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Missile shield is 'urgent' - Bush

US President George W Bush 2310

US President George W Bush has said there is a "real and urgent" need for a missile defence system in Europe.

Mr Bush said the missile threat was from the Middle East, not Russia, which strongly opposes sites for the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

He warned that Iran could have a ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe or the US by 2015.

Earlier, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the shield could be delayed while Russian concerns were tackled.

Iran threat

In a speech at the National Defence University in Washington, Mr Bush said: "The need for missile defence in Europe is real and I believe it's urgent."

He said the planned system was not designed to tackle missiles from Russia as it would be easily overwhelmed by Moscow's arsenal.

"The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy," he said.

Mr Bush said the US had invited Russia to "join us against an emerging threat that affects us all... we ought to respond to this threat together".

The president said if "rogue states" had less confidence their missiles would strike, they would be "less likely to engage in acts of aggression in the first place".

Mr Bush also attacked the US Congress for reducing funding to missile shield systems.

Earlier, Mr Gates had said activation of the European shield could be delayed until there was "definitive proof" of a missile threat from states such as Iran.

He said after meeting Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek in Prague: "We would consider tying together activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat - in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on."

The missile shield system would see a radar site set up in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor base in Poland.

Russia has vehemently opposed bases on the territories of its former Warsaw Pact allies.

Mr Gates and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received a frosty reception when they tried to sell the plan in Moscow this month.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow saw the shield as a "potential threat" to its security and wanted to "neutralise" it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin widened the debate by also threatening to abandon a key nuclear missile treaty.

He said it would be difficult to remain part of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty unless it was expanded to include more countries than just the US and Russia.


U.S. Officials Begin Crafting Iran Bombing Plan

WASHINGTON A recent decision by German officials to withhold support for any new sanctions against Iran has pushed a broad spectrum of officials in Washington to develop potential scenarios for a military attack on the Islamic regime, FOX News confirmed Tuesday.

Germany a pivotal player among three European nations to rein in Iran's nuclear program over the last two-and-a-half years through a mixture of diplomacy and sanctions supported by the United States notified its allies last week that the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to support the imposition of any further sanctions against Iran that could be imposed by the U.N. Security Council. The announcement was made at a meeting in Berlin that brought German officials together with Iran desk officers from the five member states of the Security Council. It stunned the room, according to one of several Bush administration and foreign government sources who spoke to FOX News, and left most Bush administration principals concluding that sanctions are dead.

The Germans voiced concern about the damaging effects any further sanctions on Iran would have on the German economy and also, according to diplomats from other countries, gave the distinct impression that they would privately welcome, while publicly protesting, an American bombing campaign against Iran's nuclear facilities. Germany's withdrawal from the allied diplomatic offensive is the latest consensus across relevant U.S. agencies and offices, including the State Department, the National Security Council and the offices of the president and vice president. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, the most ardent proponent of a diplomatic resolution to the problem of Iran's nuclear ambitions, has had his chance on the Iranian account and come up empty.

Political and military officers, as well as weapons of mass destruction specialists at the State Department, are now advising Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the diplomatic approach favored by Burns has failed and the administration must actively prepare for military intervention of some kind. Among those advising Rice along these lines are John Rood, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation; and a number of Mideast experts, including Ambassador James Jeffrey, deputy White House national security adviser under Stephen Hadley and formerly the principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs. Consequently, according to a well-placed Bush administration source, "everyone in town" is now participating in a broad discussion about the costs and benefits of military action against Iran, with the likely timeframe for any such course of action being over the next eight to 10 months, after the presidential primaries have probably been decided, but well before the November 2008 elections. The discussions are now focused on two basic options: less invasive scenarios under which the U.S. might blockade Iranian imports of gasoline or exports of oil, actions generally thought to exact too high a cost on the Iranian people but not enough on the regime in Tehran; and full-scale aerial bombardment.

On the latter course, active consideration is being given as to how long it would take to degrade Iranian air defenses before American air superiority could be established and U.S. fighter jets could then begin a systematic attack on Iran's known nuclear targets. Most relevant parties have concluded such a comprehensive attack plan would require at least a week of sustained bombing runs, and would at best set the Iranian nuclear program back a number of years but not destroy it forever. Other considerations include the likelihood of Iranian reprisals against Tel Aviv and other Israeli population centers; and the effects on American troops in Iraq. There, officials have concluded that the Iranians are unlikely to do much more damage than they already have been able to inflict through their supply of explosives and training of insurgents in Iraq. The Bush administration "has just about had it with Iran," said one foreign diplomat. "They tried the diplomatic process. China is now obstructing them at the U.N. Security Council and the Russians are tucking themselves behind them.


Adolph Hitler

Meticulous research, including U.S. government records from the era, along with contemporaneous news stories from the New York Times and other papers is presented in the 1992 book entitled, "George Bush, The Unauthorized Biography" by Webster G. Tarpley & Anton Chaitkin, Published by The Executive Intelligence Review and located at http://www.tarpley.net/bushb.htm. The following is sourced entirely from Chapter II of this essential work. [Note: Although FTW does not always agree with conclusions reached by the Executive Intelligence Review, or its founder Lyndon La Rouche, we have never found a single flaw in any of their factual research. History is history, no matter who presents it. And this history is essential to understanding our era.] George W. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, was the Managing Director of the investment bank Brown Brothers, Harriman from the 1920s through the 1940s. It was Brown Brothers, in conjunction with Averell Harriman, the Rockefeller family, Standard Oil, the DuPonts, the Morgans and the Fords who served as the principal funding arm in helping to finance Adolph Hitler's rise to power starting in 1923. This included direct funding for the SS and SA channeled through a variety of German firms. Prescott Bush, through associations with the Hamburg-Amerika Steamship line, Nazi banker Fritz Thyssen (pronounced Tee-sen), Standard Oil of Germany, The German Steel Trust (founded by Dillon Read founder, Clarence Dillon), and I.G. Farben, used the Union Bank Corporation to funnel vast quantities of money to the Nazis and to manage their American interests. The profits from those investments came back to Bush allies on Wall Street. Thyssen is universally regarded as having been Hitler's private banker and ultimate owner of the Union Bank Corporation. Early support for Hitler came from Prescott Bush through the Hamburg-Amerika Steamship line -- also funded by Brown Bothers -- that funneled large sums of money and weapons to Hitler's storm troopers in the 1920s.

According to Tarpley and Chaitkin, "In May 1933, just after the Hitler regime was consolidated, an agreement was reached in Berlin for the coordination of all Nazi commerce with the U.S.A. The Harriman International Company... was to head a syndicate of 150 firms and individuals, to conduct all exports from Hitler Germany to the United States." Furthermore, a 1942 U.S. government investigative report that surfaced during 1945 Senate hearings found that the Union Bank, with Prescott Bush on the board, was an "interlocking concern" with the German Steel Trust that had produced: - 50.8% of Nazi Germany's pig iron - 41.4% of Nazi Germany's universal plate - 36% of Nazi Germany's heavy plate - 38.5% of Nazi Germany's galvanized sheet - 45.5% of Nazi Germany's pipes and tubes - 22.1% of Nazi Germany's wire - 35% of Nazi Germany's explosives

The business relationships established by Bush in 1923 continued even after the war started until they became so offensive and overt as to warrant seizure by the U.S. government under the Trading with the Enemy Act in 1942. In 1942, "Under the Trading with the Enemy Act, the government took over Union Banking Corporation, in which Bush was a director. The U.S. Alien Property Custodian seized Union Banking Corp.'s stock shares... "... all of which shares are held for the benefit of... members of the Thyssen family, [and] is property of nationals... of a designated enemy country." "On October 28, the government issued orders seizing two Nazi front organizations run by the Bush-Harriman bank: the Holland-American Trading Corporation and the Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation." "Nazi interests in the Silesian-American Corporation, long managed by Prescott Bush and his father in law George Herbert Walker, were seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act on Nov. 17, 1942..." These seizures of Bush businesses were reported in a number of American papers including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Prescott Bush went on to become an influential Republican Senator from Connecticut who went on to be a regular golfing partner of President Dwight Eisenhower. His attorneys were the lawyers John Foster and Allen Dulles, the later became the CIA Director under Eisenhower.


Bush Asks For $50 Billion More

This is NOT okay. The Washington Post has reported that yesterday, an anonymous White House official announced President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the Iraq War. The Bush Administration appears to be confident that congressional calls for drawing down U.S. troops will not be an issue. "This is pretty close to a done deal," the White House spokesman said. The Pentagon has said that the cost of the Iraq war has gone over $330 billion, and the war in Afghanistan at $78 billion. A spokesman for the Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev) responded, "We haven't seen the details, but we'll give it the scrutiny it deserves. It's long past time for giving blank checks to the administration."

"The request," the Post reports, "which would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - is expected to be announced after Congressional hearings scheduled for mid-September featuring the two top U.S. officials in Iraq...the revised supplemental would total about $200 billion, indicating that the cost of the war in Iraq now exceeds $3 billion a week." In a Zogby interactive poll of 6,711 U.S. residents, conducted August 17-20, 2007, 48.7% of Americans disagreed that increasing troops in Iraq is working. In a CNN news poll of 1,214 U.S. residents, 69% disapprove of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq. In Fort Worth, Texas, as the Bush administration is preparing their report on Iraq, Texans are preparing a rally of Iraq war veterans, musicians, and opponents of the war, to take place in General Worth Square on Saturday, September 1st. Charlie Jackson, founder of Texans for Peace, has thousands signed up to participate. "We're simply saying the people have spoken on this issue...the war, and with one voice, they've said that we need to bring our troops home. We're just here to remind [everyone] that the people have already voted for peace."


Impeach Bush

President Bush arrived at the Bellevue Hyatt yesterday for a fundraiser for Republican Congressman Dave Reichert. He posed for photos with the donors who paid $10,000 each for VIP access, and then spoke to about 300 people who paid $1,000 for general admission. He gave a 23-minute speech about weaning the country off of oil, and alleged progress in Iraq. Around 400 protestors showed up, with Impeach Bush signs and signs slamming Reichert (whom the fundraiser was for). Pink balloons sported "IMPEACH BUSH;" signs said everything from "Reichert is bad for women," to "Bush gets off on wiretapping," to, of course, "Impeach." Protestors banged on drums and pots, and shouted "Bush out now!" over and over. Some of the attendants dressed up like beauty queens with sashes that said, "I Miss America." The director of Washington for Impeachment, Linda Boyd, who in part organized the protest, said to the crowd, "Enough is enough. We want our government back, and we will not tolerate the war-criminal-in-chief here to pollute our city." Bush's last visit to Seattle was in June 2006, another fundraise for Reichert, where 90 protestors showed up. The amount of protestors who showed up this time increased more than four times since last year.


Bush Warns Against Withdrawing Forces

President George W. Bush addressing the American Legion 89th Annual Convention

(AP) Broadening his defense of the war in Iraq, President Bush said Tuesday that withdrawing U.S. forces would allow the Middle East to be taken over by extremist forces and put the security of the United States in jeopardy.

"I want our fellow citizens to consider what would happen if these forces of radicalism and extremism were allowed to drive us out of the Middle East," Mr. Bush said to thousands of veterans at the American Legion convention. "The region would be dramatically transformed in a way that could imperil the civilized world."

The president got a friendly response from the veterans group in his second major speech in a week seeking to buttress support for the war.

"America will not abandon Iraq in its hour of need," he said.

Pointing at military progress in Iraq, Mr. Bush said, "It will take time for the recent progress we have seen in security to translate into political progress. Leaders in Washington need to look for ways to help our Iraqi allies succeed, not for excuses to abandon them."

Mr. Bush described the domino effects of failure in Iraq, and success - portraying the war in Iraq as the quickest way to put the entire Middle East on a path to democracy, economic expansion and stability that expels terrorist elements.

"Either the forces of extremism succeed or the forces of freedom succeed," he said. "Either our enemies advance their interests in Iraq, or we advance our interests. The most important and immediate way to counter the ambitions of al Qaeda, Iran and other forces of instability and terror is to win the fight in Iraq."

The president's speech came two weeks before the administration reports to a skeptical Congress on the impact of Mr. Bush's buildup of U.S. forces in Iraq. The assessment by Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus will likely determine the fate of the U.S. military mission in Iraq.

Eager to show progress to increasingly restive members of Congress from both parties, Mr. Bush detailed security gains from the troop increase. He also noted early signs of political progress, particularly at the local and regional level.

"Iraqis are increasingly reaching accommodations with each other," Mr. Bush said, adding that many of the political benchmarks are being achieved by Iraqis by going around the difficult and so-far unsuccessful process of passing legislation. He qualified that praise by acknowledging that "our new strategy is showing far fewer results at the national level."

Still, he said that lawmakers should "withhold any conclusions until they can hear these men out," referring to Crocker and Petraeus.

Mr. Bush pointedly addressed critics' impatience with progress in Iraq, saying they keep moving the goal posts each time there are gains.

"They disregard the political advances on the local level, and instead charge that the slow pace of legislative progress on the national level proves that our strategy has not worked," the president said. "This argument gets it backward."

He added: "It will take time for the recent progress we have seen in security to translate into political progress."

"It makes no sense to respond to military progress by claiming that we have failed because Iraq's parliament has yet to pass every law it said it would. ... Even we cannot pass a budget on time," Mr. Bush said, "and we have had 200 years of practice. ... Leaders in Washington need to look for ways to help our Iraqi allies succeed, not for excuses to abandon them."

Mr. Bush, who has routinely described Iraq as the central front in the war on terror, sought to offer a more detailed breakdown of the threat to the U.S.

He said violent Islamic radicalism has two "strains" - Sunni extremism, as embodied by al Qaeda, and Shia extremism, as represented by Iran's government. "We will confront this danger before it's too late," Mr. Bush said.

He pointedly accused Iran's leadership of trying to destabilize Iraq, calling Tehran a destructive influence that puts American lives at risk.

"Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan to be used to attack American and NATO troops," Bush said. "Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and impose no threat to their regime. And Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere."


Gonzales-Bush Loyalty A Two-Way Street



After arriving in Washington with President Bush in 2001, Alberto Gonzales stood out for his unflappable nature and intense loyalty to the president. With what some called his willingness to interpret the law to fit his boss's priorities and his long political ties with Bush, Gonzales was among the president's closest confidants.

It is for good reason that Bush sometimes referred to Gonzales as "mi abogado" and kept him close by. In 1996, he helped then-Texas Gov. Bush avoid jury duty where he might have been forced to reveal a 20-year-old charge of driving while intoxicated, which later surfaced anyway. Dozens of Gonzales memos to Bush supported the governor's desire to implement the death penalty in Texas.

And as White House counsel and later as attorney general, Gonzales endorsed the creation of the controversial legal framework that guided the administration's war on terror, strongly backed by Vice President Cheney and legal conservatives but opposed by many scholars and partly overturned by the courts.

If Gonzales, who resigned as attorney general Monday, served Bush well over the years, the reverse is also true. Through Bush's sponsorship, Gonzales ascended to the top of the Texas legal establishment before becoming what some scholars call one of the most influential Hispanic officials in the history of United States government. Through more than six years in Washington, Gonzales was unable to expand his base of support beyond the president and his inner circle, and finally appeared to succumb to blunt attacks from Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers over his mishandling of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

"He had very much a one-to-one relationship with the president," said David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter. "That is where he started, and that is where he finished."

In the end, Gonzales was a man without a constituency outside of the White House. At a Senate hearing on April 19, he endured withering criticism over his professed inability to recall key events in the attorney firings, including details of a meeting on the topic with President Bush and Karl Rove. As the controversy swirled over a period of several months, conservative figures questioned both his legal competence and his ability to manage the sprawling Justice Department.

"We have never seen evidence that he has a fine legal mind, good judgment, or managerial ability," read an editorial in the conservative National Review in late March. "Nor has his conduct at any stage of this controversy gained our confidence."

The controversy over the prosecutor firings expanded in recent months to encompass other issues, all with a focus on whether lawmakers considered Gonzales trustworthy or competent to run the Justice Department.

In one key example, Gonzales repeatedly testified that the administration's warrantless surveillance program had caused no serious disagreement among Justice Department officials. But that claim was contradicted by testimony from former deputy attorney general James B. Comey and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

Both described how Gonzales, then the White House counsel, visited former Attorney General John D. Ashcroft in the hospital in March 2004 after Justice lawyers had refused to reauthorize parts of the program to be illegal. Gonzales said Ashcroft was "lucid" during the visit, while Mueller described him as "feeble" and "barely articulate."

The mounting evidence prompted Gonzales to clarify his remarks about the program earlier this month.

Warner Called For Troop Withdrawal

Senator John Warner, a longtime Republican and Senator of Virginia, called President Bush yesterday and asked him to start bringing our troops home. Warner went to Iraq himself, and when he came back, he was disheartened. "We simply cannot as a nation stand and continue to put our troops at continuous risk of loss of life and limb without beginning to take some decisive action," he said to reporters after a meeting at the White House. He said that we need to begin withdrawing because the leaders in Iraq have not mailed substantial political progress. He believes that pulling even 5,000 to 160,000 troops from Iraq by Christmastime would send a meaningful message to the Iraqi government that time is running out. Warner is the Armed Services Committee's second-ranked Republican. He's been in the Senate since 1979, and is a war veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. A spokesman for the White House, however, shot the request down. Gordon Johndroe was asked whether or not President Bush would consider setting a timetable for troop withdrawal. His response was, 'I don't think the President feels any differently about setting a specific timetable for withdrawal. I just think it's important that we wait right now to hear from our commanders on the ground about the way ahead."

In his statement regarding his trip to Iraq and Jordan on August 20th, Senator Warner wrote, "While we believe that the [troop] 'surge' is having measurable results, and has provided a degree of 'breathing space' for Iraqi politicians to make the political compromises which are essential for a political solution in Iraq, we are not optimistic about the prospects for those compromises...We believe that the recent high-level meetings among Iraq political leaders could be the last chance for this government to solve the Iraq political crisis." Well, I hate to tell you, Warner: but Bush ain't listening. He's on the warpath - literally. On Wednesday, he gave a speech in defense of his Iraq policy at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention, caring less that he was ruffling patriotic feathers.

In his 45-minute speech, he warned that if Americans give into "the allure of retreat," they will see death and suffering that has not been seen since the Vietnam War. He compared the insurgents in Iraq to the Nazis. "I stand before you as a wartime President. I wish I didn't have to say that, but an enemy attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, declared war on the United States of America. And war is what we're engaged in," he began. Did someone not brief him that he told us that Bin Laden was responsible for 9/11? What does that have to do with this war?

"Like our enemies in the past, they kill Americans because we stand in their way of imposing this ideology across a vital region of the world. This enemy is dangerous; this enemy is determined; and this enemy will be defeated." What? What enemy? Okay, so it's not Bin Laden. Saddam, maybe? No, that's right, he's gone. Who is left? These famous insurgents, I suppose. "Today the violent Islamic extremists who fight us in Iraq are as certain of their cause as the Nazis, or the Imperial Japanese, or the Soviet Communists were of theirs. They are destined for the same fate." According to a new report by U.S. intelligence agencies issued yesterday, Iraq's political leaders still are not governing properly and the level of sectarian violence in Iraq will remain high.


Bush's Child Healthcare Plan

Last week, the Bush Administration had state health officials informed about their new policy regarding children's health care. Under the new policy, if a child's parent/s earn more than 250% of the poverty level ($51,625 for a family of four), the child must go uninsured for at least a year before being able to enroll in the children's health program or Medicaid. In other words, if a 2-year old child is diagnosed with leukemia, that child must wait until he or she is a 3-year old with leukemia, before obtaining health insurance. Why? Many of the largest states in the US have chosen to provide healthcare coverage to children from families making 2 to 3 times more than the federal poverty level. Which makes sense, since the federal poverty level is only $20,650 for a family of four, which is determined by the federal government. The Bush Administration has decided to put a stop to these state's practicality, and to put their foot down, they're not allowing federal funds to be available for the healthcare of these children any longer.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program, which is what the administration is cracking down on, was created in 1997 to help children whose families could not afford health insurance. The deputy director of health policy for advocacy group Families USA, Rachel Klein, told the Associated Press that many families above the 250% threshold still can't afford private insurance. "The effect of this [new] policy is to have more uninsured kids," she said.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D - Ill.), who contributed towards the SCHIP program for kids during the Clinton admnistration, is fuming. "States want to get these kids enrolled, and they will get them enrolled," he said. "I think the states will see [this] for what it is, and that's a political ploy by the President. This is a political attempt by the administration to try to intimidate the states."

Bush invokes 'tragedy of Vietnam' against Iraq pullout

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (CNN) -- President Bush drew parallels between the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the potential costs of pulling out of Iraq in a speech Wednesday. "Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left," Bush told members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, at their convention in Kansas City, Missouri. "Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens, whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields,' " the president said.

The White House billed the speech, as it did next week's address to the American Legion, as an effort to "provide broader context" for the debate over the upcoming Iraq progress report by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad. Bush also sought to shore up the perception of his support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, after voicing some frustration with him on Tuesday. "Prime Minister Maliki's a good guy -- good man with a difficult job and I support him," Bush said. "And it's not up to the politicians in Washington, D.C., to say whether he will remain in his position. Watch Bush reiterate his support for al-Maliki Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said Bush had drawn the wrong lesson from history: "America lost the war in Vietnam because our troops were trapped in a distant country we did not understand supporting a government that lacked sufficient legitimacy with its people," Kennedy said in a statement.

Sen. Joe Biden, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, invoked his own Vietnam analogy in a statement released after the speech: "It's the president's policies that are pushing us toward another Saigon moment -- with helicopters fleeing the roof of our embassy -- which he says he wants to avoid." Biden said Bush continues to cling to the premise that Iraqis will rally behind a strong central government, but he believes that will not happen. "There's no trust within the Iraqi government; no trust of the government by the Iraqi people; no capacity of that government to deliver security or services; and no prospect that it will build that trust or capacity any time soon," Biden's statement said. But House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said more Democrats are "bucking their party leaders" in acknowledging progress in Iraq. "Many rank-and-file Democrats have seen this progress firsthand and are now acknowledging the successes of a strategy they've repeatedly opposed," Boehner said in a statement. "But Democratic leaders, deeply invested in losing the war, would rather move the goalposts and claim that a precipitous withdrawal is the right approach despite the overwhelming evidence of significant progress." Former presidential adviser David Gergen said Bush ran the risk of doing as much harm as good for his case. "By invoking Vietnam he raised the question, 'if you learned so much from history, how did you ever get us involved in another quagmire?' " Gergen said. Gergen said he did agree with Bush in one respect, though: "He's right, initially when we pulled back in Vietnam there were massive killings." On Tuesday, Bush had expressed frustration with the pace of progress toward political reconciliation in Iraq, saying if the Iraqi government doesn't "respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Wednesday shot back at criticism of his government, including pointed remarks from a U.S. senator who called his administration "nonfunctioning" and urged Iraq's parliament to turn it out of office. Speaking at a press conference in the Syrian capital of Damascus, al-Maliki characterized such comments as "irresponsible" and said they "overstep the bounds of diplomatic and political courtesy." Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh told CNN that al-Maliki was referring to comments made Monday by Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, who called on Iraq's parliament to turn al-Maliki's "nonfunctioning" government out of office when it returns in two weeks. Levin said al-Maliki's government was "too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders" to reach a political settlement that would end the country's sectarian and insurgent violence. In his speech, Bush said withdrawing from Vietnam emboldened today's terrorists by compromising U.S. credibility, citing a quote from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that the American people would rise against the Iraq war the same way they rose against the war in Vietnam. "Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility, but the terrorists see things differently," Bush said. President Bush has frequently asked lawmakers -- and the American people -- to withhold judgment on his troop "surge" in Iraq until the report comes out in September. It is being closely watched on Capitol Hill, particularly by Republicans nervous about the political fallout from an increasingly unpopular war. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would wait for the report before deciding when a drawdown of the 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq might begin.

