer that.

WILLIAM PERRY, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're talking about an increase from about 3,000 or 4,000 we now have to maybe 15,000 to 20,000. So there's about an extra 10,000 troops we're talking about. Those can come out of the combat brigades that we now have there, if the commanders in place determine that's the best way to do it.

There is a training time involved, so there will be some lag time. But it can be done, I believe, with the existing combat brigade troops.

Part of this plan involves pulling the combat brigade -- redeploying the combat brigade to the United States. As they redeploy, some of the troops can be held back for doing this mission.

HAMILTON: The gentleman with the beard.

SPENCER ACKERMAN, "THE AMERICAN PROSPECT": Thank you. Spencer Ackerman with "The American Prospect".

You write that by the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. What does that mean for who's left in Iraq, what residual force there will be for the training mission? And to the degree foreseeable, how long do you anticipate that training mission lasting?

EDWIN MEESE, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: It would indicate that there would be a considerable force there which would include logistical support. It would include, obviously, the trainers themselves, force protection. We don't say in terms of numbers specifically, but it would be adequate to take care of those responsibilities.

It will take longer for the Iraqi army to develop its own logistical and support capabilities, in addition to intelligence, communication, transport, things such as that. So it means that over a sustained period of time, we will be backing up those trainers, particularly with ready response forces and Special Forces, the latter being also devoted to dealing with Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups.

BAKER: Way back in the back. I see a hand, blue sleeve.

You. Yes, stand up. You. You're looking around. Stand up.

Well, two of them stood up.

QUESTION: McGrath, FOX 5.

You said urgent action is needed because events could overtake what we recommend. Could you be more specific about what those events are, and might they make your report ultimately moot?

HAMILTON: Well, from the very beginning we recognized that events could overtake our work, could overtake policy -- American policy in the region. And that may still be the case: We could look at your reports tomorrow and find out that it has happened.

I think the recommendations that we make here would apply to any government of Iraq, not just the one in power today.

But what are the events? Well, the events are just anarchy, total chaos, the collapse of the government without a new government taking its place, and rampant violence throughout the country.

We do not underestimate the difficulties of the problems in Iraq, and we do not underestimate the possibilities that could happen.

We've got a specific situation in front of us now. We have to try to deal with it the best we can. And that's what our report is aimed for.

QUESTION: You say in the executive summary that you recommend the renewed diplomatic effort, and you talk about incentives and disincentives to Iran and Syria, and especially on the Arab-Israeli front.

Yet the Bush administration has said that it's offered Syria and Iran in different contexts incentives and disincentives. And it also says that it is actively engaged on the Palestinian-Israeli front.

What particularly are you recommending?

BAKER: Well, it's pretty specific. If you go to the report itself and read beyond the executive summary, we're quite specific in what we recommend vis-a-vis the Syria-Lebanon track. We're also specific about what we recommend on the Israel-Palestinian track.

So I refer you to the report. I could answer it, but I think we'd be wasting the time of others. You can read it in the report.

QUESTION: All of you have considerable experience at helping presidents change course when they find themselves in a blind alley. What do you intend to do from now on to help President Bush embrace the wisdom of all of your recommendations?

He's already expressed some discomfort with several of them, including engaging Syria and Iran, and including giving the Iraqi government what might look like ultimata for changing its performance with the negative outcome of a troop disengagement if they don't comply.

How will you act from now on to get him closer to where you are?

BAKER: I think it would be appropriate for President Clinton's former chief of staff to answer that question.

(LAUGHTER)

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: As I told the president this morning, this war has badly divided this country. It's divided Republicans from Democrats, and to some extent, the president from the people. And policy sometimes, with those divisions, has been reduced to a 30-second sound bite that runs the gamut from "victory" or "stay the course" to "cut and run."

And what this group tried to do, five Democrats and five Republicans, is try to set aside those code words and those divisions and try to look at the realities that are there.

