President Bush is scheduled to unveil his new strategy for the war in Iraq Wednesday night in a televised address to the nation. The president is expected to call for an increase of as many as 20,000 U.S. troops to quell the violence in Baghdad. He is also expected to propose a new economic plan for Iraq and renewed American diplomacy in the Middle East. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has a preview of the president's address in this report from Washington.
U.S. lawmakers who have been briefed on the president's new plan say the increase of troops is part of a change in military, political and economic strategy in Iraq.
They say Mr. Bush believes the political process in Iraq has been hijacked by sectarian violence, which he feels must be stopped so Iraqi leaders and security forces can gain control of the country.
During his address, President Bush is expected to outline specific objectives for the additional troops, as he recently told reporters.
"One thing is for certain, I will want to make sure that the mission is clear and specific and can be accomplished," he said.
The U.S. Congress is sharply divided over the proposal to add more soldiers to the 140,000 troops already deployed in Iraq.
In last November's elections, Democrats took control of the Congress from President Bush's Republican Party as the president's popularity plummeted, largely due to the war in Iraq.
One member of Congress who has consistently called for more troops is Arizona Republican Senator John McCain.
"The presence of additional coalition forces would give the Iraqi government the ability to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own, impose its rule throughout the country," he said. "In bringing security to Iraq and chiefly to Baghdad, our forces would give the government a fighting chance to pursue reconciliation."
Senator McCain, along with Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, recently traveled to Iraq to meet with U.S. military leaders.
Senator Lieberman says without greater security in Baghdad and other parts of the country, little progress can be made in other important areas.
"We need an increase in troops there now," he said. "It will help to establish the security that is the precondition to political and economic stability. The increase in troops must be robust, it must be substantial and it must be sustained."
Many leaders of the new Democratic majority in Congress disagree.
The new speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is urging the president to begin withdrawing American troops from Iraq in four to six months.
She says Americans demonstrated in the November elections that they disagree with the administration's policies on Iraq.
"The American people rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end," she said.
Other Democrats, like Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, question whether sending more soldiers to Iraq will have a positive impact on the situation there.
"We are talking about the lives of American soldiers, whether we will send 20,000 or 30,000 more American soldiers into that field of combat, whether that can possibly make a difference," he said. "I hope to God that the president reconsiders that. I am afraid that in many instances we are only sending targets, and not troops."
In addition to sending more soldiers, President Bush's new strategy is also expected to include new programs for reconstruction, jobs and political assistance in Iraq.
News reports say the plan will also set up a series of benchmarks the Iraqi government will be expected to meet to reduce sectarian tensions and help stabilize the country.
Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar and military analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, has been a long-time advocate of increasing U.S. troop levels in Iraq.
Kagan says withdrawing forces prematurely would lead to dire consequences in the Middle East.
"If the United States embraced the proposals to withdraw and lose in Iraq, then world history would move very sharply in one direction," he said. "I think it is very, very clear that the civil war in Iraq would expand, would explode and would come to involve other countries in the region and the United States would find itself committed to dealing with the consequences of that explosion for years and decades to come."
The day after President Bush's speech, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are scheduled to testify before Congress as the White House gears up to sell its new strategy on Iraq.
Later in the week Secretary Rice plans to travel to the Middle East to discuss Iraq and renew efforts to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process.