Bush's speeches Wednesday and next week are the latest attempts by the White House to try to reframe the debate over Iraq, as public support for the war continues to sag. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans -- 64 percent -- now oppose the Iraq war, and 72 percent say the Petraeus report will have no effect on their opinion. The poll also found a great deal of skepticism about the report; 53 percent said they do not trust Petraeus to give an accurate assessment of the situation in Iraq. In addition to his analogy to Vietnam, Bush referred to previous conflicts in Asia in talking about the war against terror in Iraq. "There are many differences between the wars we fought in the Far East and the war on terror we are fighting today," Bush said. "But one important similarity is that at their core, they are all ideological struggles. "The militarists of Japan and the Communists in Korea and Vietnam were driven by a merciless vision for the proper ordering of humanity. They killed Americans because we stood in the way of their attempt to force this ideology on others." Bush said history proved skeptics wrong about Japan's ability to become a free society and will prove those who want to withdraw from Iraq wrong. "In the aftermath of Japan's surrender, many thought it naive to help the Japanese transform themselves into a democracy. Then, as now, the critics argued that some people were simply not fit for freedom," Bush said. "Today, in defiance of the critics, Japan ... stands as one of the world's great free societies."

Iraq resolution passes House
Senate to consider similar measure in rare Saturday session

WASHINGTON - The Democratic-controlled House issued a symbolic rejection of President Bush's plan to deploy more troops to Iraq on Friday, opening an epic confrontation between Congress and commander in chief over an unpopular war that has taken the lives of more than 3,100 U.S. troops.

The vote on the nonbinding measure was 246-182, with six not voting.

Within minutes, Democrats said their next move would be to challenge Bush’s request for $93 billion in new funds for the Pentagon.

“The stakes in Iraq are too high to recycle proposals that have little prospect for success,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of Democrats who gained power last fall in elections framed by public opposition to the war.

“The passage of this legislation will signal a change in direction in Iraq that will end the fighting and bring our troops home,” she vowed after the vote, in which 17 Republicans joined 229 Democrats in a wartime rebuke to the president.

That was fewer GOP defections than Democrats had hoped to get and the White House and its allies had feared. Two Democrats joined 180 Republicans in opposition.

Bush's Republican allies said repeatedly the measure would lead to attempts to cut off funds for the troops. Outnumbered, they turned to Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas to close their case - and the former Vietnam prisoner of war stepped to the microphone as lawmakers in both parties rose to applaud his heroism.

"Now it's time to stand up for my friends who did not make it home, and for those who fought and died in Iraq already," he said. "We must not cut funding for our troops. We must stick by them," he added, snapping off a salute as he completed his remarks to yet another ovation.

White House statement
Bush made no comment on the developments, and his spokesman said the commander in chief was too busy to watch the proceedings on television.

In a statement, White House spokesman Tony Snow did note that “the resolution is nonbinding. Soon, Congress will have the opportunity to show its support for the troops in Iraq by funding the request the president has submitted, and which our men and women in combat are counting on.”

After a secure videoconference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush said the Iraqis were reporting progress: providing troops to fight alongside Americans, making sure that no ethnic or religious factions are ignored in the security operations, providing $10 billion toward reconstruction and working on an oil revenue-sharing law.

The developments in the House marked the first vote of the new Congress on the war. Roughly 400 of 434 lawmakers spoke during four days of a dignified debate — an unusual amount of time devoted to a single measure.

Senate vote Saturday
Moving quickly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has called a test vote for Saturday on an identical measure, and several presidential contenders in both parties rearranged their weekend campaign schedules to be present.

Republicans said in advance they would deny Democrats the 60 votes they need to advance the resolution, adding they would insist on equal treatment for a GOP-drafted alternative that opposes any reduction in funds for the troops.

The developments unfolded as a new poll showed more than half those surveyed view the war as a hopeless cause.

A sizeable majority, 63 percent, opposes the decision to dispatch more troops, although support for Bush's decision has risen in the past few weeks from 26 percent to 35 percent, according to the AP-Ipsos poll.

President undeterred
The House measure disapproves of Bush's decision to increase troop strength, and pledges that Congress will "support and protect" the troops.

Bush has already said passage of the measure will not deter him from proceeding with the deployment of another 21,500 troops, designed primarily to quell sectarian violence in heavily populated Baghdad.

Already, troops of the Army's 82nd Airborne have arrived in Iraq. Another brigade is in Kuwait, undergoing final training before proceeding to Iraq. Three more brigades are ticketed for the Baghdad area, one each in March, April and May.

In addition, the Pentagon is sending two Marine battalions to Anbar province in the western part of the country, the heart of the Sunni insurgency.

Bush and his allies in Congress calculated days ago that the House measure would pass, and increasingly have focused their energy on the next steps in the Democrats' attempt to end U.S. participation in the war.

"I'm going to make it very clear to the members of Congress, starting now, that they need to fund our troops," Bush said earlier this week, a reference to legislation that requests more than $93 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

White House plays down resolution
As developments on Capitol Hill went forward, the White House sought to play down the impact of the debate and vote. The president himself made no comment on it - with his spokesman saying he was too busy to watch - and turned instead toward Iraq. He reported after a secure videoconference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that progress is being made.

The president said that the Iraqi leader briefed him on several recent steps by his government: providing troops to fight alongside Americans, making sure that no ethnic or religious factions are ignored in the security operations, providing $10 billion toward reconstruction and working on an oil revenue-sharing law.

"I was pleased that he's meeting benchmarks that he has set for his government," Bush told reporters. "That's good news for the Iraqi people. And it should give people here in the United States confidence that his government knows its responsibilities and is following through on those responsibilities."

Democrats have made clear in recent days they will use Bush's spending request to impose certain standards of readiness, training and rest for the troops.

"That stops the surge (in troops) for all intents and purposes, because ... they cannot sustain the deployment," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said recently.

Republicans pointed to his remarks repeatedly during the day as evidence that despite their claims to the contrary, Democrats intend to cut off funds for the troops.

"This is all part of their plan to eliminate funding for our troops that are in harm's way. And we stand here as Republicans...committed to making sure our troops in harm's way have all the funds and equipment they need to win this war in Iraq," said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader.

Clinton: ‘I’m in, and I’m in to win’
Democratic senator discloses plans for presidential exploratory committee

NEW YORK - Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton launched a trailblazing campaign for the White House on Saturday, a former first lady turned political powerhouse intent on becoming the first female president. “I’m in, and I’m in to win,” she said.

In a videotaped message posted on her Web site, Clinton said she was eager to start a dialogue with voters about challenges she hoped to tackle as president — affordable health care, deficit reduction and bringing the “right” end to the Iraq war.

“I’m not just starting a campaign, though, I’m beginning a conversation with you, with America,” she said. “Let’s talk. Let’s chat. The conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately, don’t you think?”

Clinton’s announcement, while widely anticipated, was nonetheless an historic moment in a fast-developing campaign that has already seen the emergence of a formidable black contender, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

In an instant, Clinton became the most credible female candidate ever to seek the presidency and the first presidential spouse to attempt to return to the White House in her own right. Her husband, Bill, served two terms as president from 1993 to 2001.

“I am one of the millions of women who have waited all their lives to see the first woman sworn in as president of the United States — and now we have our best opportunity to see that dream fulfilled,” said Ellen Malcolm, president of EMILY’s list, which raises money for Democratic women who run for office.

With her immense star power, vast network of supporters and donors and seasoned team of political advisers, the 59-year-old Clinton long has topped every national poll of potential Democratic contenders.

But her controversial tenure as first lady left her a deeply polarizing figure among voters, leading many Democrats to doubt Clinton’s viability in a general election.

In a detailed statement posted on her Web site, Clinton sought to acknowledge and bat away such doubts.

“I have never been afraid to stand up for what I believe in or to face down the Republican machine,” she wrote. “After nearly $70 million spent against my campaigns in New York and two landslide wins, I can say I know how Washington Republicans think, how they operate and how to beat them.”

Clinton said the stakes are high. "As a senator, I will spend two years doing everything in my power to limit the damage George W. Bush can do. But only a new president will be able to undo Bush's mistakes and restore our hope and optimism. "

Recently, Clinton has clashed with many in her own party over the Iraq war.

Clinton supported the 2002 resolution authorizing military intervention in Iraq. She has refused to recant her vote or call for a deadline for the removal of troops. She has announced her opposition to President Bush’s troop increase in Iraq and has introduced legislation capping troop levels.

“A woman candidate could find it easier to run in peacetime, rather than wartime, but Senator Clinton’s tried to position herself as a serious person on national security,” said Andrew Polsky, a presidential historian at Hunter College. “But that means she’s staked out difficult position on the war that won’t make it easy for her to get Democratic nomination.”

With a $14 million campaign treasury, Clinton starts with an impressive fundraising advantage over the rest of the Democratic field. But Obama has started to secure fundraising commitments from New York, California and other deep-pocketed, Clinton-friendly areas, pushing his New York colleague to accelerate her entry in the race.

Her creation of a presidential exploratory committee, announced Saturday, allows her to raise money for the campaign; she already has lined up campaign staff.

In tone and substance, Clintons’ videotaped announcement recalled her first Senate race in New York in 2000, where she conducted a “listening tour” of the state’s 62 counties before formally entering the contest.

She promised a three-day series of Web chats with voters beginning Monday and prepared a campaign swing late this coming week through the early voting state of Iowa, while a visit to New Hampshire was in the works.

On Sunday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was also set to enter the Democratic field; if elected, he would be the first Hispanic president.

For the short term at least, the outsized candidacies of Clinton and Obama were expected to soak up the lion’s share of attention.

Obama, who launched his own presidential committee on Tuesday, praised Clinton as a friend and colleague.

“I welcome her and all the candidates, not as competitors, but as allies in the work of getting our country back on track,” he said in a statement.

Other Democratic contenders include former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack; Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd; Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice-presidential nominee. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden has said he will run and planned to formalize his intentions soon. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the party’s 2004 standard bearer, is also contemplating another run.

An influential player in her husband’s political career in Arkansas, Hillary Clinton leapt to the national scene during the 1992 presidential campaign when husband and wife fought to survive the scandal over Gennifer Flowers’ allegations of a lengthy affair with Bill Clinton when he was the state’s governor.

The Clintons appeared together on CBS’ “60 Minutes” to talk about their marriage — Hillary Clinton’s first famous “Stand by Your Man” moment.

As first lady, Clinton headed up a disastrous first-term effort to overhaul the health care insurance system. There was more controversy as the couple battled allegations of impropriety over land deals and fundraising, missing records from her former Arkansas law firm and even her quick and hefty profits from an investment in cattle futures.

There was no letup in the second term. The president found himself denying — then admitting — having a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. As he battled impeachment and possible removal from office, his wife’s poll numbers rose.

Her own political career began to take shape in late 1998 when New York Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate seat he had held since 1976.

The campaign trail was not always friendly. For almost every cheer, there was a shouted “Go home, Hillary!” and the emerging Republican theme that carpetbagger Clinton simply wanted to use New York as a launching pad for a later presidential run.

Bush: Troops back sooner with Iraq plan
$5.6 billion for 21,500 new troops; strategy also requires that Iraq do more

WASHINGTON - Increasing the U.S. military presence in Iraq will break the cycle of violence and “hasten the day our troops begin coming home,” President Bush said in remarks prepared for a speech Wednesday night calling for 21,500 more troops.

The decision will push the American presence in Iraq toward its highest level and put Bush on a collision course with the new Democratic Congress.

The president said Iraq must meet its responsibilities, too — but he put no deadlines on Baghdad to do so.

“America’s commitment is not open-ended,” Bush said in excerpts released by the White House. “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.”

Bush readily acknowledged making mistakes in previous efforts to quell the near-anarchy in Baghdad. “There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents,” the president said. “And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.”

He said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had promised that U.S. forces would have a free hand and that “political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.”

Bush’s approach amounts to a huge gamble on al-Maliki’s willingness — and ability — to deliver on promises he has consistently failed to keep: to disband Shiite militias, pursue national reconciliation and make good on commitments for Iraqi forces to handle security operations in Baghdad.

After nearly four years of bloody combat, the speech was perhaps Bush’s last credible chance to try to present a winning strategy in Iraq and persuade Americans to change their minds about the unpopular war, which has cost the lives of more than 3,000 members of the U.S. military as well as more than $400 billion.

Bush said that “to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government. ... Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer and confront an enemy that is even more lethal.”

“If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home,” he said.

$6.8 billion cost
The cost of the troop increase would be around $5.6 billion, administration sources said. An additional $1.2 billion would finance rebuilding and jobs programs with the aim of cutting down on the supply of new recruits for anti-government militias.

The $6.8 billion will be added to a broader war-spending package for fiscal year 2007 that was already expected to hit $100 billion. The current fiscal year is on track to become the costliest yet for the Iraq war.

Ahead of the speech, Bush and senior officials briefed journalists Wednesday morning — among them “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, who described the president as “energized” but also recognizing that he faces a tough job in convincing Americans that his strategy is vital to the stability of the entire Middle East.

Senior administration officials said 17,500 troops would go to Baghdad and 4,000 to the volatile Anbar province, with the first wave of troops expected to arrive in five days. Others will come in additional weeks, joining about 130,000 already in Iraq.

Many of Bush’s own Republicans expressed unease with the idea of a troop increase, noting that an effort last year to try to stabilize Baghdad by adding troops was followed by more violence.

“I don’t know the numbers, but we’ve done 20,000 before,” Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, told CNN. “It has made no difference because the Iraqis whom we have trained have simply not shown up to the fight. This is their fight, it’s not our fight.”

It will be different this time, White House counselor Dan Bartlett responded.

“I think the concerns they’re raising is because in the previous attempts the Iraqis hadn’t stepped up with the number of troops that they said they would commit,” he said. “That is going to be a difference this time.”

One official said Bush believes there is a need to “muscle up to step back.” They expect that by summer, perhaps August, they can gauge whether the strategy is working.

Will Democrats try to block funding?
The new Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, emboldened by November elections that put them in charge on Capitol Hill, met with Bush Wednesday.

Afterward, they served notice they would challenge his plan, with aggressive hearings that begin on Thursday and with votes in both the House and Senate in the coming days on a nonbinding measure opposing any increase in troops.

“This is the third time we are going down this path, two times it has not worked and we wanted to know why there was any prospect that it would be successful now. Why are they doing this now? That question remains,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Democrats could try to cut funding for the revised war strategy, but so far the party’s leaders have shied away from threats to do that.

Republican leaders emerged from the meeting promising to back Bush. “The fundamental decision to stay on offense and to finish the job, I think is correct,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

But many of their own were growing restless. “I do not want to embarrass the president, but I do not support a surge” in troops, said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who said he told Bush as much last week.

Bush, for his part, will make clear that "those who criticize have the burden to come forward with alternative path," a senior administration source said.

And Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who is eyeing a presidential bid, on Wednesday released a statement opposing a troop increase. That puts him at odds with two other prominent Republicans gunning for the White House: Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

After nearly four years of fighting, $400 billion and thousands of American and Iraqi lives lost, approval of Bush’s handling of the war hit a record low of 27 percent in December, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.

Bush was to acknowledge a long and worsened list of problems in Iraq: the government capabilities still are limited, sectarian divisions have widened, members of Iraqi security forces are contributing to the violence and suffer from high absenteeism, the pitched fighting in Baghdad between Shiites and Sunnis has gotten worse and is influencing the rest of the country, essential services still are lacking, Iraqi support for the U.S. is declining, and Iraqis — while committed to a unified Iraq — are increasingly turning from the central government to pursue more narrow sectarian agendas to hedge their bets.

The president is arguing that a gradual increase in U.S. troops, along with pumping $1 billion into Iraq’s economy and other steps, is the answer.

New troops breakdown
A breakdown of the additional troops was provided by a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the increase has not been officially announced:

  • He is committing 17,500 U.S. combat troops to Baghdad. The first of five brigades will arrive by next Monday. The next is to arrive by Feb. 15 and the reminder will go in 30-day increments.
  • Bush is committing 4,000 more Marines to Anbar Province, a base of the Sunni insurgency and foreign al-Qaida fighters.
  • The Iraqis are committing three brigades for Baghdad — about 10,000 to 12,000 total — the first on Feb. 1. Two more will arrive on Feb. 15th.

    Policies governing the Pentagon’s access to the National Guard and reserve may have to be changed to allow for more, or longer, mobilizations to make the president’s increase possible, officials said.

    Al-Maliki has assured Bush that Shiite militias that have been terrorizing the Sunni minority in Baghdad will not be immune. “This is going to be an operation in Baghdad that will make no difference between Shiite, Sunni or other types of illegal militia or illegal activity,” White House spokesman Bartlett said.

    Bush will link the U.S. troop infusion to other steps by the Shiite-led Iraqi government, such as taking on Shiite militias, enacting a plan to distribute oil revenue to all the country’s sects, easing government restrictions on the most Sunni members of deposed leader Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, and committing $10 billion of its own money for reconstruction.

    The White House anticipates that stability in Baghdad can be achieved by summer, so that U.S. troops will be able to pull back to areas outside the capital. Iraqis were expected to be in control of security in all 18 of Iraq’s provinces by November.

    "There are no timelines, but it has benchmarks," one administration source said.

    Among other steps by the United States is expansion of an existing program to decentralize reconstruction efforts. Ten units known as Provincial Reconstruction Teams will be expanded to 19, with the additional units based in Baghdad and in Anbar province, seats of most of the worst violence. The teams, under State Department control, will administer some of the economic aid, including an effort to provide small loans to start or expand businesses.

    No Syria, Iran talks
    The president is ignoring key recommendations of the bipartisan, independent Iraq Study Group, including that he include Syria and Iran in discussions about efforts to staunch Iraqi bloodshed, the official said. Instead, he will call for increased operations against nations meddling in Iraq, aimed at Iran and, to a lesser degree, Syria.

    The president’s address is the centerpiece of an aggressive public relations campaign that also includes detailed briefings for lawmakers and reporters and a series of appearances by Bush starting with a trip Thursday to Fort Benning, Ga. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, after appearing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates at Democratically convened Iraq hearings on Thursday, heads to the Mideast on Friday.

    Since last week, Bush has briefed more than 100 lawmakers — meetings culminating Wednesday with Congress’ Democratic leadership and their Republican counterparts.

    Bush also has filled in the leaders of Britain, Australia and Denmark, with more calls planned.

    Crafting the new policy took the president nearly three months. Relevant agencies conducted reviews, outside experts were called in, and the president consulted several times with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other prominent Iraqi leaders.

    While Bush considered his options over the past few months, the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq passed 3,000, and Saddam was hanged for atrocities committed under his leadership.

    Bush also made major changes in his Iraq team. There are, or will be, new faces running the Pentagon in Washington and the war in Baghdad, a new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, a new top American diplomat at the United Nations and a new top intelligence official.

  • WP: Bush readies new Iraq policy
    Critics says ‘surge’ of troops is more of the same

    President Bush is putting the final touches on his new Iraq policy amid growing skepticism inside and outside the administration that the emerging package of extra troops, economic assistance and political benchmarks for the Baghdad government will make any more than a marginal difference in stabilizing the country.

    Washington's debate over Iraq will intensify this week as Bush lays out his plans, probably on Wednesday or Thursday, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials face tough questions from Democrats in congressional hearings.

    Although officials said the president has yet to settle on an exact figure of new troops, senior military leaders and commanders are deeply worried that a "surge" of as many as five brigades, or 20,000 troops, in Iraq and Kuwait would tax U.S. ground forces already stretched to the breaking point -- and may still prove inadequate to quell sectarian violence and the Sunni insurgency. Some senior U.S. officials think it could even backfire.

    "There is a lot of concern that this won't work," said one military official not authorized to speak publicly about the debate at the Pentagon.

    Meanwhile, the political and economic ideas under consideration all appear to be variations on initiatives that U.S. and Iraqi authorities have proved unable to implement successfully since the 2003 invasion or have tried and found wanting, according to former U.S. officials and experts on reconstructing war-torn countries.

    Many officials at the State and Defense departments also doubt that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is capable of making the necessary reforms, given its track record of promising but not delivering since taking power in May and despite Maliki's assurances in a speech yesterday that he would hold Iraqis accountable for implementing a new Baghdad security plan.

    Democratic skepticism
    A sense that the White House is preparing more of the same is generating deep skepticism among Democrats in Congress, many of whom have signaled strongly in recent days that they would resist sending additional troops to Iraq. And although Republicans say they are open to what Bush proposes this week, they are also asking much more pointed questions about the premises of the White House Iraq policy.

    Administration officials are pushing lawmakers and the public to withhold judgment until they see all the elements of the new Iraq policy. Bush consulted with advisers yesterday, and White House speechwriters were working on this week's address. There are signs that there could be some surprises as the administration's debate moves from the staff level to the final deliberations of the president and his closest advisers.

    Responding to skepticism about Maliki within some parts of the administration, the White House may make a deeper involvement in Iraq contingent on Maliki cracking down on militias and death squads while also undertaking bold political initiatives and developing a wider economic plan, U.S. officials say. The addition of new U.S. troops, for example, may be phased over several months and conditioned on Iraq following through on promised political reforms, the officials said.

    One senior White House official said yesterday that the president considers the skepticism of lawmakers and the public "warranted" and that Bush will not "commit resources to a strategy that is not working." But the official said Bush was heartened by recent promises and plans from Maliki, citing the prime minister's speech in Baghdad yesterday in which he pledged a crackdown on sectarian militias, with U.S. assistance.

    Regional loyalties in Iraq
    The official said U.S. and Iraqi leaders have been refining a new Iraqi security plan, first discussed when Bush and Maliki met in Jordan in November, in which Iraqi forces would take the lead with Americans in support. "It is not just rhetoric," the official said of Maliki. "He is actually putting forward specific plans and making different commitments than he has in the past." Speaking on the condition of anonymity because the president has not settled on a final plan, the official said Bush expects "a different result" from that of previous security plans.

    Others have doubts. "I don't know that the Iraqi government has ever demonstrated ability to lead the country, and we shouldn't be surprised," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, who was the first U.S. official in charge of postwar Baghdad. "You'll never find, in my lifetime, one man that all the Iraqis will coalesce around." Iraqis are too divided among sectarian, ethnic and tribal loyalties, he said, and their loyalties are regional, not national.

    Leon E. Panetta, a member of the Iraq Study Group, which recently delivered a wide-ranging set of recommendations about the way forward in Iraq, said in an interview that the test for him of the seriousness of the president's proposal will be whether Bush, in fact, conditions continued U.S. involvement on tangible progress from the Iraqi government.

    "There has got to be some prospect that we are not just going to continue an open-ended commitment," said Panetta, who served in the Clinton White House as chief of staff.

    As of yesterday, the president had not settled on a precise plan for adding to the 132,000 U.S. troops already in Iraq, officials said. Senior military and administration officials privately admit their deep concerns that the troop increase will backfire -- and leave the United States with no options left in six to eight months.

    They note that since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the U.S. military has repeatedly carried out temporary troop increases of more than 20,000, but violence has continued to rise. The main difference under the new plan is that additional troops would be concentrated in the Baghdad vicinity, where there are currently seven U.S. brigades, and the increase could last longer, from six to 12 months, Pentagon officials said.

    Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are worried about overstretching the Army and Marines.

    The active-duty Army and Marine Corps lack a significant pool of ready and available forces to send to Iraq. The Army has one fully ready brigade of 3,500 to 4,000 troops on alert to deploy at any time. That on-alert brigade, most recently from the 82nd Airborne Division, has left for Kuwait in what could be the first phase of a troop increase, requiring that another unit take its place.