And I would suggest to the president and to the American people that, if you look at the realities of what's taking place there, the fact that violence is out of control, the fact that Iraqis ultimately have to control their future; they have to take care of security; they've got to deal with the region in that area, that ultimately, you can find consensus here.

This country cannot be at war and be as divided as we are today. You've got to unify this country.

And I'd suggest to the president that what we did in this group can perhaps serve as an example to try to pull together the leadership of the Congress and try to focus on the recommendations that we've made.

We have made a terrible commitment in Iraq in terms of our blood and our treasure. And I think we owe it to them to try to take one last chance at making Iraq work, and more importantly, to take one last chance at unifying this country on this war.

I think the president understands that he simply is not going to be able to proceed with whatever policy changes he wants to implement if we're divided. That is the principal goal, in my mind, that he has to accomplish.

BAKER: Justice O'Connor?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR, FORMER SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I would be willing to add a comment about what Leon Panetta has just expressed so well.

We've said in the report that we agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq, as stated by the president: an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.

And to do that, we've made these various recommendations on a consensus basis.

It's my belief that if a large segment of our country gets behind that on a consensus basis that it's very likely we can move forward and make some progress toward that statement of goals.

And this is not an ongoing commission. It really is out of our hands, having done what we did. It's up to you, frankly. You are the people who speak to the American people. You're there interpreting this and talking to America. And I hope that the American people will feel that if they are behind something in broad terms that we'll be better off. I think we will, and I hope in general others think so, too.

BAKER: Senator Simpson?

ALAN SIMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, you better listen to the associate justice there, because when I was working on this, word for word, she said I was using "split infinitives."

(LAUGHTER)

And I told her I didn't even know what they were; I had trouble with adverbs and things like that.

But I can tell you this: Since leaving public life and this chamber, where I was the toast of the town one day and toast the next, it's a strange place.

(LAUGHTER)

But I see the American people -- and the sadness to me is the American people see the Congress and the administration as dysfunctional, which is very sad for someone who loves the institution.

This group -- and you heard Leon speak -- it's so clear. Leon and I used to work together. He was at the White House. I was chair; I was assistant leader. We'd meet together, have lunch, say, "I've got a bill here. What are you going to do with it when it gets there?"

Said, "Well, we're not going to keep this piece in there. That's history. We'll take that, we'll take that, then we'll approve it." We work that way.

And the sad part to me is that you see people in this who are 100-percenters in America. A 100-percenter is a person you don't want to be around. They have gas, ulcers, heartburn and B.O.

(LAUGHTER)

And they seethe. They're not seekers...

(LAUGHTER)

... they're not seekers; they're seethers. There are a lot of them out there. And we're going tot get it from the right, far right; we're going to get it from the far left. We're going to get bombs away and everybody'll say it can't work.

Well, we're just sincere enough to believe that it will and that all people would with a D behind their name did not become a guard at Lenin's tomb and all the people with an R behind their name did not crawl out of a cave in the mountains, and that maybe we can do something.

And that's what we're here for -- people of goodwill, in good faith -- maybe it's corny, maybe it won't work, but it sure as hell better than sitting there where we are right now.

HAMILTON: General Meese?

MEESE: One of the toughest parts of this, of course, is the governance and reconciliation parts of this on the part of the government of Iraq. And I think one of the things is the commitments they've already made to a series of milestones, which are incorporated in our report, to deal with some of the governance and reconciliation issues. And so that there is some commitment already on their part to resolving some of these difficult issues.

HAMILTON: The question was what we will be doing. We are not a statutorily based commission. We will go out of existence. Specifically what we do -- I think some of us, at least, will be testifying. I think we have 15 or 20 invitations to testify in both this Congress and the one in January.

So we will be interested -- in our recommendations -- we will do what we can to put them forward. But, obviously, the policymakers have to take over from this point.

QUESTION: You picked very carefully the goals of the presidents that you choose to embrace. It's actually one of his later iterations of this, an Iraq that can defend itself, sustain itself, and govern itself.

There's no place I saw in the executive summary where you refer to his older goals, which was a democratic Iraq or an Iraq that could spread democracy throughout the region.

