Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Embattled Bush unyielding on Iraq

`LONG MARCH OF HISTORY' Despite rising criticism of his strategy in Iraq, the president continues to disregard public opinion and is adamant that history will prove him right


US President George W. Bush once said he was determined to stick with the Iraq war even if his wife and his dog were the only ones left at his side.

It is moving in that direction.

People in the US already were angry about the war before Bush said he would try to bring unrelentingly violent Iraq back from the brink by adding 21,500 more US troops to the 132,000 there now.

Polls showed the US public overwhelmingly does not like the idea. Democrats, always in opposition, were joined very publicly by some Republicans in dissent. Even Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had to be persuaded to go along with a larger US presence in Baghdad.

"He is as isolated as a president can be," said Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Boston University.

Congress, which is now controled by the Democrats, is poised to produce votes against a policy that, although nonbinding, will reverberate into elections next year.

And Bush's problem with Washington's politicians is not only the product of the new partisan divide.

Democrats who backed the president on the war are jumping ship. The din of disapproval is heard even among some conservative Republicans. The time when only a few Republican lawmakers gingerly would criticize the president's leadership on the war has given way to the kind of no-holds-barred rhetoric heard the day after Bush's speech on Wednesday night.

Republican representative John McCain, one of the holdouts on Bush's side who wants more troops, acknowledged it was anyone's guess whether most Republicans will back the president when the votes are called.

"I hope the overwhelming majority of my Republican colleagues will come on board, but I can't predict that," he said.

Bush treated Republican leaders from the House and Senate to an overnight at Camp David to work on strategy on keeping party members in line after a week of defections that ranged well beyond Iraq.

The politicians are following the public. Seventy percent of those questioned oppose sending more troops to Iraq and doubt that doing so will help, an AP-Ipsos poll showed. Approval of the president's handling of the war now stands at 29 percent.

Bush's aides took pains to portray the war plan as in line with the thinking of both his generals and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

But the president ignored that group's central recommendations: pulling US troops back by next year, changing their mission and recruiting help from Iran and Syria.

The group publicly thanked Bush for paying attention to some of their ideas -- such as embedding more US trainers with Iraqi security forces and setting benchmarks -- but made clear they noticed all the ways the president had spurned them.

War commanders feared a troop increase would strain the armed forces while reducing incentives for Iraqis to take over for themselves. So they had to be brought around.

They received assurances Bush would couple the buildup with significant economic aid and demands that the Iraqis make difficult political and tactical changes.

But the president attached no consequences if al-Maliki fails -- as he has in the past -- to deliver.

Even al-Maliki, on whom nearly all the plan's success hinges, is at best a reluctant partner.

The White House repeatedly said the plan to send thousands more US troops into Baghdad originated with the Iraqi leader. But what al-Maliki proposed was an Iraqi drive to calm the capital with US soldiers pulled back to the outskirts of Baghdad. The US rejected this idea for fear it would lead to unequal treatment of Shiites and Sunnis.

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