    Less time to train, rebuild
    As a result, increasing ground troops would depend largely on extending units' time in Iraq and accelerating those preparing to go -- meaning longer war-zone tours and shorter periods back home for thousands of soldiers and Marines.

    Under the plan, for instance, Army brigades would leave for Iraq sooner than planned, meaning soldiers would have less than 12 months at home to train and rebuild between tours -- a "red line" that outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said he did not want to cross, according to a senior military official.

    During its two-month interagency review, the Bush administration has struggled the most to come up with proposals to jump-start the stalled political process in Iraq, according to U.S. officials and Western diplomats. The fate of the revised strategy will be determined as much by new movement on Iraq's combustible political front as by success on the battlefield, administration officials said.

    But the emerging package looks slim and, absent last-minute additions, appears to be more of the same, according to sources who have been briefed.

    The centerpiece of the political plan is the creation of a national reconciliation government that would bring together the two main Shiite parties with the two largest Kurdish parties and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. The goal is to marginalize Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the largest and most powerful Shiite militia and head of a group that has 30 seats in parliament and five cabinet posts.

    To ensure participation of Sunni moderates, the Bush administration is pressing the Maliki government to take three other major steps: Amend the constitution to address Sunni concerns, pass a law on the distribution of Iraq's oil revenue and change the ruling that forbids the participation of former Baath Party officials.

    The three major economic options on the table would revive dormant state-owned industries, launch a micro-finance program to give small loans to generate new businesses and expand a U.S. Agency for International Development stabilization program.

    Short-term work program
    A fourth option would add major funds to a short-term work program to hire Iraqis to clean up trash or do repairs after U.S. and Iraqi troops secure neighborhoods. This Pentagon-run program is a way to lure unemployed men who had joined militias back into the mainstream economy, at least briefly, with the U.S. intention that Iraq would eventually spend its own money to create permanent jobs.

    The idea to revive state-owned industries has come full circle. Iraq's economy under Saddam Hussein was state-controlled. When the first U.S. team arrived, its members looked to reenergize the industries as a key element in jump-starting the economy. But the subsequent Coalition Provisional Authority, run by L. Paul Bremer, opted to scrap the effort and emphasize a free-market economy, even though Iraq was ill equipped to make a dramatic conversion. The failure of a free market and the lack of both local and foreign investment has led the Defense Department to launch a massive reassessment.

    Apparently absent from the final Iraq plan is any effort to engage Syria and Iran in trying to stabilize the country, a key recommendation from the Iraq Study Group, though the president will probably talk about new efforts to try to jump-start the Arab-Israeli peace process. Rice is expected to visit the Middle East to launch the effort later this month.

    Dems Act Quickly On Budget Rules

    (CBS/AP) The House, in its second day under Democratic control, changed budget rules that have allowed deficits to swell with lawmakers' pet projects and President Bush's tax cuts.

    The rule changes voted Friday could bedevil efforts later to appease middle-class voters.

    One rule requires that tax cuts have corresponding cuts in government spending or tax increases elsewhere to pay for them. Likewise, any increase in entitlement programs like Medicare would have to have corresponding tax increases, or equal cuts in other government programs, under the pay-as-you-go rule reinstated Friday. It was adopted 280-154.

    If strictly enforced, the PAYGO rule would make it difficult for Democrats to pass increases in federal benefit programs such as Medicare or the Medicaid health care program for the poor or disabled. In the near term, it would mean Democrats' bill to cut student loan rates will be less generous than they'd like. The rule would also threaten efforts to extend Mr. Bush's tax cuts, most of which expire at the end of 2010.

    "This is putting the American taxpayer on a collision course with higher taxes," said Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the top Republican on the Budget Committee.

    "Today, we are cutting our national credit card," countered Heath Shuler, D-N.C., during floor debate Friday. To underscore the point, Shuler cut a credit card in half at a news conference populated by moderate-to-conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats who are most responsible for implementing the rule.

    At the same time, House lawmakers passed a Democratic proposal to require lawmakers to disclose publicly the pet projects — referred to as earmarks in legislative terms — they want for their districts or states, such as Alaska's "bridge to nowhere" in the last Congress. Republicans had made a similar move last year, and GOP critics of pet projects applauded Democrats' efforts to require greater disclosure.

    CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger reports that the House also voted to end perks that members get from lobbyists, such as gifts of any kind, the use of corporate jets and free meals. The Senate takes up its own ethics package on Monday.

    But though reform is in, like it or not, Borger says some habits won't die easily.

    "The people that write those rules are very creative," says Tommy Jacomo, executive director of The Palm, where he's been serving up power lunches to Washington's big shots for 35 years. "I'm sure they'll find ways to get around them. In the beginning I'm sure it's going to affect business a little bit, but eventually things will just come full circle."

    Borger also notes that lobbyists can still give money to political campaigns.

    The Democrats also followed through on their pledge to get rid of tactics they complained were unfair when Republican leaders used them, even though they are now in charge and could have benefited from them, CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports.

    Rules now bar votes from being held open just to change the outcome; the most egregious example of that was the vote on the Medicare prescription drug plan, when a 15-minute vote stretched to almost three hours as Republican leaders twisted arms, threatened and cajoled until they got the votes to pass it.

    That rule change was adopted 430-0.

    Still, only about a fourth of the Republicans voted for the earmark disclosures because it was linked to the PAYGO rule that will make it harder to extend the tax cuts set to expire in four years.

    The emphasis on earmark reform came in the wake of the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandal, in which the former California GOP congressman pleaded guilty to corruption charges for channeling earmarks to defense contractors in exchange for $2.4 million in bribes. Lesser scandals have hit other lawmakers.

    The PAYGO and earmark proposals come one day after Democrats officially took control of Congress for the first time in 12 years, with a jubilant Nancy Pelosi becoming the first woman ever to rise to Speaker of the House.

    Pelosi, D-Calif., will exert vast influence over the congressional agenda and stands second in the line of succession to the presidency. In her first step as speaker, she orchestrated bipartisan 430-1 passage of a measure banning lawmakers from accepting gifts and free trips from lobbyists and discounted trips on private planes. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., cast the sole "nay" vote.

    Democratic budget hawks, especially the moderate-to-conservative "Blue Dogs," say restoring the PAYGO rule is crucial to curbing the budget deficit. Various forms of the rule were in place from 1990-2002, however, and Congress often found ways around it.

    The version adopted Friday can easily be waived. Still, the incoming chairman of the Budget Committee, John Spratt Jr., D-S.C., touted it as better than the status quo.

    "You've got to offset those tax cuts," Spratt said. "And if you want to enhance an entitlement, you've got to pay for it."

    Democrats left in place — for now — a GOP rule limiting committee chairmen to three two-year terms.

    Former GOP Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier of California said he supported the reforms but complained that the new rules could easily be sidestepped — and that more extensive reforms once demanded by Democrats had been left out.


    Washington Begins Farewell to Ford
    Family Service in California Begins 6 Days of Mourning


     

    To the strains of a Navy piper's farewell, the clank of sword scabbards and the bang of an artillery salute, Washington welcomed the body of former President Gerald R. Ford this evening amid the light and shadow of nighttime ceremonies that began four days of funeral services in the city he left three decades ago.

    The journey of the president's body, from its arrival at Andrews Air Force Base at about 5:30 p.m. to its installment beneath the Capitol rotunda about two hours later, took place in the early evening darkness that was broken by floodlights, illuminated fountains, and simple holiday decorations.

    It was attended by modest but somber crowds that lined the avenues of Alexandria, where the former president once lived, and which gathered in silence as his hearse, and the limousine bearing his wife, Betty, 88, paused beside the flickering fountains of the World War II Memorial.

    The cortege, about 40 vehicles in length, then moved slowly along the broad and empty expanse of Constitution Avenue toward the gleaming dome of the Capitol, bright against the night sky. There the casket bearing Ford's body was carried up the steps to the grand columned east entrance to the House of Representatives.

    The casket was placed on the same bier as the one used for Abraham Lincoln 141 years ago, and for Ronald Reagan 2 1/2 years ago.

    It was Washington's second presidential state funeral in 31 months, and different from the more elaborate goodbye accorded Reagan on a warm spring evening in June of 2004.

    But there was elegance to last night's proceedings, as the elderly former chieftains of 30 years ago, several using canes, stood by along with younger mourners who said they knew little more than that the former president had been an honorable and decent man.

    Among the dignitaries who had come to pay respects to the late president, who died last Tuesday at age 93, were Vice President Dick Cheney, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, former Sen. Robert Dole, former housing secretary Carla Hills and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

    Shortly after the ceremony began, an elderly mourner collapsed. The Associated Press identified him as former Rep. William Broomfield, 84, a Michigan Republican, who served in the House from 1957 to 1993. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R), who also is a physician, was among those who went to help the unidentified man. He was later taken out of the Rotunda in a wheelchair and the service resumed.

    The blue-and-white presidential jet bearing Ford's coffin screeched into Andrews shortly after 5 p.m. At about 5:40 p.m. Ford's widow, Betty, emerged from the plane and climbed into a limousine. The frail widow dressed in a black coat and gold earrings appeared solemn, blinking frequently as she stood with her children and grandchildren.

    Hundreds of people lined the streets of Alexandria and waited patiently for hours at the World War II Memorial for the chance to say goodbye to the man who was dubbed "the accidental president," ascending to the position after the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal.

    At the Ford family's request, the cortege paused on flood-lit 17th street before the twin stone arms of the National Mall's World War II Memorial plaza.

    Flanked by two giant American flags flying at half mast, the hearse pulled over beside the large stone tablet at the memorial's entrance, whose inscription reads: "We honor those 20th century Americans who took up the struggle . . . and made the sacrifice to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us."

    Ford served as a navigator and gunnery officer on the aircraft carrier USS Monterey at the height of the war in the Pacific, and one of the memorial's 24 metal relief panels depicts a frenetic moment on the deck of a carrier, with a plane about to take off amid hurrying pilots and crew.

    As the hearse stopped, Navy Chief Boatswain's Mate Carlos Ribbot, 41, stepped forward, saluted with his right hand and with his left raised a stainless steel Boatswain's pipe hanging from an ornately-braided rope lanyard around his neck.

    Clad in white shirt, black tie, and black tunic with gold hash marks and white eagle on his left sleeve, Ribbot, a native of Humacao, Puerto Rico, then played the three long, solemn notes that constitute "piping the side," the Navy's traditional farewell.

    Ribbot, who is on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations, said he was honored to have the duty: "I've never done anything this big, but it's obviously an honor for me to be a participant."

    As Ribbot piped, a group of 12 Eagle Scouts from local Boy Scout troops raised their three fingered salute as they stood at attention in olive green pants and tan shirts, draped in merit badge sashes. Ford is the only president to have been an Eagle Scout, according to Alan F. Lambert, scout executive of the scouts National Capital Area Council.

    "The family has asked us to participate," Lambert said.

    One of the scouts was Jeb James, 17, of Arlington, a member of Troop 664 in Baileys Crossroads. "It's a pretty big honor," James said. "He's the only Eagle Scout to become president . . . Didn't he fight in World War II, and he saved his boat? He played for Michigan, and was the MVP center for his team."

    The scouts were joined by veterans and bystanders, who stood in tribute. The pause lasted but a minute or two. No one emerged from the car, as the moon rose in a cloudless sky over the adjacent Washington Monument.

    Ford was then whisked to the Capitol, where his casket was to remain until Tuesday. Ford will join a list of those who have lain in state beneath the Rotunda that includes Presidents Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, William H. Taft, Warren G. Harding, William McKinley Jr., James A. Garfield, Herbert Hoover and Lincoln.

    WP: Pelosi plans swearing-in bash
    New House speaker aims to recast herself and her party

    On a scale associated with presidential inaugurations, Nancy Pelosi is planning four days of celebration surrounding her Jan. 4 swearing-in as the first female speaker of the House. She will return to the blue-collar Baltimore neighborhood where she grew up, attend Mass at the women's college where she studied political science, and dine at the Italian Embassy as Tony Bennett sings "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

    But the hoopla is more than just a party.

    Pelosi is grabbing the moment to present herself as the new face of the Democratic Party and to restore the party's image as one hospitable to ethnic minorities, families, religion, the working class and women.

    "This is important strategic repositioning," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who teaches political communication and rhetoric at the University of Pennsylvania. "Essentially, she's trying to embody the Democratic Party that she would like to offer the nation in 2008."

    In her meticulous selection of events and venues during a week when she expects to attract media attention from as far away as Australia, Pelosi is clearly trying to bury the label "San Francisco liberal" that Republicans tried to affix to her during the midterm elections.

    " 'San Francisco liberal' is a construct used very effectively for a long time by Republicans," Jamieson said. "It's a little like 'Taxachusetts.' It's telegraphic and very powerful. They haven't been able to get her identified with it because, to this point, a lot of people didn't know who she was. She's trying to position a counterimage before she gets well known."

    Brendan Daly, Pelosi's spokesman, said the four-day celebration befits a historic moment in American politics. "We've never had a woman speaker before," Daly said. "This is a big deal."

    Newt Gingrich (Ga.) took two days to celebrate his election as speaker when the Republicans formally took control of Congress in 1995. They were largely filled with speeches that outlined his "Contract With America" and fleshed out the ideology of the Republican revolution.

    Pelosi's mission is entirely different. She is planning events that will highlight select parts of her personal life while muting her liberal voting record and ideology. "She's showing all the ways she shares other women's lives," said Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist. "It reminds me of the way Sandra Day O'Connor introduced herself when she was nominated to be the first woman on the Supreme Court -- she talked about growing up on a ranch, working as a secretary, all the dimensions of her life."

    Ken Sunshine, a communications consultant for entertainers and Democratic politicians, said Pelosi is not creating a false persona.

    "If she's going to Mass, right on," Sunshine said. "Going to Baltimore, right on. This is really where she's from. She wasn't born in an elite setting. Here's a wife, mother, grandmother, and in her spare time, she becomes speaker of the House. I don't know if this is a new brand, but it's true about her. Why should the Republicans have a lock on those qualities?"

    Early missteps
    Pelosi's public relations offensive follows some missteps that marred her first few weeks after the elections, including a stinging defeat when she backed
    Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) over Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) for the job of House majority leader and a very public spat with Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who was passed over for the chairmanship of the House intelligence committee.

    The day after New Year's Day, Pelosi will visit Albermarle Street in Baltimore's Little Italy neighborhood, where she grew up as the daughter and sister of Baltimore mayors. The current mayor, Maryland Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley (D), will rename Albermarle "Via Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi." She will drop by St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church and then eat dinner with her extended family at an Italian restaurant.

    On Jan. 3, Pelosi will attend morning Mass at Trinity University, her alma mater in Washington, and then attend a tea in the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium for about 400 female politicians, supporters and activists. In the evening, she will be honored at a dinner at the Italian Embassy, where Bennett will perform.

    The next day, Pelosi will participate in a nondenominational service at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Capitol Hill and then eat brunch with hundreds of supporters at the Cannon House Office Building and the Library of Congress. At noon, the House will convene to elect Pelosi speaker. That night, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will hold a fundraiser at the Building Museum, where 1,200 partygoers will pay $1,000 each to applaud Pelosi between performances by Jimmy Buffett, Carole King and Mickey Hart, among others.

    ‘What? No fireworks?’
    Finally, on Jan. 5, Pelosi will hold what she is calling the "People's House" open house at the Cannon House Office Building. But it will be less welcoming than it sounds -- the event is by invitation only.

    All the festivities, except the fundraiser at the Building Museum, are being funded by Pelosi's campaign chest.

    Mike Murphy, a Republican political consultant and former adviser to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), said the four-day extravaganza is excessive. "What? No fireworks?" he said. "I'm glad they canceled the tickertape parade. They probably couldn't find biodegradable tickertape and a hybrid convertible."

    He said the schedule is "classic Pelosi."

    "She's not known for a light touch," he said. "She has every right to throw a new-speaker celebration, but it's 500 percent from what is normal. It's an aggressive act to grab the spotlight. Sounds to me like there's nobody at the meetings saying, 'Maybe that's a little too much.' She's needs a deputy chief of staff from the 'It's Not About You' department."

    "Instead of pinning medals on each other, maybe it's time for more seriousness and purpose," Murphy added. "Nobody voted for Nancy Pelosi as speaker; they voted for a change in Washington. For her to grab the spotlight seems like a cult of personality. I have a feeling that Steny Hoyer is probably having a quiet lunch with his family."

    A spokeswoman for Hoyer said the Marylander, who will become majority leader on Jan. 4, will host a small reception in his office.

    Rice: Iraq Is 'Worth The Investment'

    (AP) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Associated Press on Thursday that Iraq is "worth the investment" in American lives and dollars.

    The top U.S. diplomat said the United States can win in Iraq, although the war so far has been longer and more difficult than she had expected. She made the remarks at a time when President Bush is under pressure from the public and members of Congress to find a fresh course in the long-running and costly war, which has shown no signs of nearing an end and cost the lives of more than 2,950 American troops.

    In the AP interview, Rice was asked whether an additional $100 billion the Pentagon wants for the Iraq and Afghan wars might amount to throwing good money after bad in Iraq. The U.S. has already spent more than $350 billion on the conflict.

    "I don't think it's a matter of money," Rice said. "Along the way there have been plenty of markers that show that this is a country that is worth the investment, because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilizing factor, you will have a very different kind of Middle East."

    Rice added, "I know from the point of view of not just the monetary cost but the sacrifice of American lives a lot has been sacrificed for Iraq, a lot has been invested in Iraq."

    President Bush would not ask for continued sacrifice and spending "if he didn't believe, and in fact I believe as well, that we can in fact succeed," Rice said.

    In a wide-ranging interview, Rice also said she has no reason to believe North Korea is serious about dismantling its nuclear weapons. "That's what we're testing," in disarmament talks this week that a Japanese envoy described as deadlocked.

    Rice said a watered-down United Nations sanctions resolution against Iran would have more than symbolic value, but said she has no assurances that Russia will vote for the resolution this week despite long efforts to satisfy Moscow's misgivings about sanctions.

    She said she is confident all U.N. members will enforce the sanctions once passed, no matter how they voted.



    Cheney to be defense witness in CIA case

     

    Vice President Dick Cheney will be called to testify on behalf of his former chief of staff in the CIA leak case, defense attorneys said Tuesday, ending months of speculation over what would be historic testimony.

    "We're calling the vice president," attorney Ted Wells said in court. Wells represents defendant I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who is charged with perjury and obstruction.

    Sitting presidents, including Clinton and Ford, have testified in criminal cases, but presidential historians said they knew of no vice president who has done so.

    William Jeffress, another of Libby's attorneys, would not say whether Cheney is under a subpoena to testify. Issuing a court order to a sitting vice president could raise separation-of-powers concerns, but Jeffress said it was not an issue.

    "We don't expect him to resist," Jeffress said.

    Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who said last week he did not expect the White House to challenge his witnesses, said Tuesday he did not plan to call Cheney.

    Wells immediately said he would.

    "That settles that," Fitzgerald said.

    Neither Jeffress nor Wells would say whether they expect Cheney to testify in the courtroom or offer videotaped testimony to avoid infringing on the separation of powers.

    "We've cooperated fully in this matter and will continue to do so in fairness to the parties involved," said Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the vice president. "As we've stated previously, we're not going to comment further on a legal proceeding."

    Libby is accused of lying to investigators about what he told reporters regarding former CIA operative Valerie Plame. Plame's identity was leaked to reporters around the time that her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly criticized the Bush administration's prewar intelligence on Iraq.

    Libby says he was focused on more important issues — including terrorism, Iraq and nuclear proliferation — and didn't remember his conversations regarding Plame.

    Cheney could bolster that argument by testifying about the many other larger issues Libby was responsible for. During cross-examination, Fitzgerald likely will press Cheney to acknowledge that Plame was a key concern for him, and thus would have been important to Libby.

    The trial could offer a behind-the-scenese look at the Bush administration's march to war and U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said he planned to ask potential jurors whether their feelings on the administration's policies would interfere with their ability to serve.

    Cheney and Libby got to know each other when Cheney was defense secretary under the first President Bush. Libby has been extremely loyal to Cheney and, in return, had the vice president's unwavering trust.

    By 2000, Libby was working as a top adviser to Cheney in the presidential campaign and then followed him to the White House. In the White House, he was known as "Cheney's Cheney" for being as trusted a problem solver for the vice president as Cheney was for Bush.

    Even after Libby's indictment, Cheney called him "one of the finest men I've ever known."

    In addition to Cheney, other government officials and journalists are expected to be key witnesses in the trial, which is scheduled to start next month.

    Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller and NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert are expected to be prosecution witnesses. Libby's lawyers said in court papers that several reporters will testify on Libby's behalf.

    Two unidentified reporters may resist testifying, Libby's attorneys said, but they expect to resolve that issue before trial.

    Bush: Mary Cheney to be a ‘fine mom’
     
    President says he is happy for Mary Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe

    WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney’s pregnant lesbian daughter Mary will make a “fine mom,” President Bush said, sidestepping his past comment that a child ideally would be raised by a mother and father.

    Mary Cheney, 37, and her longtime partner, Heather Poe, are expecting their first child, which would be the sixth grandchild for the vice president. Cheney was hired last year as an executive for America Online.

    “I think Mary is going to be a loving soul to her child. And I’m happy for her,” Bush said in an interview with People magazine.

    The Washington Post reported that the baby was due in late spring.

    In a 2005 interview with The New York Times, Bush said: “I believe children can receive love from gay couples but the ideal is — and studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman.”

    He sidestepped the issue when questioned by People magazine about whether he still held that belief.

    “Mary Cheney is going to make a fine mom and she’s going to love this child a lot,” he said, according to an excerpt from the interview.

    During the 2004 campaign, Mary Cheney served as a key aide to her father.

    Supports ban on same-sex marriage
    Bush has supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages but Congress failed to pass it. The vice president’s daughter opposed the measure.

    Cheney’s pregnancy has drawn fire from some conservatives, including James Dobson, chairman of the Focus on the Family lobbying group, who has clashed with the Bush administration in the past.

    “We should not enter into yet another untested and far-reaching social experiment, this one driven by the desires of same-sex couples to bear and raise children,” Dobson said in a recent commentary published on the organization’s Web site.

    However, he said his position was not meant to “harm or insult women such as Cheney and Poe.”

    Obama hits N.H. in possible '08 preview
     

    MANCHESTER, N.H. - Illinois Sen. Barack Obama drew large crowds curious about his presidential prospects during his first trip to the pivotal campaign state of New Hampshire while he decides whether to enter the Democratic race.

    Several hundred New Hampshire voters turned out to hear Obama speak at a signing for his best-selling book, “Audacity of Hope,” where he didn’t mention the presidential race but spoke about a new political spirit to unite Americans and solve their problems.

    New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary is over a year away and Obama hasn’t even said whether or not he will join the Democratic field vying for the nomination. But he’s already igniting excitement with his exploratory trip.

    After the book signing, the senator was headed to speak at a $25-per-person fundraiser for the state Democratic Party in Manchester. All 1,500 tickets quickly sold out and 150 members of the media signed up to cover the event.

    Obama also had coffee with the mayor of Portsmouth and planned to greet donors who paid $150 for the party fundraiser at a private reception. He also planned to speak to reporters at a news conference.

    The freshman senator said at the book event that the government should be able to help make sure all Americans have basic health insurance, alternative sources of energy to reduce dependence on foreign oil and a diplomatic power that matches its military might.

    He said American slaves, immigrants, women and workers have been able to change the country, and the current generation needs to recover that spirit.

    “Certainly our politics is not expressing it,” Obama said. “What we’ve come to be consumed by is 24-hour, slash-and-burn, negative ad, bickering, small-minded politics.”

