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October 31, 2009

Bush Meets With Rice and Gates on Iraq

by Scott Stearns

U.S. President George Bush has met with top advisers to plan what he says will be a new way forward in the war in Iraq. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates who is just back from three days in Baghdad.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley joined those talks at the presidential retreat at Camp David along with Hadley's deputy, J.D. Crouch, who is coordinating the White House review of Iraq.

Mr. Bush says he is working on a new way forward in that conflict which he will explain to the American people early next year.

In his weekly radio address, the president said it is a time of change in Washington with his review of Iraq strategy, a new secretary of defense, and opposition Democrats set to take charge of Congress next month.

"If you're serving on the front lines halfway across the world, it is natural to wonder what all this means for you," he said. "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."

Mr. Bush says accomplishing that mission means an Iraqi government that can sustain itself, defend itself, and join in the broader fight against terrorism.

U.S. public opinion polls show the war in Iraq is increasingly unpopular, with the latest CNN survey showing 70 percent of voters disapprove of the way Mr. Bush is handling the conflict.

White House officials say one of the goals of the new strategy is to inspire greater confidence in the American people. In his radio address, Mr. Bush called for patriotism during the holidays.

"I urge every American to find some way to thank our military this Christmas season," he said. "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.'"

Opposition to the war in Iraq was a big part of last month's electoral victories for opposition Democrats who won control of both houses of Congress.

In the Democratic radio address, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh spoke of the nearly 3,000 Americans who have been killed in Iraq since the war began.

"Their deaths are felt even more during the holidays. In honor of their sacrifices, we should rededicate ourselves this holiday season to work to make 'peace on earth' have true meaning by bringing stability to places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Darfur," he said.

Senator Bayh says it is time to set political partisanship aside. He says Democrats welcome the president's pledge to reach out to opposition leaders and intend to hold him to it.

The president and Mrs. Bush leave Camp David after Monday's Christmas holiday for their Texas ranch. There, Mr. Bush will continue consultations over Iraq with a meeting of his National Security Council set for December 28.