U.S. President George Bush is meeting with his top diplomatic and military advisors about the war in Iraq and efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats say the president sending more troops to Iraq is a mistake.

Mr. Bush begins the seventh year of his presidency meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates about their trips to the Middle East last week.

Rice visited Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Britain, and Germany, saying she expects the pace of contacts on Middle East peace efforts to accelerate in the next few weeks leading up to a three-way meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders next month.

Gates met with U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan during a trip that also included stops in Britain, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar. He told reporters that it is a pivotal moment in Iraq and failing to improve security there would be a calamity for U.S. interests.

The president is hoping to build support for what he says is a new way forward in the war, a plan that includes greater responsibilities for the Iraqi government and an additional 20,000 U.S. troops to help with security.

Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq. A Los Angeles Times survey this past week said 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the war.

White House officials say the president is not pursuing this course because he believes it is popular, but because he believes it is right.

Opposition Democrats say the president's plan is more of the same. In the Democratic radio address, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer said Mr. Bush must recognize the need for broader political solutions to Iraqi violence.

"Mr. President, there are animosities between Sunni and Shia people in the Middle East that have developed over centuries," he noted.  "Outsiders cannot resolve this conflict unless the Iraqi people want security and freedom at least as much as us."

Schweitzer, who learned Arabic while living in the Middle East for six years, said the president should not embed U.S. troops with the Iraqi army, because there are what he called "untested and potentially corrupt" members of the Iraqi military.

President Bush says critics of his plan have the burden to come up with a better alternative. He will use this Tuesday's State of the Union address to stress the need to back moderates in the Middle East in what he says is a decisive ideological struggle against radical Islam.

Mr. Bush will again explain his reasons for sending more troops to Iraq, but will also seek to focus on more popular issues, presenting what White House officials say will be a positive agenda to improve the daily lives of Americans.

He is expected to discuss improvements in energy, health care, immigration, and education.

In his weekly radio address, the president called for changes in federal health subsidizes known as Medicare.