    Voters awakened
    He said he saw an awaking of American voters in last month’s midterm election, and played to the seriousness that New Hampshire voters take with their responsibility as the nation’s first presidential primary state. “I know that doesn’t apply in New Hampshire, where voters are always paying attention,” he said, drawing a laugh from the standing room only crowd.

    Because of their pivotal role, New Hampshire voters are accustomed to one-on-one attention from presidential candidates. Obama tried to accommodate them despite the large turnout, staying for over an hour after his speech ended to sign a book for every person who wanted one. He also chartered a plane to Chicago late Sunday night so he could stay as long as he needed to after his speech before the party to greet attendees.

    Although he’s only in his first term in the Senate, supporters have been encouraging Obama to try to become the first black president. If he runs, he would face front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton and several other more experienced political hands who have been campaigning for more than a year in the state.

    “I was on a different internal clock,” Obama said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Friday. “It’s only been in the last couple of months that the amount of interest in a potential candidacy reached the point where I had to consider seriously.”

    Bush: No early Iran-Syria talks

    Tony Blair and George W Bush

    US President George W Bush has ruled out early talks with Iran and Syria on tackling Iraq's unrest, after meeting Tony Blair at the White House.

    Their talks came a day after a damning US report called for such a move as part of a change in strategy on Iraq.

    The two leaders agreed that a new way forward was needed on Iraq.

    But they said Iran and Syria would have to be clear they backed a non-sectarian democratically elected government in Iraq and ended support for terrorism.

    Mr Blair welcomed the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report, and mirrored its call for action on finding an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

    He conceded conditions in Iraq were "tough and challenging".

    But he said the people of the Middle East faced a choice - either secular or religious dictatorship, or "they can enjoy the same possibilities of democracy that we hold dear".

    The BBC's diplomatic correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, says the comments gave little sign the leaders planned to shift their ground after the ISG review - with both sticking to their overall goals for Iraq and the Middle East.

    In other developments:

    • Fourteen insurgents and a US soldier were killed in heavy clashes with insurgents in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Wednesday, the US military said
    • A US marine accused of killing an Iraqi civilian in Handaniya is to be tried in April.

    Middle East trip

    The ISG's assessment of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq is scathing, saying the situation there is "deteriorating" and warning that "time is running out".

    "It's bad in Iraq," Mr Bush conceded to reporters.

    But he said the violence was not a result of "faulty planning".

    And he stressed an Iraq that could govern and sustain itself was a noble cause - which extremists inside and outside the country were trying to prevent.

    The ISG urged talks with Iran and Syria on tackling the instability.

    But Mr Bush said US policy towards Tehran would change only if Iran verifiably suspended its uranium enrichment programme.

    Syria needed to be told to stop destabilising the Lebanese government and allowing arms and money flowing to insurgents in Iraq.

    "They know what is expected of them," he said.

    Mr Bush said the US and Britain would continue to work together towards bringing peace and freedom to Iraq.

    He announced the UK leader would be travelling to the Middle East shortly with the aim of finding an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected the ISG's assessment that progress in Iraq is linked to resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians - although he said he was interested in re-starting peace talks.

    But he ruled out opening peace talks with Syria in the near future, as recommended in the report.

    Iraq Study Group: Change Iraq strategy now

    story.isg3.ap.jpg

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Iraq Study Group called the situation in Iraq "grave and deteriorating" Wednesday and recommended a radically different approach from President Bush's current policy, including the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by early 2008.

    In delivering its report to Bush and Congress, the bipartisan panel listed 79 recommendations for change in Iraq strategy, including direct talks with Iran and Syria as part of a "diplomatic offensive."

    All 10 members of the panel, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, met with Bush at the White House to present the bound report.

    "If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe. A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe," the report says.

    "Neighboring countries could intervene. Sunni-Shia clashes could spread. Al Qaeda could win a propaganda victory and expand its base of operations. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized."

    On the military front, the report suggests, "By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq."

    It adds: "At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams and in training, equipping, advising, force protection and search and rescue."

    The co-chairs said they took "a pragmatic approach" to determining the best course for Iraq and determined the solution was not a military, political or economic one, but rather a combination of the three.

    "We no longer can afford to stay the course," Baker said. "If we do what we recommend in this report, it will certainly improve our chances for success."

    Hamilton echoed his colleague's sentiments, saying the Iraqi people are "suffering great hardship" and their lives must be improved.

    "The current approach is not working and the ability of the United States to influence events is diminishing," Hamilton said. "Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward."

    Among the group's recommendations were calls for a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will allow the United States to move forces out responsibly.

    It also calls for prompt action by the Iraqi government to achieve milestones, particularly reconciliation.

    Stemming violence

    Attacks against U.S. and coalition troops are "persistent and growing," the report states, and about 3,000 Iraqi civilians are killed every month.

    "Violence is increasing in scope, complexity and lethality," the report says, blaming the Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias and death squads, al Qaeda and other jihadist groups as the sources.

    "Sectarian violence -- particularly in and around Baghdad -- has become the principal challenge to stability."

    The U.S. military's ability to combat the violence is dwindling because of shortages in manpower and other resources, the report says.

    It says almost every U.S. Army and Marine unit, as well as several National Guard and reserve units, have been to Iraq at least once, if not two or three times.

    "Regular rotations, in and out of Iraq or within the country, complicate brigade and battalion efforts to get to know the local scene, earn the trust of the population and build a sense of cooperation," according to the report.

    "The American military has little reserve force to call on if it needs ground forces to respond to other crises around the world."

    Many units are "under significant strain" and equipment is wearing out quickly because of the harsh conditions in Iraq.

    Iraqi security forces, too, are ill-equipped to fight the insurgency and are making only "fitful progress toward becoming a reliable and disciplined fighting force," according to the report.

    Although U.S. troops have received adequate funding, "the entire appropriation for Iraqi defense forces [for fiscal year] 2006 [$3 billion] is less than the United States spends in Iraq every two weeks."

    The state of the Iraqi police force is even worse, states the report.

    "It has neither the training nor legal authority to conduct criminal investigations, nor the firepower to take on organized crime, insurgents, or militias," it says.

    "Iraqi police cannot control crime, and they routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention, torture, and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians."

    In addition to its inability to provide security, the Iraqi government also fails to provide basic services like electricity, drinking water, sewage, health care and education, the report says.

    "The government sometimes provides services on a sectarian basis. For example, in one Sunni neighborhood of Shia-governed Baghdad, there is less than two hours of electricity each day and trash piles are waist-high,' according to the report.

    The report says Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government needs to show "substantial progress ... on national reconciliation, security and governance" or face a reduction in "political, military, or economic support" from Washington.

    The report also prods the administration to launch a new diplomatic initiative to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

    No timetable

    It contends the United States "cannot achieve its goals in the Mideast" unless it embarks on a "renewed and sustained commitment to a comprehensive peace plan on all fronts.

    While not recommending a timetable for withdrawal, the report says: "The United States must not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq."

    "We will take every proposal seriously, and we will act in a timely fashion," Bush said after receiving the report.

    Bush urged Congress to work with the administration to find "common ground" on Iraq policy.

    Democratic leaders praised the report. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it a "tremendous step forward" and Sen. Joe Biden, who will head the foreign relations committee in January, said it was "a significant contribution."

    Sen. Carl Levin, who will take over the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee in January, said, "The report represents another blow at the policy of stay the course that this administration has followed. Hopefully, this will be the end of that stay-the-course policy."

    Asked if the report represented a repudiation of Bush's Iraq policy, White House press secretary Tony Snow said, "No, it's something we have acknowledged. It's an acknowledgement of reality."

    "We look at this as a very positive document. One of the things they said is, 'We're not coming here, Mr. President, to criticize you,' " Snow said.

    "What they said is that this is an opportunity -- they see an opportunity to come with a new way forward. Well, yes. And we like that. We like the formulation."

    CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

    John Bolton Resigns as U.S. Ambassador to U.N.

    President Bush today accepted the resignation of John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, expressing deep disappointment that "a handful" of senators had blocked his confirmation last year.

    "I accept it; I'm not happy about it," Bush told reporters this afternoon in the Oval Office after a meeting with Bolton. He said his nominee "deserved to be confirmed" as the U.S. envoy to the United Nations. "We're going to miss you in this administration," Bush told Bolton. "You've been a stalwart defender of freedom and peace."

    Bolton thanked Bush but did not comment further at the photo opportunity, and the president did not take any questions after his brief remarks.

    Bolton, 58, submitted a resignation letter Friday after it became clear that he was unlikely to win a new confirmation battle in the Senate, where Democrats won a narrow majority in the Nov. 7 midterm elections.

    Bolton's nomination had been blocked by a Democratic filibuster threat last year, prompting Bush to place him in the U.N. post through a recess appointment in August 2005. That appointment expires when the current Congress adjourns. Formal adjournment could come as soon as the end of this week, but no later than the beginning of January.

    "It is with deep regret that I accept John Bolton's decision to end his service in the administration as permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations when his commission expires," Bush said in a statement released by the White House.

    "I am deeply disappointed that a handful of United States Senators prevented Ambassador Bolton from receiving the up or down vote he deserved in the Senate," Bush added. "They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time. This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country, and discourages men and women of talent from serving their nation."

    Senate Democrats disputed Bush's characterization and urged him to nominate a replacement who has broad bipartisan and international support.

    Bush nominated Bolton in March 2005 for the U.N. post, but the choice quickly ran into opposition from Democrats and a few Republicans over allegations that he tried to spin intelligence to support his political views and bullied subordinates who disagreed with him. Some critics also made an issue of his sometimes prickly personality, arguing that he was too combative for international diplomacy.

    After opponents succeeded in blocking the nomination, Bush circumvented the confirmation process by appointing Bolton on a temporary basis during a congressional recess on Aug. 1, 2005.

    With the appointment nearing its expiration, Bush resubmitted the nomination Nov. 9. But Democrats remained opposed to the choice, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, labeled it a nonstarter. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.), a moderate Republican who lost his reelection bid in the Nov. 7 elections, also expressed opposition to the new appointment.

    Chafee's opposition was key because without his vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Bolton nomination stood virtually no chance of winning committee approval and moving to a Senate floor vote in the current congressional lame-duck session. Republicans currently hold a 10-8 majority on the committee, but that will switch in favor of the Democrats when the new Congress convenes next month with a 51-49 Democratic majority and Biden assumes the chairmanship.

    Another Republican on the committee, Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio, opposed the nomination last year. He changed his mind, however, and agreed to support Bolton after weighing his performance over the past 16 months. But his support was insufficient to move the nomination forward at this point.

    "John Bolton has risen to the occasion and done a good job under the harshest of circumstances," Voinovich said in a statement. "I'm extremely concerned with him leaving since he's been so deeply involved with the situations in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and North Korea and has been working in concert with fellow ambassadors toward true U.N. reform."

    In announcing his acceptance of the resignation, Bush praised Bolton as an effective advocate for U.S. interests. He said he first appointed him "because I knew he would represent America's values and effectively confront difficult problems at the United Nations." Bush said Bolton "articulately advocated the positions and values of the United States and advanced the expansion of democracy and liberty."

    He said Bolton had led negotiations resulting in "unanimous Security Council resolutions regarding North Korea's military and nuclear activities" and had "built consensus among our allies on the need for Iran to suspend the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium." He also promoted peacekeeping efforts in Darfur and "made the case for United Nations reform," Bush said.

    "After careful consideration, I have concluded that my service in your administration should end when the current recess appointment expires," Bolton wrote in a three-paragraph letter to Bush dated Dec. 1. He said he had been honored to serve in the administration for nearly six years, first as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security before moving to the U.N. post, and he praised Bush's leadership as "critical in safeguarding America's values and interests in a time of peril and challenge."

    While praising Bolton's intellect, hard work and dedication, Biden said it was "unfortunate that the White House continues its false claim that consideration of Mr. Bolton's nomination was blocked by Senate Democrats." In fact, Biden said in a statement, Bolton "did not have the votes to secure the recommendation of the Foreign Relations Committee under Republican leadership." He said the reason the Bolton nomination did not get a vote in the full Senate was because the administration refused to provide requested documents, including National Security Agency intercepts that Bolton had asked to see to learn the identities of U.S. citizens involved in certain communications.

    "The president now has an opportunity to nominate an ambassador who can garner strong bipartisan and international support and effectively represent the interests of the United States at the United Nations at a time of extraordinary international challenge," Biden said. "If the president nominates such a person, I look forward to scheduling hearings promptly in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee."

    Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), another member of the committee, said Bolton's resignation, like the impending departure of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "offers a chance to turn the page at a critical period." The United States needs an ambassador "who has the full support of Congress and can help rally the international community to tackle the serious threats we face," he said in a statement. Kerry urged Bush to appoint someone who has bipartisan support and "who can put results ahead of ideology."

    As a strong advocate for U.N. reform, Bolton developed an uneasy relationship with the U.N. Secretariat led by Secretary General Kofi Annan. He called for top U.N. officials to resign in tandem with Annan, who did not seek a new term and is scheduled to leave office Dec. 31.

    In New York, Annan offered a lukewarm assessment when asked his reaction to Bolton's resignation.

    "I think Ambassador Bolton did the job he was expected to do," Annan told reporters. "He came at a time when we had lots of tough issues, from reform to issues on Iran and North Korea. I think as a representative of the U.S. government, he pressed ahead with the instructions he had been given and tried to work as effectively as he could."

    In an appeal for greater cooperation at the United Nations, Annan added, "It is important that the ambassadors work together," and he urged envoys to realize "that to get concessions they have to make concessions." He said he encouraged member states "to try to speak with one voice" whenever possible.

    The outgoing Senate majority leader, Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who did not seek reelection last month, hailed Bolton as a successful diplomat and a "tough negotiator." Like Bush, Frist denounced Senate Democrats, saying they had denied Bolton the "courtesy of an up-or-down vote" on his nomination.

    "While Ambassador Bolton was vigorously advancing America's interests at the United Nations, the Democrats were playing politics with his nomination," Frist charged in a statement.

    Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said Bolton's resignation "represents a tremendous blow to the effectiveness of U.S. leadership" at the United Nations. "I am disappointed that partisan politics and the obstructionism of a few senators stood in the way of Ambassador Bolton's nomination and ultimately led to his resignation. With the myriad of dangers that we face today, failing to act on his nomination has diminished our voice at this institution."

    Among others who said they were sorry to see him go was Kenzo Oshima, the Japanese ambassador to the United Nations. He told reporters it was "really disappointing" to lose an "exceptionally skillful diplomat" who spearheaded efforts to get a Security Council resolution condemning North Korea's nuclear test in October. "I'm very, very sorry to see him leave," Oshima said.

    Hillary Clinton discussing presidential bid

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is holding discussions about and interviewing potential campaign staff for a White House bid in 2008, sources say.

    Clinton, a Democratic senator for New York and former first lady, was re-elected to a six-year term in the Senate in a landslide last month.

    "She said before the election that after the election she would be considering a presidential run," said Howard Wolfson, a senior Clinton adviser. "Part of that process is seeking the advice and counsel of her colleagues in New York."

    Wolfson said the senator has been holding private conversations with New York Democrats concerning a White House bid.

    Another source close to Clinton told CNN she has begun interviewing potential campaign staff.

    One New York Democrat, who asked to not be named, said he was recently called by a senior Clinton team member. While it was not flatly said that Clinton had decided to run for president, "it was pretty clear," the source said.

    On Sunday, Clinton met New York's governor-elect, Eliot Sptizer, The Associated Press reported.

    "We just had a great, wide-ranging meeting on so many issues that affect the city, the state and the country," AP quoted Clinton as saying as she left the meeting at Spitzer's home in Manhattan.

    New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Clinton's Democratic colleague, told AP he would be meeting with Clinton in the next week.

    "She wants to sit down and talk next week, which we're going to do. It could be about legislation. I have no idea what it's about, and until we sit down and talk that's all I'm going to say about it," AP quoted Schumer as saying. "I think she'd make a very good president but let's wait and see. Everyone's sort of jumping the gun."

    A CNN poll taken two weeks ago showed the New York senator favored by 33 percent of people asked who they were "most likely to support for the Democratic nomination for president in the year 2008."

    Clinton was ranked first among 10 potential Democratic candidates. Second place for "likely" support was a statistical tie among Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (15 percent); former Vice President Al Gore (14 percent), who ran for president in 2000; and John Edwards (14 percent), Gore's running mate in 2000.

    Last week, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack announced he would seek the Democratic nomination. Indiana Democrat Sen. Evan Bayh announced Sunday he is considering running for the White House.

    Rumsfeld memo admits Iraq strategy failing

     

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told President Bush before he resigned that the administration's strategy in Iraq was not working and he proposed changes, including possible troop reductions, The New York Times reported Saturday.

    "In my view it is time for a major adjustment. Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough," Rumsfeld said in the classified memo, dated November 6. The Times posted a copy of the memo along with an article about it on its Web site.

    The Pentagon confirmed the memo's authenticity but declined to comment further.

    Rumsfeld, as a planner and defender of Bush's Iraq strategy since well before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, has been a leading public face of the war. His memo adds to the voices calling on Bush to make a significant shift in strategy as the White House, the Pentagon and a congressionally created study group consider changes.

    Rumsfeld outlined several options in the memo for policy changes, including reductions in U.S. forces and bases in Iraq as well as a recasting of the U.S. mission and goals there, but he endorsed no specific recommendations. (Watch destruction caused by Baghdad car bombsVideo)

    He said, however, a multiparty conference modeled after the 1995 Dayton, Ohio, talks that led to a peace agreement ending the Bosnian war was a "less attractive" option, as was continuing on the current path.

    The memo was dated a day before Democrats captured control of Congress in midterm elections amid voter dissatisfaction over the Iraq war, and two days before Rumsfeld's resignation was announced.

    Rumsfeld's language was echoed in remarks Bush made on November 8 when he announced the resignation. Bush said it was time for a change in Iraq and Iraq policy was "not working well enough, fast enough."

    Rumsfeld remains in office pending Senate confirmation of former CIA Director Robert Gates, nominated by Bush to succeed him.

    The study group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, is expected to urge a gradual withdrawal of U.S. combat troops when it makes its report Wednesday.

    There are about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and more than 2,800 have been killed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

    'Want to hear all advice'

    Bush has indicated he will look closely at -- but not necessarily heed -- the study group's findings and insisted he was not looking for a "graceful exit."

    "I want to hear all advice before I make any decisions about adjustments to our strategy in Iraq," Bush said in his radio address Saturday.

    Bush pledged to seek bipartisan consensus on the way forward in Iraq, and offered conciliatory words but no concessions to critics of his Iraq policy.

    Among the proposals outlined in the Rumsfeld memo were positioning substantial U.S. forces near the Iranian and Syrian borders to reduce infiltration and reduce Iranian influence on the Iraqi government.

    Many in Washington hope the bipartisan Baker commission will give Bush a way to start extricating the U.S. forces from what is increasingly being viewed as a sectarian civil war.

    But State Department and National Security Council officials told foreign diplomats Wednesday not to expect any major policy shifts, no matter what the group recommends, The Washington Post reported, citing unidentified diplomats familiar with the private briefing.

    The group's proposals -- said to include a U.S. shift away from a combat role over the next year or so, and a regional conference that could lead to talks with Iran and Syria -- will carry significant weight even if Bush chooses to ignore them.

    Long accused by Democrats of ignoring their advice on Iraq, Bush in his radio address acknowledged violence there was unsettling for many Americans.

    "Success in Iraq will require leaders in Washington -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- to come together and find greater consensus on the best path forward. So I will work with leaders in both parties to achieve this goal," he said.

    Bush will hold talks Monday at the White House with a powerful party leader of Iraq's Shi'ite majority, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

    Bush begins delayed talks on Iraq

    Mr Bush with Jordan's King Abdullah after talks in
                           Amman

    US President George W Bush has begun a key summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki aimed at tackling Iraq's escalating violence.

    The meeting, planned for Wednesday, was postponed shortly after Mr Bush arrived in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

    The delay followed the leak of a memo casting doubts on Mr Maliki, prompting denials that he had snubbed Mr Bush.

    Thursday's meeting began as details emerged hinting the Iraq Study Group will recommend changes to US policy.

    President Bush is expected to give public support to Mr Maliki, but privately put pressure on him to take action against Shia militias, analysts say.

    The two are also expected to discuss moves to transfer more responsibility to Iraq's security forces.

    Under pressure

    The meeting comes as both men face pressure over the situation in Iraq and follows one of the bloodiest weeks in the country since the US-led invasion in 2003.

    Mr Maliki has been under enormous pressure at home not to meet President Bush, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Amman.

    In protest against the planned meeting, the Iraqi political group loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr suspended its participation in the government.

    The group, which has 30 MPs and a handful of ministers, had been making the threat for some days and had called for Mr Maliki to call off the Jordan meeting.

    Mr Maliki has also been the subject of a leaked US memo, published in the New York Times on Monday, in which Mr Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, raised doubts about his ability to control sectarian violence.

    According to the Times, the 8 November memo said that while Mr Maliki's intentions seemed good, his capabilities were "not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into actions".

    Regional fears

    Mr Bush, meanwhile, is facing growing political pressure over the lack of progress in Iraq and the rising tide of violence, says the BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington.

    Even the White House acknowledges the violence has reached a new phase, though it still dismisses talk of a civil war, he says.

    Reports on Wednesday suggested that the US is planning to move more troops into Baghdad early next year in a bid to restore calm.

    But first comes the publication of the report from the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel set up to examine US policy on Iraq. The group will release its findings on 6 December, it said in a statement on Wednesday.

    The co-chairman of the group, Senator Lee Hamilton, said members had now reached a consensus - but did not give details.

    Initials reports suggest it will recommend the US military move from a combative to a supportive role, and also urge a regional conference involving Iran and Syria.

    King Abdullah of Jordan, who is hosting the Amman summit, has spoken out this week about his concern over the situation in Iraq.

    On Monday he warned that conflicts in the region - in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories - could spin out of control unless the international community took urgent action.

    Officials said his dinner meeting on Wednesday with Mr Bush focused on both the Iraq issue and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    "The king explained ... the need to make real progress on the Palestinian issue because regional complications and challenges are due to the Palestinian problem," the French news agency AFP quoted Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdel Ilah al-Khatib as saying after the meeting.

    Al-Maliki-Bush meeting delayed a day
    Iraqi officials then cancel three-way meeting with Jordan in surprise move
     
    AMMAN, Jordan - President Bush’s high-stakes summit with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was put off Wednesday amid political unrest in Baghdad and public disclosure of U.S. doubts about the Iraqi leader’s capacity to control sectarian warfare.

    The White House said Bush and al-Maliki would meet on Thursday to discuss how Iraqi forces can assume more security responsibilities faster.

    The postponement was announced shortly after Bush arrived here for talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and al-Maliki. Bush’s meeting and dinner with the king proceeded on schedule at Raghadan Palace.

    Iraqi officials balked at the three-way meeting after learning Abdullah wanted to broaden the talks to include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to Redha Jawad Taqi, a senior aide of top Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who also was in Amman. On Sunday, Abdullah had said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a core issue.

    Two senior officials traveling with al-Maliki, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said the prime minister had been reluctant to travel to Jordan in the first place and decided, once in Amman, that he did not want “a third party” involved in talks about subjects specific to the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

    “We insisted that the meeting be canceled,” said one of the officials.

    Surprise cancellation
    The change of plans appeared to surprise some members of Bush’s entourage. Boarding the motorcade for the trip to the palace, White House press secretary Tony Snow said there were still discussions about whether a photo op Wednesday night would include al-Maliki.

    The Iraqi prime minister faced political pressure at home about the summit. Thirty Iraqi lawmakers and five cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said they were boycotting participating in Parliament and the government to protest al-Maliki’s presence at the summit.

    White House counselor Dan Bartlett denied that the delay was a snub by al-Maliki or was related to the leak of a memo by a top White House adviser questioning the prime minister’s capacity for controlling violence in Iraq.