Are you essentially telling the president, in this case, that he should abandon that as an either medium-term or long-range goal?

HAMILTON: We want to stay current.

(LAUGHTER)

BAKER: This was the latest of elaboration of the goal, and that's the one we're working with.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Of all the distinguished men and women in front of us today, you have the closest relationship with the Bush family.

When you recommend something like engaging Iran, which the president has been a very clear will only happen after they verifiably suspend, it seems to set up the need for the president to pull a 180.

Does he have the capacity to do that, in your opinion, sir?

BAKER: You know, I've worked for four presidents and I used to get questions all the time: tell me about this president versus that president or the other president. And I never put presidents I worked for on the couch.

So I'm not going to answer that, because that would mean I'd have to psychologically analyze the inner workings of his mind. And I don't do that.

QUESTION: Time and again, as we sit in rooms like this, and as early as yesterday we've heard members ask, various members of the administration and in the military, ask them, it's been going four years now, and training's been going on for four years, and something is not working.

I wonder if you could answer that question why to now training does not seem to be working with Iraq forces. And what's the expectation that it will somehow improve? Is that just by increasing the numbers of troops embedded with Iraqi forces?

BAKER: Well, Secretary Perry can talk to you about why the training mission has not worked as well as had been hoped in the past, and then maybe General Meese would have something to say.

And we'll take one more question after this.

PERRY: First of all, the training was slow to get started. It's been going on I think very effectively in the last year or so. But the training is a basic training, and as the Iraqi soldiers go into their units, they don't have any combat skill, they don't have leadership.

So we believe that the best -- the thing that they needed at this stage to be able to come up to the task they have is effectively on- the-job training. And that on-the-job training can be best done when they have role models of American teams in front of them.

So the key to doing what this, we thought, was to substantially increase the number of American military teams embedded in Iraqi units, right down to the company level. This, I think, can make a big difference in effectiveness.

BAKER: Which is something that hasn't been tried before, down to the company level.

General Meese?

MEESE: We have talked also in the report about increasing the amount of training that the trainers themselves receive and special selection of trainers from units both overseas and in the United States, so that we get career-enhancing assignments for military trainers to be in these particular positions.

BAKER: Senator Robb?

CHUCK ROBB, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Let me just say that this represents a dramatic change in the way we have been doing business. It is one that the senior military leadership of this country are supportive of, believe can be very helpful. But it represents a clear break from the past tradition of being the principal combat unit to a role of combat support.

But by embedding our forces at greater levels in the Iraqi military, we will have more capacity, more trust, more capability in the Iraqi forces.

But it will have the U.S. technical skills, all of the other support missions as well as the outside support. And it will provide a more robust capability with an Iraqi face on it.

This will diminish the American face that's currently so much associated with our presence, give it an Iraqi face, but give them the capability on which they still depend on the United States of America to fulfill our missions.

BAKER: One final question.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) one last chance to make this work. We've been told over and over again that the war in Iraq is critical to our national security (OFF-MIKE). We're also told that much of it is out of our hands, including the Iraqi government.

What if it doesn't work? What then? Is this a war that we can afford to lose?

HAMILTON: Well, we understand the possibilities that things fall apart. That's not where we are now.

And we have addressed our recommendations to where we are and with recommendations we hope are achievable in the context of the political environment, both in this country and in Iraq as well.

Now, if those circumstances change radically, if things fall apart, whatever that may mean, then we'll simply have to make adjustments to it. But we are not there yet.

BAKER: Also, I might point out that in the report, we call for -- we note the fact that there will be, for quite some time, a robust American force presence, both in Iraq and in the region, because of our interest in preventing just such a result and also because of our national security interests in the region.

Thank you all very, very much. (endit)

It's Here: Click this Link for the Iraq Study Group Report
12/07/2006 1:18 PM ET
Here is the full 160-page Iraq Study Group Report.
SloggerHeadlines






































































Wounded Warrior Project