    “Absolutely not,” Bartlett said.” He said the king and the prime minister had met before Bush arrived from a NATO summit in Latvia. “That negated the purpose for the three of them to meet tonight, together.”

    'More of a social meeting'
    Bartlett said that Wednesday night’s three-way meeting had always been planned as “more of a social meeting” and that Bush and Maliki on Thursday would have a “robust” meeting on their own.

    The president was expected to ask the embattled Iraqi prime minister how best to train Iraqi forces faster so they can shoulder more responsibility for halting the sectarian violence and, specifically, mending a gaping Sunni-Shiite divide.

    U.S. involvement in Iraq now exceeds the length of America’s participation in World War II.

    “We will discuss the situation on the ground in his country, our ongoing efforts to transfer more responsibility to the Iraqi security forces, and the responsibility of other nations in the region to support the security and stability of Iraq,” Bush had said earlier.

    The White House has avoided saying that Bush would pressure al-Maliki at the meeting to do more to stop the bloodshed. National security adviser Stephen Hadley says the Iraqi prime minister pushes himself — and that Bush will be listening to al-Maliki’s ideas, not imposing plans on him.

    Serious U.S. doubts on al-Maliki
    But in a classified Nov. 8 memo following his Oct. 30 trip to Baghdad, Hadley expressed serious
    doubts about whether al-Maliki could control the sectarian violence, and recommended steps to strengthen the Iraqi leader’s position, The New York Times reported in Wednesday editions.

    “The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action,” the memo said.

    In an unusual move for a White House that typically refuses to discuss classified material, the White House did not dispute the accuracy of the memo. But a senior administration official said the document, taken as a whole, was an expression of support for al-Maliki. “You have a constant reiteration of the importance of strengthening the Maliki government, the need to work with him, to augment his capabilities,” the official said.

    He added that Bush and al-Maliki have a “personal relationship” that allows them to “talk candidly about the challenges.”

    Another official, also speaking anonymously because of the classified nature of the memo, said it was not “a slap in the face, but it’s, ‘How do we grow his capability?’ “

    Press secretary Snow told reporters that al-Maliki “has been very aggressive in recent weeks in taking on some of the key challenges.”

    Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the memo’s doubts about al-Maliki “seemed calculated to steel his spine.”

    “This memo reads to me more like a memo to Prime Minister al-Maliki than to President Bush,” he said. “It has his entire to-do list as well as a list of what he’ll get if he agrees.”

    Three threatened civil wars
    Abdullah has warned that unless bold steps are taken posthaste, the new year could dawn with three civil wars in the Mideast — in Lebanon, between the Palestinians and Israelis and in Iraq. He says the fighting in Iraq amounts to a civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites, a term the White House has rejected.

    In Washington on Wednesday, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., called on Bush to appoint a high-ranking special envoy to work with the Iraqi government on disbanding militias, including all Iraq’s factions in the political process, and equitably distributing resources such as oil revenues.

    “Steps have to be taken now,” he said.

    Bush’s meeting with al-Maliki is part of a new flurry of diplomacy the administration has undertaken across the Middle East. Hadley’s memo suggests that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hold a meeting for Iraq and its neighbors in the region early next month.

    Bush: No pullout from Iraq until 'mission is complete'

    RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- President Bush, under pressure to change direction in Iraq, said Tuesday he will not be persuaded by any calls to withdraw American troops before the country is stabilized.

    "There's one thing I'm not going to do, I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete," he said in a speech setting the stage for high-stakes meetings with the Iraqi prime minister later this week. "We can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren."

    A bipartisan panel on Iraq is finalizing recommendations on Iraq. The group led by former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, plan to present ideas to Bush next month.

    The commissioners are expected to debate the feasibility of withdrawal timetables.

    Recent U.S. elections added fuel to the argument from Democrats that U.S. soldiers need to come home. In Washington, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that Bush must work with Democrats on stopping the violence in Iraq.

    "We want to work in a bipartisan way to settle this," Pelosi said. "If the president persists on the course that he is on, that will be more difficult."

    Bush has resisted troop withdrawals even while projecting the need for a different approach.

    "We'll continue to be flexible and we'll make the changes necessary to succeed," the president said.

    Bush pushed back against skeptics of his goal of spreading freedom across the Middle East. "I understand these doubts but I do not share them," the president said.

    Focus on Afghanistan

    In Riga to attend a NATO summit, Bush also enlisted renewed commitments from the NATO allies that have deployed 32,000 troops to Afghanistan. He said NATO commanders must have the resources and flexibility to do the job -- an apparent reference to there being only a handful of countries -- primarily Canada, Britain, the United States and the Netherlands -- that are doing much of the heavy lifting in the dangerous southern provinces against a resurgent Taliban.

    "Defeating them will require the full commitment of our alliance," Bush said.

    The countries fighting in the south want others, such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain, that are operating in more secure northern areas, to reduce restrictions on their forces to give NATO commanders more flexibility to use them where they're most needed.

    Bush said he hoped the alliance will be able to offer membership to Croatia, Macedonia and Albania in 2008.

    Speaking from Russia's doorstep in a former Soviet republic, he also reiterated U.S. support for future NATO membership for Georgia, as well as Ukraine if it makes the necessary democratic reforms.

    "The United States believes in NATO membership for all of Europe's democracies that seek it," the president said.

    Bush has two days of meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki later in the week.

    Bush blames al Qaeda for rising violence

    Earlier Tuesday, Bush blamed the escalating bloodshed in Iraq on an al Qaeda plot to stoke cycles of sectarian revenge, and refused to debate whether the country has fallen into civil war. (Full story)

    Jordan's King Abdullah, hosting the Bush-al-Maliki summit, has warned that the new year could dawn with three civil wars in the Mideast -- with one in Iraq added to those already ongoing in Lebanon and between the Palestinians and Israelis. The country is reeling from the deadliest week of sectarian fighting since the war began in March 2003.

    Bush, dodging a direct answer of whether a civil war exist, tied the three conflicts together in a different way. He said recent strife in Lebanon and the heated up Israeli-Palestinian dispute are, like Iraq, the result of extremists trying to choke off democratic progress.

    "No question it's tough, no question about it," Bush said at a news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. "There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented in my opinion because of these attacks by al Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal."

    The president dated the current spike to the February 22 bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra, which triggered attacks and reprisal counterattacks between the Shiite majority and Sunni minority, and raised fears of civil war.

    Bush said he will ask al-Maliki to explain his plan for quelling the violence.

    "The Maliki government is going to have to deal with that violence and we want to help them do so," the president said. "It's in our interest that we succeed."

    Directly seeking help from Iran and Syria with Iraq, as part of new, aggressive diplomacy throughout the region, is expected to be among the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton group.

    But Bush repeated his administration's reluctance to talk with two nations it regards as pariah states working to destabilize the Middle East.

    Iran reaches out to Iraq

    Iran, the top U.S. rival in the region, has reached out to Iraq and Syria in recent days -- an attempt viewed as a bid to assert its role as a powerbroker in Iraq.

    The president said Iraq is a sovereign nation, free to meet with its neighbors. "If that's what they think they ought to do, that's fine," he said. "One thing Iraq would like to see is for the Iranians to leave them alone."

    The president added that the U.S. will only deal with Iran when they suspend their program of enriching uranium, which could be used in a nuclear weapon arsenal.

    "The Iranians and the Syrians should help -- not destabilize -- this young democracy," he said.

    Iran's state-run television, however, quoted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani as saying "we are in dire need of Iran's help in establishing security and stability in Iraq." The comments came after Talabani met Monday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

    Far from reaching out to Iran and Syria, Bush also denounced them for trying to destabilize the fragile, Western-backed government in Lebanon.

    "That government is being undermined, in my opinion, by extremist forces encouraged out of Syria and Iran," Bush said. "Why? Because a democracy will be a major defeat for those who articulate extremist points of view."

    The New York Times on Monday quoted a senior U.S. intelligence official who said the Iranian-backed Hezbollah had been providing training for the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militia led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The anonymous official told the Times that 1,000 to 2,000 Shiite fighters had been trained in Lebanon by Hezbollah, also backed by Syria.

    Bush arrived in Latvia after a brief stopover in Estonia, also a former Soviet republic with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    An issue of high concern in central and eastern European countries is their lack of participation in a U.S. visa waiver program that allows business travelers and tourists to enter the U.S. for months using only a passport. Ilves said it is something his country "constantly has been raising" with the United States. The subject came up again in Bush's meetings in Latvia with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

    Bush promised to try to convince Congress to add more countries, like Estonia, to the program by adding new security elements to overcome wariness in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

    Cheney huddles with Saudi king, heads back

    story.cheney

    RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney is on his way back to Washington after a daylong whirlwind meeting with Saudi Arabian King Abdullah.

    Cheney and King Abdullah met Saturday for several hours on issues key to both nations -- including the latest developments in Iraq, Iran's growing influence in the region, the status of Hamas in Gaza, Syria's diplomatic status, and Syria's influence in Lebanon's government, a Saudi adviser told CNN.

    Saudi Arabia believes Iran is using its influence in Syria to help rearm Hezbollah in Lebanon and is undermining Lebanon's already fragile Western-backed government, said the adviser.

    The brevity of Cheney's visit underlies the growing sense of urgency after a series of events highlighting an increasingly unstable Middle East.

    On Tuesday, an anti-Syrian Lebanese politician, Pierre Gemayel, was assassinated in Beirut, recalling the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

    Bush daughter purse-snatching talk of Argentina

    vt.bb.gi.jpg

    BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (Reuters) -- Reports that an agile Argentine thief snatched the purse of one of the twin daughters of President Bush while U.S. Secret Service agents were nearby had local media in a buzz Wednesday.

    "Bush's bodyguards couldn't handle San Telmo purse-snatcher," read a headline on the Web site of official news agency Telam.

    Telam said a government source, who asked not to be named, confirmed reports regarding the robbery. Different local reports said the incident happened on Sunday or Monday.

    A law enforcement source briefed on the incident told CNN that Barbara Bush's purse was stolen while she was in Argentina with her twin sister, Jenna. But the source said that "at no point were the protectees out of visual contact and at no point was there any risk of harm."

    Barbara Bush, 24, who has the same name as her grandmother, the former first lady, was in a restaurant in the San Telmo neighborhood when her purse was taken, Telam reported.

    It was not clear whether she was wearing her purse at the time of the theft or whether she was in an open-air restaurant or indoors.

    Radio and television reporters flocked to the main square in the historic neighborhood -- known for its outdoor restaurants and tango performances -- trying in vain to find out in which restaurant the purse had disappeared.

    All they came up with were a couple shopkeepers who said they were just discovering that a young woman who had been in their shop in recent days may have been the first daughter.

    The U.S. Embassy in Argentina and the White House declined to comment on the reports, and Argentine police said no report had been filed with them.

    Officials at Argentina's interior ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

    It was not known how long Bush's daughter had been in Argentina or why she was visiting. Some reports said she had been in neighboring Paraguay earlier, in an activity related with UNICEF.

    Kissinger: Iraq Military Win Impossible

    Kissinger: Military Victory Not Possible in Iraq; U.S. Needs to Enter Dialogue With Iran

    LONDON - Military victory is no longer possible in Iraq, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in a television interview broadcast Sunday.

    Kissinger presented a bleak vision of Iraq, saying the U.S. government must enter into dialogue with Iraq's regional neighbors including Iran if progress is to be made in the region.

    "If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

    But Kissinger, an architect of the Vietnam war who has advised President Bush about Iraq, warned against a rapid withdrawal of coalition troops, saying it could destabilize Iraq's neighbors and cause a long-lasting conflict.

    "A dramatic collapse of Iraq whatever we think about how the situation was created would have disastrous consequences for which we would pay for many years and which would bring us back, one way or another, into the region," he said.

    Kissinger, whose views have been sought by the Iraqi Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker III, called for an international conference bringing together the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Iraq's neighbors including Iran and regional powers like India and Pakistan to work out a way forward for the region.

    "I think we have to redefine the course, but I don't think that the alternative is between military victory, as defined previously, or total withdrawal," he said.

    Could quicker Rumsfeld exit have kept GOP in power?

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Still smarting from the rebuke they suffered in last week's elections, Republicans were split Sunday over whether ousting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld earlier might have kept their party in power.

    "If Rumsfeld had been out, you bet it would have made a difference," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, told CNN. "I would still be chairman of the Judiciary Committee."

    Actually, he is. Specter remains Judiciary Committee chairman during the lame-duck session of Congress until the Democrats take over in January.

    "He should have done it as soon as he made up his mind, and that's a hard thing to calculate, but it's highly doubtful that he made up his mind between the time the election returns came in on Tuesday, and Wednesday, when Rumsfeld was out," Specter said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was adamant that the move's timing was a mistake.

    "If the president had replaced Rumsfeld two weeks ago, the Republicans would still control the Senate and they would probably have 10 more House members," Gingrich said.

    But White House operatives appeared less persuaded that their boss had made a tactical error.

    "I could argue the politics of it either way," White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten told CNN. "It might have been disheartening for people to see a sudden change at that moment, two or three weeks before the election. But however you view the politics of it, it doesn't matter. The president wasn't ready to make the decision until the last week. And he was determined not to inject politics into one of the most important national security decisions he has got to make."

    Bolten added, "If it affected votes one way or the other -- maybe it did. I'm skeptical about what the effect would have been. But I think the president did the right thing in the right timing."

    Counselor to the President Dan Bartlett said the election results did not necessarily reflect voters' views on Rumsfeld's stewardship of the war in Iraq.

    "I don't necessarily buy the calculation that he was the difference in the election," Bartlett told "Fox News Sunday."

    Had Bush made the move sooner, "it would have looked desperate, " Bartlett added. "I think that would have weakened the president and Republican support going down the stretch of this campaign."

    Bush, Cheney to meet with Iraq Study Group
    Report recommendations expected before the end of the year

    WASHINGTON - President Bush and his national security team will meet Monday with members of a blue-ribbon commission trying to devise a new course for the unpopular war in Iraq.

    The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton of Indiana, is expected to report its recommendations before the end of the year.

    Members of the group will have a joint conference at the White House with Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

    The group will have individual meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, and CIA Director Michael Hayden. They also will talk with Zalmay Khalizad, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad.

    Robert Gates, picked by Bush to succeed Rumsfeld, has been a member of the Iraq Study Group. He is resigning and will not take part in Monday's meetings, White House press secretary Tony Snow said.

    Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state in the last two months of President George H.W. Bush's term, will replace Gates on the commission, said Anais Haase, Eagleburger's executive assistant. Eagleburger, 76, was deputy secretary of state to Baker during the first Bush's administration and had a 27-year career as an American diplomat.


    Rumsfeld quits in wake of Democratic election wins

     

    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stepped down and will be replaced by former CIA director Robert Gates, President Bush announced Wednesday, a day after Republicans suffered big political losses fueled by voter unease about the war in Iraq.

    Bush defended Rumsfeld, a lightning rod for the president's Iraq war policies, as a "patriot who served this country with honor and distinction."

    The president acknowledged at a news conference, however, that "many Americans voted last night to register their displeasure with the lack of progress being made in Iraq."

    Many Democrats and some Republican called for Rumsfeld's replacement during the midterm election campaign.

    Bush did not indicate that Rumsfeld's departure meant any major changes in Iraq policy. "I'm committed to victory," Bush said, while adding that he will "continue to adjust to achieve the objective."

    Gates, whose nomination must be approved by the Senate, served in the administration of George H.W. Bush and has long been part of the elder Bush's inner political and policy circle. Gates now serves as president of Texas A&M University.

    Bush said he had been talking to Rumsfeld and Gates, 63, for several days, but held the announcement until after polls closed. He had insisted Rumsfeld would remain in the job just days before the election. "I didn't want to interject a major decision in the final days of the campaign," Bush said Wednesday.

    The second-longest-serving Defense secretary, Rumsfeld, 74, has been a frequent target of war critics who regard him as embodiment of the Bush administration's muscular, go-it-alone foreign policy.

    Rumsfeld's critics were pleased. Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada called it "a step in the right direction."

    "Unfortunately, the course in Iraq cannot be changed solely by changing personnel," Reid said. "We also need a change in policy, if this resignation is to mean anything for our troops or for the Iraqi people."

    Rumsfeld also held the top Defense job during the Ford administration and has the distinction of being both the oldest and youngest to serve as Secretary of Defense.

    He came into the Bush administration charged with updating and modernizing the American military. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Rumsfeld became more of a secretary of war and oversaw U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Rumsfeld, a flinty former fighter pilot who seemed to relish clashing with the media, won plaudits from military analyst for his efforts to transform U.S. forces into a 21st-century fighting force.

    But Rumsfeld's legacy will be Iraq, said Kurt Campbell, a former Pentagon and National Security Council official under President Clinton.

    "There's much that Rumsfeld did that's com-mendable: His focus on transformation of the military, on quicker responses, on a variety of new thinking," said Campbell, now a scholar at the non-partisanCenter for Strategic and International Studies. "But because of Iraq, much of his legacy is likely to be considered tragic."

     

    Democrats to take control of House, CNN projects


     

     Democrats picked up 14 seats in their bid to take control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

    Races in Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Indiana were among those where Republicans lost seats, according to CNN projections.

    In North Carolina's 11th Congressional District, Democrat and former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler has defeated GOP incumbent Rep. Charles Taylor, CNN projected.

    In Ohio's 18th Congressional District, Democrat Zack Space defeated Republican Joy Padgett for the seat formerly held by GOP Rep. Bob Ney, CNN projected.

    Ney resigned after pleading guilty to charges stemming from the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.  In Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District, Republican Rep. Curt Weldon lost his re-election bid to Democrat Joseph Sestak, CNN projected.

    In New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District, Republican Rep. Charlie Bass lost his re-election bid to Democrat Paul Hodes, CNN projected.

    In Indiana's 2nd District, Democrat Joe Donnelly took the seat of GOP incumbent Rep. Chris Chocola, CNN projected.

    In Kentucky's 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Republican Rep. Anne Northup lost to Democratic challenger John Yarmuth, CNN projected.

    In Indiana's 8th Congressional District, Brad Ellsworth defeated Republican Rep. John Hostettler, CNN projected.

    All 435 seats are up for grabs in the House, where representatives serve two-year terms.

    Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats to gain control of the House from Republicans. With that control comes the ability to set the chamber's agenda, and a stronger hand in setting Congress' legislative agenda.

    Several close races remained across the country.

    Democrats are hoping voters used their congressional votes to send Bush a message of their dissatisfaction with his policies in Iraq.

    In exit polling nationwide Tuesday, 57 percent of voters said they disapproved of the war in Iraq, while 41 percent approved. Those figures mirror Bush's job approval among voters, with 58 percent saying they disapprove of the president's performance and 41 percent approving.

    Exit polling results were based on interviews Tuesday morning and afternoon. Polling was continuing throughout the evening.

    "The burden on the Republican Party now is to somehow change the national discussion away from Iraq and the president's shortcomings and over to the war against terrorism," said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

    Should the Democrats wrest control Tuesday, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the current minority leader, would likely become speaker of the House, replacing Illinois Republican Dennis Hastert.

    Weekend polls varied widely on how Tuesday's voting might go. A CNN poll of likely voters had 58 percent saying they'd vote for the Democratic candidate in their congressional district, with 38 percent saying they planned to vote for Republicans. A Pew poll, however, showed only a four-percentage-point advantage for Democrats, 47 percent to 43 percent, among likely voters.

    Exit polling Tuesday found voters placing national issues well ahead of local ones in influence on their House votes, 62 percent to 33 percent.  In the current House, Republicans hold 230 seats, Democrats hold 201, with one independent who usually votes with Democrats. One Democratic seat was left vacant when Robert Menendez of New Jersey was appointed to the Senate, and three Republican seats are vacant because of resignations -- former Reps. Tom DeLay of Texas, Mark Foley of Florida and Bob Ney of Ohio.

    Republicans have held the chamber for the past 12 years, taking power in the midterm election of President Clinton's first term. For that 1994 vote, Republicans put forth their "Contract With America," in which they pledged to clean up congressional ethics, cut the congressional payroll, simplify federal budgeting practices, and make it more difficult to pass tax increases, among other things.

    Before the 1994 elections, Democrats had held sway in the House since 1952.

    This is the second midterm election for Bush, and the party of the occupant of the White House historically loses congressional seats in the middle of that president's second term. Only Clinton bucked that trend in 1998, but Democrats lost 52 seats in that 1994 election.

     

    Bush's lonely election season
     
    "Stay the course" is a time-honored rallying cry in politics. But it has always been more a slogan than a strategy, meant to show the steadfastness of the person who shouts it rather than convey any idea of what he actually intends to do. More telling is when staying the course turns into "constantly changing tactics to meet the situation on the ground."

    That is how President Bush is now describing the battle plan in Iraq. It also pretty neatly sums up what his presidency has come to as he reaches the eve of a midterm congressional election that has turned into a referendum on Bush himself, and on a policy in Iraq that has left him more isolated than at any point in his presidency.

    The last time control of Congress was up for grabs in a midterm election, it seemed Republican candidates across the country couldn't see enough of -- or be seen enough with -- George W. Bush. In the closing five days of 2002, Bush swooped through 17 cities, playing to tens of thousands of voters who packed tarmacs and arenas from Aberdeen, South Dakota, to Blountville, Tennessee.

    This midterm election is also turning out to be all about Bush, but it's a much lonelier experience for him. He still fills smaller rooms, especially the kind where people are willing to write five-figure checks for the privilege of lunch with a Republican resident. And he's welcomed warmly in places where having local reporters point out Bush's difficulties provides a diversion from the candidate's own.

    But when Air Force One touches down in tightly contested congressional districts these days, it often turns out that the GOP candidate there has discovered a previous commitment, the political version of an appointment to have your tires rotated. Yes, it's true that Florida Congressman Clay Shaw has been running radio ads to boast of his record working closely with a President, but the one he's talking about is Bill Clinton.

    The campaign trail is not the only place where Bush is watching his friends scatter. Only 38 percent of Americans say they still believe his invasion of Iraq was a good idea; 61 percent say they don't think he has a clear plan for handling the war.

    But Bush has lived by the political philosophy that when the crowd is against you, you just strut more boldly across the stage. That's why he held a news conference a few days ago to hug his war policy even tighter. It is there that he argued staying the course means "constantly changing tactics to meet the situation on the ground," and that benchmarks (good) aren't the same as timetables (bad).

    But it was as if no one was listening. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared that he wouldn't abide by either one if it was imposed by Washington, and Bush's top general in Iraq, George W. Casey, broke ranks to suggest he was thinking about asking for more troops.

    That was just about the last thing any Republican wanted to hear with less than two weeks to go before an election. Within 24 hours, therefore, Casey was pulled back on message with a statement in which his office said he had given the "wrong impression."

    Meanwhile, even as Bush was praising Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as "a smart, tough, capable administrator," endangered Republicans like Kentucky Representative Anne Northup and Ohio Senator Mike DeWine have been joining the increasingly loud chorus of calls for the secretary's ouster.

    And pressure for change is not coming only from the desperate and the wobbly. Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison -- a Bush loyalist well ahead in her bid for re-election -- is expressing regret for her vote to authorize the invasion and is advocating partitioning Iraq along ethnic lines. "We have to step back and stop trying to put our American ideas onto this problem," she told the Houston Chronicle.

    Iraq is what has set the President up for a possible rebuke by voters. And if Bush were a different kind of politician -- if he loved political jawboning like a Lyndon Johnson or could show political elasticity like Bill Clinton -- this moment might be less significant.

    But Bush has perfected the art of governing from inside his razor-thin majority, and is proud above all of his ideological steadfastness. That's why the midterms could do more than change the balance of power in Washington, if current polls are right and one or both houses shift to Democratic hands.

    Bush says U.S. doesn't torture after Cheney flap
    White House denies vice president endorsed ‘water boarding’ in interview

    WASHINGTON - President Bush said Friday the United States does not torture prisoners, trying to calm a controversy created when Vice President Dick Cheney embraced the suggestion that a “dunk in water” might be useful to get terrorist suspects to talk.

    Human rights groups complained that Cheney’s words amounted to an endorsement of a torture technique known as water boarding, in which the victim believes he is about to drown. The White House insisted Cheney was not talking about water boarding but would not explain what he meant.

    Less than two weeks before midterm congressional elections, the White House was put on the defensive as news of Cheney’s remark spread. Bush was asked about it at a White House photo opportunity with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Presidential spokesman Tony Snow was pelted with questions at two briefings with reporters.

    Democrats also pointed to Cheney’s statement.

    “Is the White House that was for torture before it was against it, now for torture again?” tweaked Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Kerry, in his unsuccessful campaign for the presidency, had been skewered by Bush for saying he had voted for war funds before he voted against them.

    ‘No-brainer’
    Cheney triggered the flap in an interview Tuesday by radio broadcaster Scott Hennen of WDAY in Fargo, N.D. Hennen said callers had told him, “Please, let the vice president know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we’re all for it, if it saves lives.”

    “Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?” Hennen asked.

    “Well, it’s a no-brainer for me, but for a while there I was criticized as being the vice president for torture,” Cheney said. “We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in.”

    Cheney corrects the record
    On Friday, Cheney called reporters to his cabin on Air Force Two as he returned from a trip to Missouri and South Carolina.

    “I did not talk about specific techniques and won’t,” the vice president said. “I didn’t say anything about water boarding. ... He (Hennen) didn’t even use that phrase.”

    “I have said that the interrogation program for a selected number of detainees is very important,” Cheney said. “(It) has been I think one of the most valuable intelligence programs we have. I believe it has allowed us to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States.”

    At his photo op, Bush said, “This country doesn’t torture, we’re not going to torture. We will interrogate people we pick up off the battlefield to determine whether or not they’ve got information that will be helpful to protect the country.”

    Snow, at a morning meeting with reporters, tried to brush off the controversy.

    “You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would, never does, never will,” Snow said. “You think Dick Cheney’s going to slip up on something like this? No, come on.”

    Snow said Cheney did not interpret the question as referring to water boarding and the vice president did not make any comments about water boarding. He said the question put to Cheney was loosely worded.

    In water boarding, a prisoner is tied to a board with his head slanted down and a towel covering his face. Water is then poured on his face to create the sensation of drowning.

    The administration has repeatedly refused to say which techniques it believes are permitted under a new law. Asked to define a dunk in water, Snow said, “It’s a dunk in the water.”

    Pointed questions
    At a televised briefing later, the questions turned tougher and more pointed.

    “The vice president says he was talking in general terms about a questioning program that is legal to save American lives, and he was not referring to water boarding,” Snow said.

    Yet, the spokesman conceded, “I can understand that people will look at this and draw the conclusions that you’re trying to draw.”

    Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement, “What’s really a no-brainer is that no U.S. official, much less a vice president, should champion torture. Vice President Cheney’s advocacy of water boarding sets a new human rights low at a time when human rights is already scraping the bottom of the Bush administration barrel.”

    Human Rights Watch said Cheney’s remarks were “the Bush administration’s first clear endorsement” of water boarding.

    A new Army manual, released last month, bans torture and degrading treatment of prisoners, explicitly barring water boarding and other procedures.

     

    Bush signs Mexico fence into law

    US President George W Bush has signed into law a plan for 700 miles (1,125km) of new fencing along the US-Mexico border, to curb illegal immigration.

    Mr Bush said the US had not been in control of the border for decades.

    Illegal immigration is expected to be a major question in next month's US mid-term elections.

    Mexican officials have opposed the fence, with outgoing President Vicente Fox calling it "shameful" and likening it to the Berlin Wall.

    About 10 million Mexicans are thought to live in the US, some four million of them illegally.

    An estimated 1.2 million illegal immigrants were arrested last year trying to cross into the US via the border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

    'Nation of immigrants'

    In signing the Secure Fence Act 2006 into law, Mr Bush said that his government would tackle illegal immigration by means of increased funding and numbers of immigration officials.

    He said that remote cameras, satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles would also be used to create a "21st-century" border with Mexico.

    "We're modernising the southern border of the United States so we can assure the American people we are doing our job of securing our border," he said.

    "Ours is a nation of immigrants. We're also a nation of law.

    "Unfortunately the United States has not been in complete control of its borders for decades. Therefore illegal immigration has been on the rise."

    But Mr Bush promised to balance the tightening of the border with a temporary guest worker programme and moves to grant eventual citizenship to some of the illegal immigrants already in the US.

    Those moves are opposed by many within his own Republican party.

    'Not impenetrable'

    The BBC's Nick Miles in Washington says that, though few US congressmen have questioned the need for some action to reduce illegal migration, many have queried how effective the fence will be.

    TJ Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing patrol agents, told Associated Press that it would not be enough on its own.

    "A fence will slow people down by a minute or two, but if you don't have the agents to stop them it does no good. We're not talking about some impenetrable barrier," he said.

    Mexico has pledged to challenge the fence at the United Nations and on Wednesday presented a declaration against the policy to the Organisation of American States, supported by 27 other Latin American and Caribbean nations but opposed by the US.

    'Unnecessary and offensive'

    The BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Mexico City says the fence has united Mexican politicians in opposition.

    Across the political divide, politicians have come together to condemn what they see as an unnecessary and offensive barrier, he says.

    And they accuse the United States of hypocrisy for enjoying the benefits of cheap Mexican labour but not being prepared to offer Mexican people a chance to cross the border legally, our correspondent said.

    Part of the funding for the fence is likely to come from the $1.2bn (0.6bn) set aside for it in a recent homeland security bill, but the full cost may be greater and the source of the funding is still unclear, our correspondent says.

    Bush team defends US Iraq plans

    Iraqi police graduates

    Top members of the US government have offered their backing to President George W Bush's policy in Iraq, weeks before his party faces mid-term polls.

    Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was among several officials defending the government's Iraq policy as adaptable.

    The US envoy to Iraq earlier said Iraq could be stabilised, despite setbacks.

    A top Republican has meanwhile joined Democrats in criticising Mr Bush in a month when 90 US troops died in Iraq - the highest toll since November 2004.

    Three hundred Iraqi troops have also died in October, and some estimates say sectarian attacks now claim an average of 40 Iraqi lives every day.

    According to the BBC's Justin Webb in Washington, the Bush administration is trying its best to suggest it has a plan to end the violence.

    'Violence to continue'

    Several top administration officials discussed Iraq with a gathering of conservative talk radio hosts at the White House on Tuesday.

    Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked why President Bush appeared to have abandoned the Republicans' recent slogan that the party was planning to "stay the course" in Iraq.

    "I suppose the concern was that it gave the opponents a chance to say, 'well, he's not willing to make adjustments' - and of course just the opposite is true," Mr Rumsfeld said.

    President Bush echoed this view in an interview with CNBC TV, saying he had been "talking about a change in tactics... ever since we went in".

    National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley meanwhile said the violence in Iraq is unlikely to end during Mr Bush's presidency.

    "Is there going to be peace? Is there going to [be] the end of any violence? Of course not. This violence is going to go on for a long time," Mr Hadley said.

    But, he added, the US hoped Iraqi institutions would eventually be able to contain the threats to the country's security.

    'Verge of chaos'

    A top Republican Senator has meanwhile argued that the White House has lost its direction in Iraq.

    "We're on the verge of chaos and the current plan is not working," Senator Lindsey Graham said.

    He said Mr Rumsfeld and the US military commanders in Iraq must "come up with a game plan" to end the fighting.

    Our correspondent says Senator Graham's eye-catching intervention appears to have been timed to coincide with a TV appearance by US officials defending Washington's policy in Iraq.

    Gen George Casey told a press conference in Baghdad that Iraqi forces should be able to assume responsibility for security in the next 12 to 18 months, with minimal aid from the US.

    Appearing alongside him, US envoy to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said stability in Iraq remained a realistic goal.

    He said there would be setbacks, but the aim of creating a multi-ethnic and multi-faith Iraq remained unchanged.

    Our correspondent says the Republican party is hoping that Tuesday's efforts to defend policy in Iraq will convince the party's supporters that all is not lost there, before mid-term polls in two weeks' time.

    An opinion poll conducted during the last few days for CNN suggests that only 20% of Americans think the war is being won. The figure was 40% a year ago.


    Bush to shift message to healthy economy

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    WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush, who gets higher marks for handling the economy than running the Iraq war, is spending two days this week trying to convince voters Republicans are the best stewards of matters affecting the wallet.

    White House advisers said Sunday that Bush is not trying to change the subject from a deteriorating situation in Iraq, and that he will continue to talk about Iraq and the war on terrorism as the November 7 election nears. Bush advisers said they think the president should get more credit for recent positive economic news.

    Overall, the economy grew at a 2.6 percent pace from April through June, compared with a 5.6 percent pace over the first three months of the year, which was the strongest spurt in 2 years. Still, voters remain uneasy even though gasoline prices have started dropping, the stock market is hitting record highs, and interest rates on credit cards and adjustable mortgages are leveling off.

    White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush intends to mention how optimism about the economy and rising hopes for strong third-quarter earnings lifted the Dow Jones industrial average past 12,000 for the first time on Wednesday. The Conference Board's index of U.S. leading economic indicators rose last month, and the government reported last week that consumer prices fell in September by the largest amount in 10 months.

    America's voters care deeply about pocketbook issues. Eighty-eight percent of likely voters say the economy is an important issue -- on par with the percentage of people who view the situation in Iraq and terrorism as crucial matters, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll.

    The AP-Ipsos poll this month found that 37 percent of likely voters say they approve of Bush's handling of Iraq overall. Forty-two percent approve of his handling of the economy.

    White House political director Sara Taylor said that the economy is a key issue in about two dozen House races, including campaigns in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Ohio and Washington state. Democrats need a 15-seat pickup to regain the House and a gain of six seats to reclaim the Senate.

    "It's going to have an important impact on certain races around the country," Taylor said. "I think it's an important issue that's not getting a ton of attention."

    On Monday, Bush is participating in a small business round-table at Urban Trust Bank in Washington. The bank, set up to provide mortgages, student loans and investment opportunities mainly to minorities, was founded by Robert Louis Johnson, who started BET -- formerly Black Entertainment Television. Later, Bush is doing an interview with CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo.

    On Tuesday, he is campaigning in Sarasota, Florida, for businessman Vern Buchanan, who is in a tight House race against Democrat Christine Jennings, a former bank executive. The prospect of losing Florida's conservative 13th District to Democrats brought high-profile Republicans -- Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Mel Martinez and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- to the area last week.


    White House rejects proposal to partition Iraq
    Snow: Idea to split country into Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish regions ‘a nonstarter’

    WASHINGTON - Awaiting the recommendations of a commission exploring U.S. options in Iraq, the White House on Wednesday emphatically ruled out some proposals to end the long and unpopular war.

    Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said a suggestion to divide Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions, each with high degrees of autonomy, was a “nonstarter.” Similarly, he said a phased withdrawal of American troops — perhaps by 5 percent every two months — also was a “nonstarter.”

    “You withdraw when you win,” Snow said. “Phased withdrawal is a way of saying, ‘Regardless of what the conditions are on the ground, we’re going to get out of Dodge.’ “

    The notions of partitioning Iraq and withdrawing troops have been floated recently as a blue-ribbon commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III searches for a bipartisan approach. Baker has said there are alternatives other than “stay the course and cut and run.”

    Seeking cover?
    Among other ideas, the panel is considering whether to set a timetable for withdrawal and whether to solicit help from Iran and Syria to stop the fighting, according to Leon Panetta, a member of the advisory group and one-time chief of staff for former President Clinton. Panetta says no decisions have been made.

    The commission’s work has been portrayed by some as a way of providing political cover for Bush to change course and scale down the U.S. role, which has cost the lives of at least 2,785 members of the U.S. military since the beginning of the war in March 2003. In October alone, more than 70 American troops have been killed, putting the month on course to be the bloodiest for U.S. forces in nearly two years.

    Snow said Bush would take the commission’s recommendations seriously but that they were simply advisory suggestions. The White House has said Bush would not feel bound by the group’s proposals, which are not due to be released until after the November elections.

    The Tet comparison
    The White House also tried to clarify Bush’s remarks Wednesday when he said the surge of violence in Iraq “could be” comparable to the 1968 Tet offensive that prompted Americans to lose support for the Vietnam War.

    “The president was making a point that he’s made before, which is that terrorists try to exploit pictures and try to use the media as conduits for influencing public opinion in the United States,” Snow said.

    Acknowledging that the Tet offensive “was successful from a propaganda point of view,” Snow said the violence in Iraq would not have the same result.

    “The important thing to remember is, the president’s determined it’s not going to happen with Iraq because you have a president who is determined to win,” he said. “And the strategy is a threefold strategy that involves security, economics and political reconciliation, working with the Iraqis. And we’ll continue to make adjustments as necessary to pursue victory.”

    “But the one thing that nobody should have any doubt about is that we’re going win,” Snow said.

    He agreed that the Tet offensive had become shorthand for the point at which the Vietnam War changed course but, again, said there was no parallel with Iraq.

    “We do not think that there’s been a flipover point,” Snow said. “But more importantly, from the standpoint of the government and the standpoint of this administration, we are going to continue pursuing victory aggressively.”

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    Democrats' 'Big Dog' Barks Louder

    (AP) Former President Bill Clinton criticized the Bush administration Saturday for being "secretive," running up enormous deficits and wasting the budget surpluses he built during his eight years in office.

    He encouraged the 3,500 Democratic activists at a Des Moines fundraiser to create change in the upcoming November elections.

    "I have never seen the American people so serious," Clinton told a raucous crowd of 3,500 Democratic activists. "I think I know why. People know things are out of whack. The rhythm of our public life and our common life in America has been disturbed."

    The former president was the keynote speaker at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, the Iowa Democratic Party's biggest annual fundraising event.

    His appearance sparked interest because of speculation that wife New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton may seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. She has not been in Iowa during this election cycle, though others have already begun campaigning in the state that opens the presidential nominating season in 2008.

    Clinton urged activists to ignore that speculation and focus on the midterm election.

    "People are sick of partisanship, they are sick of gridlock and they are coming to us in droves," said Clinton. "People know something is wrong and they want to change."

    Clinton took sharp aim at the Bush administration and Republicans who run Congress. He called the government "unprecedentedly unaccountable" and criticized tax cuts for the rich, saying they have led to huge deficits.

    He also blasted the Republican Party as being controlled by "the most ideological, the most right wing, the most extreme sliver of the Republican Party."

    "In Iraq, which is famous for no-bid contracts, $9 billion has gone missing and there has been no serious congressional investigation," said Clinton. "There's never been a more secretive unaccountable administration."


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    President Praises Hastert at GOP Fundraiser in Chicago

    -- President Bush demonstrated his support for embattled House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on Thursday, joining him at a GOP fundraiser where he praised Hastert as selfless and an effective leader.

    Bush, making his first appearance with Hastert since conservative activists called for the speaker's resignation because of his failure to stem the congressional page scandal, made it clear that he hopes Hastert continues as House leader.

    "I am proud to be standing with the current speaker of the House who is going to be the future speaker of the House," Bush said.

    The president offered his personal endorsement of Hastert at a reception that raised about $1.1 million for Republican House candidates Peter Roskam and David McSweeney at a downtown Chicago hotel. Hastert introduced Bush at the event, and the two stood side by side until Bush began his remarks.

    Hastert came under fire from conservatives after Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) stepped down over sexually explicit electronic messages he sent to teenage boys who had served as congressional pages. Hastert's critics say he should have intervened sooner to address the inappropriate behavior, which some in Congress said has been known in some circles for years. Hastert, however, insists he did not learn about it until two weeks ago when Foley resigned.

    The scandal has broken at a particularly inopportune time for Republicans, who are struggling to retain control of Congress in the face of growing public discontent with the Iraq war and economic anxieties that persist despite a surging stock market and gasoline prices that have fallen in recent weeks after sharp increases.

    Since Foley resigned, Bush has gradually ramped up his public shows of support for Hastert. "This country is better off with Denny Hastert as the speaker, and it will be better off when he is the speaker" in the next Congress, Bush said.

    Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) mocked the president's appearance with Hastert in a fundraising e-mail to supporters, calling it "a meeting of the no accountability caucus of the Republican Party."

    Earlier in the day, Bush spoke at a conference on renewable energy in St. Louis, where he touted his administration's efforts to ease the nation's dependence on foreign oil by promoting and developing alternative fuels such as ethanol, hydrogen, solar and wind power.

    A woman in the crowd stood up during Bush's remarks and chanted, "Out of Iraq now." Bush ignored her and continued his speech, and the event staff swiftly removed the heckler.

    While the president was well received by the audience at the St. Louis Convention Center, some environmental advocates accuse him of not doing enough to promote renewable energy sources while turning his back on conservation tools within his reach, including requiring more stringent fuel-economy standards.

    "The president's budget falls well short of his rhetoric when it comes to supporting the development of biofuels," said Jim Presswood, a federal energy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "After a year of volatile and record-high gas price, surely we can do more to break our oil addiction."

    Democrats quick to pounce on N. Korean test
    With election a month away, candidates charge Bush neglect

     

    WASHINGTON - The shock waves of the North Korean nuclear weapons test rumbled through the 2006 campaign Monday, with Democrats quickly seizing the chance to argue that President Bush and the Republicans had neglected the North Korean threat.

    Bush had warned in his 2002 State of the Union speech of the menace from what he called the “axis of evil,” the regimes in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. “I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer,” he declared. “The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.”

    That speech created an expectation that the president might take military action against the North Korean regime, but Democrats charged Monday that Bush had let Korean despot Kim Jong Il continue his weapons building.

    In New Jersey, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez — in a tight race with Republican Tom Kean Jr. — issued a statement saying that the Korean nuclear test “illustrates just how much the Bush administration’s incompetence has endangered our nation.”

    Charge that Bush ignored Korea
    “We invaded Iraq, the country that didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, and ignored Iran and North Korea, the two that did,” Menendez said. 

    A potential 2008 Democratic presidential contender, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin issued a statement denouncing Bush for using the vehicle of six-nation talks involving China and Japan to try to persuade North Korea to forego its nuclear weapons ambitions.

    Sunday’s nuclear test, Feingold said, showed “the weakness of the Six Party approach as well as the danger of this Administration's hands-off approach to North Korea.”

    He added, “the stakes are too high to rely on others to address the North Korean crisis.”

    Where Democrats usually criticize Bush for what they call a “go it alone” strategy in Iraq, on Monday some Democrats took the opposite tack, criticizing him for being too multilateral and not unilaterally negotiating with North Korea.

    “Bush aided and abetted the outsourcing of American jobs, and now he’s outsourced our diplomacy as well,” Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean cracked.

    Do Democrats need to offer specifics?
    One question that remained unanswered in the first hours after the North Korean blast: In order for this issue to resonate with voters, do Democratic candidates need to recommend specific steps — such as a naval blockade of North Korea or increased spending on the Bush administration’s Ballistic Missile Defense System?

    Or can they benefit this November merely by charging that Bush has neglected the Korean menace?

    Most Democrats were not highly specific Monday about what they would do about Korea if they were in charge: Feingold called for the president to take “strong action with the international community to address this threat to our national security” — but he did not define what “strong action” he might have in mind.

    Menendez said that Bush ought to “appoint immediately an independent envoy such as (former Secretary of State) James Baker or (former Defense Secretary) William Perry to oversee an international coalition to deal with this emerging crisis.”

    Kean, Menendez’s GOP opponent, said in a statement that “we need to engage China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.  We also need to continue to push for bilateral talks and look at strong sanctions before any sort of military action is taken.”

    And Kean questioned Menendez’s national security credentials.

    “Voters looking for a window into how Bob Menendez would deal with this type of threat should look at his record on national security,” said Kean. “If Menendez had his way there would be no Department of Homeland Security, national defense funds would be slashed, and the intelligence community wouldn’t have the tools they need to hunt terrorists.”

    Republicans can point to some Menendez votes that show a dovish side: while a member of the House in 1996 he voted to freeze military spending, and the following year he voted to cut funds for B-2 bombers.

    Key vote on missile defense
    But he voted for the 1999 bill declaring that it was U.S. national policy to build a missile defense system to shoot down incoming missiles from North Korea or elsewhere.

    Although most defense analysts doubt that North Korea right now has the ability to deliver a nuclear warhead with the missiles in its arsenal, the Kim regime has test fired several missiles toward Japan.

    In that 1999 vote on building a national missile defense system, House Democrats were almost exactly evenly split, with 103 voting for it and 102 against it.

    Among the Democrats voting against missile defense bill were Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Sherrod Brown and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who would become speaker of the House if the Democrats win the majority next month.

    Republicans also went on the offensive on the missile defense issue. The Maryland Republican Party criticized Democratic Senate candidate Ben Cardin for voting last May as a member of the House to cut spending on missile defense and to limit deployment of the existing missile defense system.

    "Congressman Cardin’s reckless votes against a missile defense seek to weaken our security and put all Americans in danger," said Maryland Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane.

    Democratic pollster Jeremy Rosner said “even the most partisan among us” see that the North Korean threat “is a serious enough issue that we should get some solutions to the problem and not just score points over it.”

    He said, “People are looking to see if the Democrats have some ideas for how to pursue national security more effectively. You can’t just be all backbiting and negative.”

    But Rosner said he did not think that “voters are necessarily looking for a six-point diplomatic strategy…. I don’t think you have to lay out a very detailed alternative plan.”

    Rosner said several polls show that the public now sees the Democrats as being equally capable of handling national security as the Republicans. Until recently in most polls, Republicans enjoyed a large advantage in perception that they were stronger on national security than Democrats.

    Are Democrats better equipped?
    If the North Korean test has created an opening for Democrats to make the case that they’re better equipped to handle national security than the Republicans are, how do they prove that?

    In Tennessee, Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. pointed to 19 specific House roll call votes in which he voted for increased spending on a missile defense system and other military hardware.

    He also noted that he voted for the 1999 bill declaring that it was U.S. policy to build a missile defense system.

    Ford’s campaign used the North Korean test to ridicule his Republican opponent, former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, for being a novice on defense matters.

    Michael Powell, an advisor to Ford, said, “The mayor's complete lack of national security experience is showing when he says the U.S. should have relied on Russian and Chinese trade with North Korea to keep us safe from Kim Jong Il's nuclear ambitions.”

    Corker campaign spokesman Todd Womack said Ford “offered no solutions to deal with this emerging crisis and what’s even more troubling is that, just a week and half ago, when it came time to vote on the defense authorization which included $9.4 billion for missile defense, Congressman Ford didn’t show up for work.”

    Ford did indeed miss the vote in which the passed, 398 to 23, the defense spending measure.

    Bush: Students, teachers must 'never fear for their safety'

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush on Saturday lamented recent "shocking acts of violence" in schools, and promised his administration will do what it can to keep centers of learning safe for students.

    The White House is convening a conference on school safety Tuesday. Federal officials, school workers, parents, law enforcement officials and other experts are to gather in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a Washington suburb noted for exceptional schools.

    Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will host the conference. Bush and his wife, Laura, are expected to attend part of it.

    "Our goal is clear: Children and teachers should never fear for their safety when they enter a classroom," the president said in his weekly radio address.

    In the past two weeks, three schools in three states have been hit by deadly attacks and several others have faced threats.

    Horrific crimes in schools

    A gunman killed himself and five girls Monday at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. A 15-year-old Wisconsin student was arrested Friday in the shooting death of his principal. On September 27, a man took six girls hostage in Colorado, sexually assaulting them before fatally shooting one girl and killing himself.

    Schools in Virginia, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wisconsin have been closed or locked down in the past week because of threats of violence or guns on campus.

    "Laura and I are praying for the victims and their families, and we extend our sympathies to them and to the communities that have been devastated by these attacks," the president said.

    President wants No Child Left Behind act renewed

    Bush also pushed for reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law, which he says needs some changes. Under the law, schools that get federal poverty aid and fall short of their yearly progress goals for two straight years must offer transfers to students. After three years of failure, schools must offer low-income parents a choice of tutors.

    The law is scheduled to be renewed by Congress next year, but some education observers have speculated it may be bumped until as late as 2009, after the next presidential election.

    Leading Democrats backed passage of the law, but they now say Bush has not adequately funded it.

    The president outlined ways in which he thinks the law could be improved, such as by expanding testing in high schools, an idea he has pitched to Congress for two years. He also said he wants the federal government to pay for 28,000 low-income students across the country to transfer to private schools, and has asked for $100 million to pay for the initiative.

    "Thanks to this good law, we are leaving behind the days when schools just shuffled children from grade to grade, whether they learned anything or not," Bush said. "Yet we still have a lot of work to do."

     
     

    GOP Senator: Iraqi Government Not Meeting 'Basic Responsibilities'

    Republican Chairman of the Armed Services Committee Says Bold Action May Be Needed

     - TV cameras, special network news reports, and hoards of reporters awaited news from House Speaker Dennis Hastert in Illinois and members of the House Committee on Standards of Conduct (the House ethics committee) as they returned to Washington from campaigning today to begin an inquest into the Internet proclivities of now-former Rep. Mark Foley and the possibility that GOP leaders covered the scandal up.

    There were less TV cameras in the room down the hall in the Senate as bipartisan leaders of the Armed Services Committee returned to Washington from a quick trip to Iraq and offered up their assessments, both of which were bleak.

    Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the committee, was extremely critical of the fledgling Iraqi government and said if Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki was not able to improve the situation in the next 60 days to 90 days, that the United States should consider taking "bold action."

    The news conference by a senior Republican, while largely obscured by the Foley scandal, is notable because he is breaking with the White House in calling, potentially, for a major change in course in Iraq.

    "We did not have freedom and ability to travel to places I had been in years past," said Warner, who has been to Iraq seven other times since 2003. "The press accurately describes a very serious situation. There is progress being made in certain areas: Oil production is up, reconstruction is going forward, you find so many communities don't have drinking water or sanitation."

    "In some areas, there are steps forwards, and others, steps backwards," he said. "The situation is simply is drifting sideways. I believe the government is trying, Maliki, the departments. And agencies of the government are not able to meet fundamental responsibilities of a government."

    Assessing Leadership

    Warner did not explain what bold action he thought should be taken. But he did say that if there was no change, "At that point, we'll have assert own leadership."

    While he did say that there should be a reassessment in the next several months, Warner said it was important for American troops not to leave the country right away.

    "If the government fails and Iraq goes to civil war," Warner said. "The consequences are frightful for region and the world. It would be viewed by terrorists as victory. We are going to deny them victory."

    The ranking Democrat on Warner's Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan, agrees with Warner's bleak assessment of the Iraqi government, but they disagree on what should be done and when.

    At his own news conference, several hours before Warner's, Levin called again for an immediate change of course. He is one of the Democrats in the Senate to call for a "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops out of Iraq because he says the Iraqi government, however frail, must begin taking more responsibility for the country.

    "Iraqi leaders don't want us to even think about U.S. reducing troops -- they don't want to discuss it," he said. "Unless they face up to the fact that they must make political compromises, this will be an endless quagmire for U.S. troops. The more the Iraqis don't want to talk about reduction, the more I told them we must force them to take responsibility for their own country."

    During their trip, which included a stop in Jordan, the Iraqi president described to the senators a four-point plan he was going to pursue to bring the leaders of disparate Iraqi militias into the political fold and cut down on the sectarian violence.

    Warner said that Maliki's written description of the plan lacked the "gravitas" he wanted to see.

    On this, Levin said, "Previous agreements have failed. We have to be very cautious about optimism. It gave us hope that it could be a step to reverse the violence."

    Rice in talks on Iraqi violence

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with the Iraqi
                           PM Nouri Maliki, 5 October 2006

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned Iraqi leaders they must act quickly to settle their differences to help tackle soaring sectarian violence.

    Ms Rice flew into Baghdad on an unannounced visit after talks with Israeli ministers in Jerusalem.

    She met Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and other senior government officials.

    The number of daily car bombs and roadside bombs in Iraq is at the highest level since the 2003 invasion, according to a US military spokesman.

    Mr Maliki told state television ahead of Ms Rice's visit that security would be achieved in the next two or three months, saying the country was in the final state of "confronting the security challenge".

    En route to Baghdad, Ms Rice told reporters: "Our role is to support all the parties and indeed to press all the parties to work toward that resolution quickly because obviously the security situation is not one that can be tolerated and it is not one that is being helped by political inaction.

    "They don't have time for endless debate of these issues. They have really got to move forward."

    The BBC's Jonathan Beale, travelling with Ms Rice, says the military transport plane was delayed by 35 minutes by "indirect fire" in the airport area.

    Ms Rice, wearing body armour, was then flown in a convoy of heavily armed US helicopters to the secure Baghdad Green Zone.

    Marines killed

    Her visit comes amid confusion over whether the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq was killed during a US military raid.

    Iraqi officials are doing DNA tests on a body to determine if it is that of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.

    US military sources say it is probably not Muhajir, but they are awaiting confirmation.

    The visit also comes in a week when US forces have experienced a dramatic surge in casualties.

    Two US marines were killed in fighting in the western province of Anbar, the US military said on Thursday, taking to 23 the number of US service members killed since Saturday.

    Earlier this week, Mr Maliki unveiled a new security initiative aimed at curbing violence.

    But the BBC's Andrew North in Baghdad says the US is concerned at Mr Maliki's apparent unwillingness to take firmer action against Shia militias who are blamed for much of the violence.

    More than 100 people a day are dying in sectarian violence and the US has been unable to reduce its troop numbers as hoped.

    Lawyers for Detainees Challenge Bush Plan

     

    Attorneys for 25 men being held in Afghanistan have launched the first legal challenge of President Bush's plan for prosecuting and interrogating terrorism suspects.

    Documents filed yesterday in federal district court here demand that the men be released or be charged and allowed to meet with attorneys. Such a filing, known as a habeas corpus petition, is prohibited under the legislation approved by Congress last week.

    That bill says the military may detain enemy combatants indefinitely and, if officials choose to bring charges, the cases will be heard before a military commission, not a civilian judge.

    Bush has not signed the bill but expects to do so soon. Supporters say it is a necessary tool in the war on terrorism.

    Yesterday's filing initiates what is likely to be a drawn-out legal fight similar to the one over detainees at a U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Detainees there have dozens of petitions pending.

    In civilian courts, the government is required to tell people why they are being held and allow them access to attorneys. People accused of crimes are then afforded speedy trials before juries of their peers.

    "With the move that Congress made, the capitulation it made to the president, those rights are in danger of being curtailed," said Vincent Warren, executive director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the petition.

    The new law protects detainees from blatant abuses such as torture but does not require that they be granted legal counsel. It also allows prosecutors to use evidence, such as hearsay, that wouldn't be allowed in civilian courts.

    Though the petition was filed before the bill was signed, the law was written retroactively, so a judge would have to strike down at least some of the law in order for the detainees represented by the center to prevail.

    The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, who, in a Guantanamo Bay case last year, ruled that Congress had authorized the president to order the detention of "enemy combatants" for the duration of the war on terror. Leon did not set a hearing date for the new case.

    The detainees named in the case are being held at Bagram air base north of Kabul, according to court papers.

    Secret Reports Dispute White House Optimism

     President Bush spoke in Chicago and gave a characteristically upbeat forecast: "Years from now, people will look back on the formation of a unity government in Iraq as a decisive moment in the story of liberty, a moment when freedom gained a firm foothold in the Middle East and the forces of terror began their long retreat."

    Two days later, the intelligence division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff circulated a secret intelligence assessment to the White House that contradicted the president's forecast.

    Instead of a "long retreat," the report forecast a more violent 2007: "Insurgents and terrorists retain the resources and capabilities to sustain and even increase current level of violence through the next year."

    A graph included in the assessment measured attacks from May 2003 to May 2006. It showed some significant dips, but the current number of attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces and Iraqi authorities was as high as it had ever been -- exceeding 3,500 a month. [In July the number would be over 4,500.] The assessment also included a pessimistic report on crude oil production, the delivery of electricity and political progress.

    On May 26, the Pentagon released an unclassified report to Congress, required by law, that contradicted the Joint Chiefs' secret assessment. The public report sent to Congress said the "appeal and motivation for continued violent action will begin to wane in early 2007."

    There was a vast difference between what the White House and Pentagon knew about the situation in Iraq and what they were saying publicly. But the discrepancy was not surprising. In memos, reports and internal debates, high-level officials of the Bush administration have voiced their concern about the United States' ability to bring peace and stability to Iraq since early in the occupation.

    [The release last week of portions of a National Intelligence Estimate concluding that the war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for terrorists -- following a series of upbeat speeches by the president -- presented a similar contrast.]

    On June 18, 2003, Jay Garner went to see Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to report on his brief tenure in Iraq as head of the postwar planning office. Throughout the invasion and the early days of the war, Garner, a retired Army lieutenant general, had struggled just to get his team into Iraq. Two days after he arrived, Rumsfeld called to tell him that L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer, a 61-year-old terrorism expert and protege of Henry A. Kissinger, would be coming over as the presidential envoy, effectively replacing Garner.

    "We've made three tragic decisions," Garner told Rumsfeld.

    "Really?" Rumsfeld asked.

    "Three terrible mistakes," Garner said.

    He cited the first two orders Bremer signed when he arrived, the first one banning as many as 50,000 members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from government jobs and the second disbanding the Iraqi military. Now there were hundreds of thousands of disorganized, unemployed, armed Iraqis running around.

    Third, Garner said, Bremer had summarily dismissed an interim Iraqi leadership group that had been eager to help the United States administer the country in the short term. "Jerry Bremer can't be the face of the government to the Iraqi people. You've got to have an Iraqi face for the Iraqi people."

    Garner made his final point: "There's still time to rectify this. There's still time to turn it around."

    Rumsfeld looked at Garner for a moment with his take-no-prisoners gaze. "Well," he said, "I don't think there is anything we can do, because we are where we are."

    He thinks I've lost it, Garner thought. He thinks I'm absolutely wrong. Garner didn't want it to sound like sour grapes, but facts were facts. "They're all reversible," Garner said again.

    "We're not going to go back," Rumsfeld said emphatically.

    Later that day, Garner went with Rumsfeld to the White House. But in a meeting with Bush, he made no mention of mistakes. Instead he regaled the president with stories from his time in Baghdad.

    In an interview last December, I asked Garner if he had any regrets in not telling the president about his misgivings.

    "You know, I don't know if I had that moment to live over again, I don't know if I'd do that or not. But if I had done that -- and quite frankly, I mean, I wouldn't have had a problem doing that -- but in my thinking, the door's closed. I mean, there's nothing I can do to open this door again. And I think if I had said that to the president in front of Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and Rumsfeld in there, the president would have looked at them and they would have rolled their eyes back and he would have thought, 'Boy, I wonder why we didn't get rid of this guy sooner?' "

    "They didn't see it coming," Garner added. "As the troops said, they drank the Kool-Aid."

    What's the Strategy?

    In the fall of 2003 and the winter of 2004, officials of the National Security Council became increasingly concerned about the ability of the U.S. military to counter the growing insurgency in Iraq.

    Returning from a visit to Iraq, Robert D. Blackwill, the NSC's top official for Iraq, was deeply disturbed by what he considered the inadequate number of troops on the ground there. He told Rice and Stephen J. Hadley, her deputy, that the NSC needed to do a military review.

    "If we have a military strategy, I can't identify it," Hadley said. "I don't know what's worse -- that they have one and won't tell us or that they don't have one."

    Rice had made it clear that her authority did not extend to Rumsfeld or the military, so Blackwill never forced the issue with her. Still, he wondered why the president never challenged the military. Why didn't he say to Gen. John P. Abizaid at the end of one of his secure video briefings, "John, let's have another of these on Thursday and what I really want from you is please explain to me, let's take an hour and a half, your military strategy for victory."

    After Bush's reelection, Hadley replaced Rice as national security adviser. He made an assessment of the problems from the first term.

    "I give us a B-minus for policy development," he told a colleague on Feb. 5, 2005, "and a D-minus for policy execution."

    Rice, for her part, hired Philip D. Zelikow, an old friend, and sent him immediately to Iraq. She needed ground truth, a full, detailed report from someone she trusted. Zelikow had a license to go anywhere and ask any question.

    On Feb. 10, 2005, two weeks after Rice became secretary of state, Zelikow presented her with a 15-page, single-spaced secret memo. "At this point Iraq remains a failed state shadowed by constant violence and undergoing revolutionary political change," Zelikow wrote.

    The insurgency was "being contained militarily," but it was "quite active," leaving Iraqi civilians feeling "very insecure," Zelikow said.

    U.S. officials seemed locked down in the fortified Green Zone. "Mobility of coalition officials is extremely limited, and productive government activity is constrained."

    Zelikow criticized the Baghdad-centered effort, noting that "the war can certainly be lost in Baghdad, but the war can only be won in the cities and provinces outside Baghdad."

    In sum, he said, the United States' effort suffered because it lacked an articulated, comprehensive, unified policy.

    Lessons From Kissinger

    A powerful, largely invisible influence on Bush's Iraq policy was former secretary of state Kissinger.

    "Of the outside people that I talk to in this job," Vice President Cheney told me in the summer of 2005, "I probably talk to Henry Kissinger more than I talk to anybody else. He just comes by and, I guess at least once a month, Scooter [his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby] and I sit down with him."

    The president also met privately with Kissinger every couple of months, making him the most regular and frequent outside adviser to Bush on foreign affairs.

    Kissinger sensed wobbliness everywhere on Iraq, and he increasingly saw it through the prism of the Vietnam War. For Kissinger, the overriding lesson of Vietnam is to stick it out.

    In his writing, speeches and private comments, Kissinger claimed that the United States had essentially won the war in 1972, only to lose it because of the weakened resolve of the public and Congress.

    In a column in The Washington Post on Aug. 12, 2005, titled "Lessons for an Exit Strategy," Kissinger wrote, "Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy."

    He delivered the same message directly to Bush, Cheney and Hadley at the White House.

    Victory had to be the goal, he told all. Don't let it happen again. Don't give an inch, or else the media, the Congress and the American culture of avoiding hardship will walk you back.

    He also said that the eventual outcome in Iraq was more important than Vietnam had been. A radical Islamic or Taliban-style government in Iraq would be a model that could challenge the internal stability of the key countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.

    Kissinger told Rice that in Vietnam they didn't have the time, focus, energy or support at home to get the politics in place. That's why it had collapsed like a house of cards. He urged that the Bush administration get the politics right, both in Iraq and on the home front. Partially withdrawing troops had its own dangers. Even entertaining the idea of withdrawing any troops could create momentum for an exit that was less than victory.

    In a meeting with presidential speechwriter Michael Gerson in early September 2005, Kissinger was more explicit: Bush needed to resist the pressure to withdraw American troops. He repeated his axiom that the only meaningful exit strategy was victory.

    "The president can't be talking about troop reductions as a centerpiece," Kissinger said. "You may want to reduce troops," but troop reduction should not be the objective. "This is not where you put the emphasis."

    To emphasize his point, he gave Gerson a copy of a memo he had written to President Richard M. Nixon, dated Sept. 10, 1969.

    "Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded," he wrote.

    The policy of "Vietnamization," turning the fight over to the South Vietnamese military, Kissinger wrote, might increase pressure to end the war because the American public wanted a quick resolution. Troop withdrawals would only encourage the enemy. "It will become harder and harder to maintain the morale of those who remain, not to speak of their mothers."

    Two months after Gerson's meeting, the administration issued a 35-page "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." It was right out of the Kissinger playbook. The only meaningful exit strategy would be victory.

    Echoes of Vietnam

    Vietnam was also on the minds of some old Army buddies of Gen. Abizaid, the Centcom commander. They were worried that Iraq was slowly turning into Vietnam -- either it would wind down prematurely or become a war that was not winnable.

    Some of them, including retired Gen. Wayne A. Downing and James V. Kimsey, a founder of America Online, visited Abizaid in 2005 at his headquarters in Doha, Qatar, and then in Iraq.

    Abizaid held to the position that the war was now about the Iraqis. They had to win it now. The U.S. military had done all it could. It was critical, he argued, that they lower the American troop presence. It was still the face of an occupation, with American forces patrolling, kicking down doors and looking at the Iraqi women, which infuriated the Iraqi men.

    "We've got to get the [expletive] out," he said.

    Abizaid's old friends were worried sick that another Vietnam or anything that looked like Vietnam would be the end of the volunteer army. What's the strategy for winning? they pressed him.

    "That's not my job," Abizaid said.

    No, it is part of your job, they insisted.

    No, Abizaid said. Articulating strategy belonged to others.

    Who?

    "The president and Condi Rice, because Rumsfeld doesn't have any credibility anymore," he said.

    This March, Abizaid was in Washington to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He painted a careful but upbeat picture of the situation in Iraq.

    Afterward, he went over to see Rep. John P. Murtha in the Rayburn House Office Building. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, had introduced a resolution in Congress calling for American troops in Iraq to be "redeployed" -- the military term for returning troops overseas to their home bases -- "at the earliest practicable date."

    "The war in Iraq is not going as advertised," Murtha had said. "It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."

    Now, sitting at the round dark-wood table in the congressman's office, Abizaid, the one uniformed military commander who had been intimately involved in Iraq from the beginning and who was still at it, indicated he wanted to speak frankly. According to Murtha, Abizaid raised his hand for emphasis, held his thumb and forefinger a quarter of an inch from each other and said, "We're that far apart."

    Frustration and a Resignation

    That same month, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. prepared to leave the administration after submitting his resignation to Bush. He felt a sense of relief mixed with the knowledge that he was leaving unfinished business.

    "It's Iraq, Iraq, Iraq," Card had told his replacement, Joshua B. Bolten. "Then comes the economy."

    One of Card's great worries was that Iraq would be compared to Vietnam. In March, there were 58,249 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. One of Kissinger's private criticisms of Bush was that he had no mechanism in place, or even an inclination, to consider the downsides of impending decisions. Alternative courses of action were rarely considered.

    As best as Card could remember, there had been some informal, blue-sky discussions at times along the lines of "What could we do differently?" But there had been no formal sessions to consider alternatives to staying in Iraq. To his knowledge there were no anguished memos bearing the names of Cheney, Rice, Hadley, Rumsfeld, the CIA, Card himself or anyone else saying "Let's examine alternatives," as had surfaced after the Vietnam era.

    Card put it on the generals in the Pentagon and Iraq. If they had come forward and said to the president, "It's not worth it," or, "The mission can't be accomplished," Card was certain, the president would have said "I'm not going to ask another kid to sacrifice for it."

    Card was enough of a realist to see that there were two negative aspects to Bush's public persona that had come to define his presidency: incompetence and arrogance. Card did not believe that Bush was incompetent, and so he had to face the possibility that, as Bush's chief of staff, he might have been the incompetent one. In addition, he did not think the president was arrogant.

    But the marketing of Bush had come across as arrogant. Maybe it was unfair in Card's opinion, but there it was.

    He was leaving. And the man he considered most responsible for the postwar troubles, the one who should have gone, Rumsfeld, was staying.

    White House Disputes Book's Report of Anti-Rumsfeld Moves

     

    New revelations that White House aides tried twice in the past two years to persuade President Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld fueled a caustic election-season debate yesterday over the president's wartime leadership and underscored divisions within his administration.

    The latest book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, "State of Denial," paints a portrait of an administration riven by personal and policy disagreements exacerbated by a deteriorating situation in Iraq that has grown even worse than Bush admits to the public. In Woodward's account, Bush has become increasingly isolated as his team has rejected advice to shift gears in Iraq before it is too late.

    The White House tried yesterday to dismiss the significance of Woodward's assertions, while Democrats eagerly seized on the book to bolster their campaign attacks five weeks before midterm elections. Coming days after the partial release of a National Intelligence Estimate concluding that the Iraq conflict has spread the "global jihadist movement," the latest disclosures kept the focus on the missteps and consequences of an unpopular war.

    The book reports that then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. twice suggested that Bush fire Rumsfeld and replace him with former secretary of state James A. Baker III, first after the November 2004 election and again around Thanksgiving 2005. Card had the support of then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his successor, Condoleezza Rice, as well as national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and senior White House adviser Michael J. Gerson, according to the book.

    Even first lady Laura Bush reportedly told Card that she agreed Rumsfeld had become a liability for her husband, although she noted that the president did not agree. "I don't know why he's not upset with this," she told Card, according to the book. But Vice President Cheney and senior Bush adviser Karl Rove argued against dumping Rumsfeld, and Bush agreed.

    The book details how Rumsfeld alienated key figures throughout the government and military: Rice complained that Rumsfeld would not return her telephone calls, forcing Bush to personally intervene. Rumsfeld rebuffed Card when he conveyed Bush's order to send National Guard troops to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina until hearing from the president himself. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the senior U.S. commander in the Middle East, concluded that "Rumsfeld doesn't have any credibility anymore."

    It also reports on ultimately futile attempts by civilian officials to persuade the Bush team to send more troops to Iraq and outlines secret government findings about escalating attacks on U.S. troops and dire forecasts about the war worsening over the next year rather than improving.

    The White House has been bracing for weeks for the book, which is scheduled for release next week and will be excerpted in The Washington Post tomorrow and Monday. Woodward, a Post assistant managing editor, has built a career on producing bestsellers with sensational revelations from unnamed sources that touch off Washington furors and send politicians racing to explain themselves.

    The White House cooperated extensively with Woodward's first two books on the Bush presidency, "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack," granting him extraordinary access, including four interviews with the president. The books were criticized by some as overly favorable to Bush. But the White House seems to have anticipated that Woodward's third book would take a more critical view, and Bush declined to speak with him for it.

    After the New York Times managed to buy an early copy of "State of Denial" and reported on it on yesterday's front page, Bush aides frantically called Woodward and asked for copies, which he sent over. A squadron of White House aides then spent hours tearing through the book and doing quick research to try to undercut its more damaging elements. They settled on a strategy of disputing certain conclusions while broadly dismissing it as old news.

    "In a lot of ways, the book is sort of like cotton candy -- it kind of melts on contact," White House spokesman Tony Snow said at a briefing dominated by the topic. "We've read this book before. This tends to repeat what we've seen in a number of other books that have been out this year where people are ventilating old disputes over troop levels." Snow said it was well known that events in Iraq have been difficult and that officials have debated the right approach. "Rather than a state of denial," he said, "it's a state of the obvious."

    Senate Democrats beat Snow to the punch and called their own news conference about the book two hours earlier, before they even had a copy. The title alone quickly became a Democratic mantra throughout the day. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said four times at a separate briefing that Bush was "in denial," and Democrats released a series of statements and "fact sheets" trumpeting the line.

    "The president himself is out of touch with reality, is in denial as to what is happening in Iraq," Pelosi said. "That could be the only explanation for why he has withheld the truth to the American people."

    Rumsfeld, traveling overseas, said he has not read the book, and he declined to discuss it. A spokesman said the Pentagon would have no comment. Card, Hadley, Gerson and the first lady's office declined to comment or did not return telephone calls. But Snow, speaking on behalf of Laura Bush, said the first lady's office called Woodward's account "flatly not true." And Snow quoted Rice as saying of her reported dispute with Rumsfeld: "This is ridiculous, and I told that to Woodward."

    Card confirmed to ABC News yesterday that he suggested replacing Rumsfeld with Baker after the 2004 election as part of broader changes to the Cabinet, but he denied to news services that he led "a campaign" to oust the defense secretary.

    "To say that it was a campaign or an orchestrated effort would be wrong," he told Reuters. "But were there times that we talked about potential changes in the Cabinet? Yes. Did they center around Rumsfeld? Not necessarily. They were in a broader context." He denied that Laura Bush encouraged an effort to remove Rumsfeld. "Mrs. Bush and I never discussed it," Card told the Associated Press.

    The book also reports that then-CIA Director George J. Tenet and his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, grew so concerned in the summer of 2001 about a possible al-Qaeda attack that they drove straight to the White House to get high-level attention.

    Tenet called Rice, then the national security adviser, from his car to ask to see her, in hopes that the surprise appearance would make an impression. But the meeting on July 10, 2001, left Tenet and Black frustrated and feeling brushed off, Woodward reported. Rice, they thought, did not seem to feel the same sense of urgency about the threat and was content to wait for an ongoing policy review.

    The report of such a meeting takes on heightened importance after former president Bill Clinton said this week that the Bush team did not do enough to try to kill Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said her husband would have paid more attention to warnings of a possible attack than Bush did. Rice fired back on behalf of the current president, saying the Bush administration "was at least as aggressive" in eight months as President Clinton had been in eight years.

    The July 10 meeting of Rice, Tenet and Black went unmentioned in various investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks, and Woodward wrote that Black "felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn't want to know about."

    Jamie S. Gorelick, a member of the Sept. 11 commission, said she checked with commission staff members who told her investigators were never told about a July 10 meeting. "We didn't know about the meeting itself," she said. "I can assure you it would have been in our report if we had known to ask about it."

    White House and State Department officials yesterday confirmed that the July 10 meeting took place, although they took issue with Woodward's portrayal of its results. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, responding on behalf of Rice, said Tenet and Black had never publicly expressed any frustration with her response.

    "This is the first time these thoughts and feelings associated with that meeting have been expressed," McCormack said. "People are free to revise and extend their remarks, but that is certainly not the story that was told to the 9/11 commission."

    Bush and Clinton Teams Debate Pre-9/11 Efforts

     

    The election-year debate over terrorism has triggered a full-blown spat between the camps of President Bush and former president Bill Clinton as the two sides trade barbs over who was more responsible for failing to disrupt al-Qaeda before it could attack the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

    Bush complained yesterday that Clinton was engaging in "finger-pointing" by attacking the current administration's actions before the hijackings. "I don't have enough time to finger-point," Bush said. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did, calling Clinton's version of events "flatly false." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) returned fire on his behalf, asserting that he would have paid more attention to intelligence warnings in the weeks before the attacks than Bush did.

    The unusual crossfire over the past few days effectively broke a tacit peace between the 42nd and 43rd presidents that has reigned for most of the past two years. Ever since Bush tapped Bill Clinton to work with his father, George H.W. Bush, on relief efforts after the Asian tsunamis of December 2004, the two have grown closer. Clinton and the older Bush teamed up again on Hurricane Katrina relief, and the president talked about growing to like his predecessor.

    But with the hotly contested midterm elections just weeks away, Bush has tried to focus the nation's attention on the threat of terrorism, and Clinton has become more irritated at what he sees as attacks on his performance. The recent ABC miniseries "Path to 9/11" especially irked the former president because of what he saw as a skewed portrayal blaming him for not doing more to get Osama bin Laden.

    Clinton, when asked about the matter on "Fox News Sunday," erupted in an angry, red-faced, finger-jabbing performance that has electrified the left and outraged the right. Clinton said that though he failed, at least he tried to kill bin Laden while Bush did not. "They had eight months to try," Clinton said. "They did not try. I tried."

    Rice bristled at that in an interview in yesterday's New York Post. "The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false, and I think the 9/11 commission understood that," she said. "What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years."

    Hillary Clinton pointed to the intelligence memo presented to Bush in August 2001. "I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team," she said.

    And Jay Carson, a spokesman for Bill Clinton, rejected Rice's contention: "Every single fact that President Clinton stated in his interview is backed up by the historical record -- including the 9/11 commission report. Everything President Clinton said was flatly correct."

    Some of Clinton's statements on Fox have drawn scrutiny. He said that after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, "I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan." The Sept. 11 commission, though, found no plans for an invasion of Afghanistan or for an operation to topple the Taliban, just more limited options such as plans for attacks with cruise missiles or Special Forces. And nothing in the panel's report indicated that a lack of basing rights in Uzbekistan prevented a military response.

    Clinton also asserted that the Bush administration "didn't have a single meeting about bin Laden for the nine months after I left office." In fact, the Bush team held several meetings on terrorism through the interagency group known as the deputies committee and one on Sept. 4, 2001, through the principals committee composed of Cabinet officers. What Clinton may have been referring to was counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke's frustration that the principals disregarded his urgent calls to meet sooner because of a months-long policy review.

    Rice came under fire for her assertion that "we were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaeda" by Clinton's team. In fact, Clarke sent Rice an al-Qaeda memo on Jan. 25, 2001, along with a strategy to "roll back" the terrorist network, but the Bush team decided to conduct the policy review.

    Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Hurting U.S. Terror Fight

     

    The war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded.

    A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the "centrality" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.

    "It's a very candid assessment," one intelligence official said yesterday of the estimate, the first formal examination of global terrorist trends written by the National Intelligence Council since the March 2003 invasion. "It's stating the obvious."

    The NIE, whose contents were first reported by the New York Times, coincides with public statements by senior intelligence officials describing a different kind of conflict than the one outlined by President Bush in a series of recent speeches marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

    "Together with our coalition partners," Bush said in an address earlier this month to the Military Officers Association of America, "we've removed terrorist sanctuaries, disrupted their finances, killed and captured key operatives, broken up terrorist cells in America and other nations, and stopped new attacks before they're carried out. We're on the offense against the terrorists on every battlefront, and we'll accept nothing less than complete victory."

    But the battlefronts intelligence analysts depict are far more impenetrable and difficult, if not impossible, to combat with the standard tools of warfare.

    Although intelligence officials agree that the United States has seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaeda and disrupted its ability to plan and direct major operations, radical Islamic networks have spread and decentralized.

    Many of the new cells, the NIE concludes, have no connection to any central structure and arose independently. The members of the cells communicate only among themselves and derive their inspiration, ideology and tactics from the more than 5,000 radical Islamic Web sites. They spread the message that the Iraq war is a Western attempt to conquer Islam by first occupying Iraq and establishing a permanent presence in the Middle East.

    The April NIE, titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States," does not offer policy prescriptions.

    "What these guys at NIC are supposed to do is to lay it out in very clear, understandable terms," said the intelligence official. "It's not the role of the NIC to offer recommendations." Rather, it "basically states the conditions" as the intelligence community sees them, he said.

    This official and others would only discuss intelligence analyses on the condition of anonymity.

    The National Intelligence Council is tasked with providing long-term assessments of strategic issues for the president and senior policymakers in the form of National Intelligence Estimates. Composed of current and former senior intelligence and national security officials, it is currently chaired by Thomas Fingar, the former head of the State Department's intelligence bureau and now deputy for analysis to Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte.

    An NIE drawn up in the fall of 2002 concluded that Iraq had "continued its weapons of mass destruction [WMD] programs," possessed stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and "probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade." All of those judgments, which provided the political and national security underpinnings for the Iraq invasion, turned out to be false.

    As part of the intelligence reforms enacted in 2004, control of the NIC was transferred from the CIA director to Negroponte's newly created office, with a mandate to cast a wider net for information throughout the 16-agency intelligence community and among nongovernmental experts.

    Negroponte announced last month that the council would begin drafting a new NIE on Iraq in response to a request from the Senate intelligence committee. That estimate is still in the early planning stages, intelligence officials said yesterday. But though the April NIE does not deal specifically with conditions in Iraq, many of its judgments emphasize the influence of the Iraq war on the spread of global terrorism.

    According to officials familiar with the document, it describes the situation in Iraq as promoting the spread of radical Islam by providing a focal point, with constant reinforcement of an anti-American message for disaffected Muslims. The Web sites provide a narrative of a war with frequent victories for the insurgents, and describe an occupation that they say regularly targets Islam and its adherents. They also distribute increasingly frequent and sophisticated messages from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urging Muslims wherever they are to take up arms against the "Crusaders" on behalf of Iraq.

    Both Bush and bin Laden now consistently describe the Iraq war as the "central front" of the global war, and both are depending on victory there to set the direction of future struggles far afield. Although intelligence officials believe bin Laden's ability to direct major terrorist operations has been greatly diminished, his status as the ideological leader of a global movement that appeals to disaffected Muslims has vastly increased.

    The conclusions and tone of the NIE have been reflected in a number of public statements by senior intelligence officials this year. In a February speech at Georgetown University, Negroponte said: "My colleagues and I still view the global jihadist terrorist movement, which emerged from the Afghan-Soviet conflict in the 1980s but is today inspired and led by al-Qaeda, as the preeminent threat to our citizens, homeland interests and friends."

    In a sober and comprehensive address to an armed forces group in Texas in April, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, then-deputy to Negroponte and now CIA director, drew heavily from the NIE judgments. If current trends continued, Hayden said, "threats to the U.S. at home and abroad will become more diverse and that could lead to increasing attacks worldwide."

    Before delivering the speech, an intelligence official said, Hayden spoke directly to the NIE authors, saying, "I want to make these points" to a public audience.

    A series of intelligence assessments on Iraq since the faulty 2002 estimate have portrayed increasingly bleak prospects for democracy-building and stability there.

    Even before the invasion, the NIC warned, in January 2003, that the aftermath of a change in government could include long-term internal conflict. A July 2004 NIE outlined a range of possible outcomes to the increasingly difficult security situation there, with the best prospect a government with only tenuous control and the worst a civil war.

    National Intelligence Estimates have often sparked controversy, both for what they have said and what they have omitted. A 1997 estimate, the last on global terrorism before the 2001 al-Qaeda attacks, mentioned bin Laden in only three sentences, describing him only as a "terrorist financier" and making no reference at all to al-Qaeda.

    The latest terrorism assessment paints a portrait of a global war in which Iraq is less the central front of actual combat than a unifying battle cry for disparate extremist groups and even individuals. "It is just those kinetic actions that lead to the radicalization of others," a senior counterterrorism official said earlier this summer. "Surgical strikes? Nothing is surgical about military operations. They tend to have impacts, affects."

    That description contrasts with Bush's emphasis this month on offensive military action in Iraq and elsewhere as the United States' principal road to victory in the global war.

    "Many Americans . . . ask the same question five years after 9/11," he said in a speech in Atlanta earlier this month. "The answer is yes. America is safer. We are safer because we have taken action to protect the homeland. We are safer because we are on the offensive against our enemies overseas. We're safer because of the skill and sacrifice of the brave Americans who defend our people."

    But "a really big hole" in the U.S. strategy, a second counterterrorism official said, "is that we focus on the terrorists and very little on how they are created. If you looked at all the resources of the U.S. government, we spent 85, 90 percent on current terrorists, not on how people are radicalized."

    Bush 'unaware' of Pakistan threat

    Pakistani President Pervez
                           Musharraf and US President George W Bush

    US President George W Bush has said he was "taken aback" by allegations by Pakistan's president that the US threatened to bomb Pakistan in 2001.

    In a joint press conference after the two leaders met at the White House, Mr Bush said the first he had heard of the issue was in the day's media reports.

    Mr Bush and President Pervez Musharraf emphasised their trust in each other.

    Gen Musharraf stressed the importance of the Palestinian issue, saying it was at the heart of terror and extremism.

    In excepts from an interview with CBS released on Thursday, Gen Musharraf said the US had threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the Stone Age" unless it joined the fight against al-Qaeda.

    He said the warning had been delivered by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Pakistan's intelligence director.

    Mr Armitage told the BBC he had told Gen Musharraf on Thursday: "I would never say that. I don't command aircraft and I didn't have the authorisation."

    He confirmed he had held a conversation with the Pakistani general Mr Musharraf had sourced the comments to, but said had not threatened military action.

    At the press conference, where Mr Bush spoke first, the US president said he knew of no such conversation.

    In his response to a reporter's question on the subject, the Pakistani president said, to laughter, that he was "honour-bound" with his publisher not to discuss details of his autobiography due out next week.

    Some analysts say the timing of his comments on CBS may be an attempt to generate interest in the book.

    The BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington says that, in the CBS interview, Gen Musharraf was deliberately distancing himself from the White House in the face of intense pressure within Pakistan over his close ties to Washington.

    Correspondents say the Pakistani leader's comments are likely to be believed by many people within Pakistan and increase anti-American feelings there.

    Pakistan's support was considered crucial in the defeat of Afghanistan's Taleban government, which Pakistan had helped to bring to power.

    Al-Qaeda hunt

    Gen Musharraf said the two leaders had also discussed the need for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    He said he was "extremely glad" the US president "had a desire and a will" to resolve the dispute.

    The Pakistani leader also said a recent peace agreement between his government and tribes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was not a deal with the Taleban, as suggested by media reports.

    "This deal is against the Taleban. This deal is with the tribal elders," Mr Musharraf said.

    The two leaders presented a united front when questioned over apparent differences over how Osama Bin Laden would be caught if he was tracked down.

    Mr Bush on Wednesday told CNN television he would send US troops into Pakistan if intelligence located al-Qaeda leaders there.

    However American soldiers are not officially allowed to operate on Pakistani soil and at a press conference the same day, Gen Musharraf said: "We would like to do it ourselves."

    In Friday's press conference, however, both leaders stressed that they were "on the hunt together".

    The US president, General Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are due to meet next week.

    Bush would send troops inside Pakistan to catch bin Laden

    story.bushwolf.cnn.jpg

    NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday he would order U.S. forces to go after Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan if he received good intelligence on the fugitive al Qaeda leader's location.

    "Absolutely," Bush said.

    The president made the comments Wednesday in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

    Although Pakistan has said it won't allow U.S. troops to operate within its territory, "we would take the action necessary to bring him to justice."

    But Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, told reporters Wednesday at the United Nations that his government would oppose any U.S. action in its territory.

    "We wouldn't like to allow that at all. We will do it ourselves," he said.

    A January airstrike on suspected al Qaeda figures on the Pakistan border provoked protests by tens of thousands of Pakistanis and complaints by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who said U.S. officials launched the attack without consulting his government.

    Bin Laden's followers killed nearly 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. In response, the United States and its allies overthrew Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, which had allowed al Qaeda to operate within its territory -- but bin Laden slipped the U.S. noose and is believed by many to be hiding in the rugged mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border five years later.

    Pakistani authorities recently signed a peace agreement with pro-Taliban tribal leaders in the country's restive northwest after two years of clashes with the traditionally autonomous tribes that left more than 600 Pakistani troops dead. But Aziz told CNN earlier this month that top terrorist leaders like bin Laden would have "no immunity" under the agreement.

    "This notion that anybody who has a record as a terrorist will get safe haven -- we would not even think of doing that," he said.

    U.S. and NATO troops are now battling a Taliban resurgence in southeastern Afghanistan, and both Afghan and Pakistani officials have accused each other of not doing enough to capture pro-Taliban militants sneaking across the border.

    Bush: Ahmadinejad 'knows the options before him'

    Bush on Wednesday also defended his decision not to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations this week, telling CNN that Ahmadinejad "knows the options before him."

    The U.N. Security Council has called on Iran to stop its uranium enrichment efforts, which the Bush administration says are aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran says it wants to produce fuel for civilian power plants, and it has so far refused to halt enrichment.

    Bush said the United States has agreed to talks with Iran "only if they verifiably suspended their enrichment program.

    "He knows the options before him. I've made that very clear," he said. "In order for there to be effective diplomacy you can't keep changing your word."

    European negotiators are trying to reach an agreement with the Iranians that will stay the threat of U.N. sanctions against Iran for flouting the Security Council's demand while talks toward a permanent resolution continue. But Bush said that "time is of the essence," and he is concerned that Tehran is "trying to buy time" in the dispute.

    Both Bush and Ahmadinejad addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday -- Bush in the morning, Ahmadinejad in the evening.

    Bush addressed the Iranian people directly during his speech, telling them that Americans "respect" their country and that they "deserve an opportunity to determine your own future.

    "The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons," he said. "Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program."

    The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic ties since 1979, when Iranian militants, who had overthrown the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Palavi, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held American diplomats hostage for more than a year. Bush labeled Iran part of an "axis of evil" in 2002, along with Iraq -- which the United States invaded the following year -- and North Korea.

    In his speech, Ahmadinejad criticized what he called the "abuse" of the Security Council by "hegemonic powers." He mentioned the United States by name only once during his speech, but criticized major powers he said "seek to rule the world relying on weapons and threats.

    "All of our nuclear activities are transparent, peaceful and under the watchful eyes of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors," he said. "Why, then, are there objections to our legally recognized rights? Which governments object to these rights? Governments that themselves benefit from nuclear energy."

    The White House said Bush did not watch the Iranian leader's speech. Asked whether he found anything encouraging in it, the president said, "Not really."

    Ahmadinejad's speech was more restrained than previous addresses in which the Iranian president has questioned the existence of the Holocaust and called for the Israel's eradication.

    Referring to those comments, Bush said, "My judgment is you've got to take everybody's word seriously in this world.

    "You can't just hope for the best," he said. "You've got to assume that the leader, when he says that he would like to destroy Israel, means what he says. If you say, 'Well, gosh, maybe he doesn't mean it,' and you turn out to be wrong, you have not done your duty as a world leader."

    The president is not the highest authority in Iran, which is an Islamic republic led by religious clerics.

    Bush brings Mideast baggage to U.N. meeting

    story.mon.bush.cnn.jpg

    NEW YORK (AP) -- President Bush faced disagreement Monday over how to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions and skepticism about his approach to Iraq and the Middle East as world leaders gathered for the U.N. General Assembly meeting.

    Still, Bush was upbeat, focusing on his push for democratic change and first lady Laura Bush's call for governments to embrace literacy programs to improve lives.

    "We don't believe freedom belongs only to the United States of America," Bush said at the White House Conference on Global Literacy hosted by his wife. "We believe that liberty is universal in its applications. We also believe strongly that as the world becomes more free, we'll see peace."

    Bush arrived in New York to attend the 61st session of the world body with policy problems at home and abroad that have narrowed his room to maneuver on the international stage.

    The U.S.-led war in Iraq is in its fourth year with no end to bloody sectarian violence in sight. International support is dwindling for imposing sanctions against Iran for defying U.N. demands that it halt certain nuclear work. The repressive Taliban regime toppled in Afghanistan is showing new signs of resilience. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues and Lebanon's government has, so far, proved too weak to rein in the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.

    At home, Bush's approval rating, while experiencing a recent uptick, stands at 40 percent. Americans are growing weary of the war. The White House is in a showdown with Senate Republicans over the interrogation and trying of terror suspects. And elections that will determine which party controls Congress are seven weeks away.

    The president's so-called freedom agenda is the theme of his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. He will focus on democratic reforms in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East. He'll seek to quell skepticism about U.S. motives in the Middle East by working to avoid the impression that he wants to see a U.S.-style democracy imposed on any nation.

    In his speech, Bush is expected to say that while military and law enforcement actions are needed to curb terrorism, the ultimate weapons are freedom and opportunity. He is to note two types of states in the Middle East -- those with an absence of freedom and weak ones with fragile democracies, such as Iraq and Lebanon.

    "I think the president sees this ... as a struggle between the forces of extremism and the forces of moderation in the Middle East," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said, previewing Bush's speech. "And it's really a crucial time."

    The president also is expected to firmly denounce Iran and Syria, two nations that Bush says are working to thwart freedom in the region. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also planned to be at the United Nations, but Bush had no intention of talking with him.

    On Tuesday, Bush will meet with French President Jacques Chirac, who is part of the coalition of nations working with the U.S. to try to stop Iran from doing work that could lead to a nuclear weapon.

    Chirac, who is balking at the U.S. drive to sanction Iran for defying U.N. deadlines, proposed a compromise Monday to kick-start talks between Iran and the international community. Chirac suggested that the threat of U.N. sanctions be suspended if Tehran puts a freeze on its uranium enrichment work.

    "I am not pessimistic," Chirac said. "I think that Iran is a great nation, an old culture, an old civilization, and that we can find solutions through dialogue."

    On Tuesday, Bush also meets with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Annan has been critical of the U.S.-led war in Iraq; Bush, on the other hand, says Americans are frustrated that the international body has been slow to reform.

    Bush attended a reception Monday evening at the Manhattan home of Henry Kravis, where he helped raise $1.4 million for the Republican National Committee. He spent the day with leaders from Malaysia, a democracy with a moderate Islamic government; El Salvador and Honduras, two Central American nations that have moved from military dictatorships to democracies; and the emerging African democracy of Tanzania.

    Bush, who in 2003 warned that the United Nations could fade into history as an "ineffective debating society," now finds the United States relying more on the United Nations to help resolve problems in Iran, Lebanon, North Korea, Sudan and other global hot spots. On Wednesday, the president will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.


    McCain vs. Bush: GOP Battle Over Torture, Detainees

    Senate Republicans Buck Bush, Push to Preserve Detainee Rights

     - Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., defended his opposition to White House-approved terror-detainee legislation Sunday, instead supporting a measure that provides for the detention and trial of terrorist suspects that the president has vowed to defeat.

    "This is a matter or conscience, an American conscience," McCain told ABC News in an exclusive appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "Are we going to be like the enemy, or are we going to be the United States of America?"

    On Friday, President Bush argued that CIA-led detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists was essential to fighting the war on terror.

    "Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland," Bush told reporters in a Rose Garden press conference. "By giving us information about terrorist plans we couldn't get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives."

    In June, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 decision that military commissions for certain detainees at Guantanamo Bay violated both the military code of justice and the Geneva Conventions, a series of international laws constructed after World War II to set the standard for the humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war.

    As a result of the Supreme Court's decision, the president was forced to turn to Congress in order to find a way to detain and try some of the world's most notorious terror suspects.

    Some Republicans, including McCain and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., rejected the president's proposal, which would have revised the Geneva Conventions to withhold classified evidence from suspects at trial and, more significantly, would not jeopardize interrogation tactics that some deem harsh or inhumane.

    "I'm not saying we should shut down the program," McCain told Stephanopoulos, ABC News' chief Washington correspondent. "We should be very aware that if we engage in these activities … the world will condemn us and we will lose the high ground. And then what happens to Americans who are captured in future wars?"

    Retired Gen. Colin Powell, the first secretary of state in the Bush administration, wrote a letter this week supporting the McCain-Warner position.

    In it, Powell stated, "Our moral posture is one of best weapons. We're not doing so well on the public diplomacy front. This would be the wrong signal to send to the world."

    Also appearing on "This Week," Bush National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley rejected Powell's assertion, firing back about what's fast becoming an intra-party Republican fight.

    "This is not torture," Hadley said. "This is not a program out of control. This is a program conducted pursuant to law by professionals who receive a lot of training."

    In the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and a number of Democratic calls for the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to be closed entirely, Stephanopoulos pressed as to whether Hadley felt it was a stretch to think that the administration seems to be asking the Congress to "trust (them)" on their approach to detainees.

    "It is not out of control and we are not saying trust us. We are going to the Congress," the National Security advisor countered.

    Undeterred, McCain continued to argue that allowing the administration to continue unabated would threaten the country's reputation and potentially the lives of soldiers in future wars.

    "We have to hold the moral high ground; we're the ones people look up to," he said. "We can't lower our standards because others do. … We are not like al Qaeda, we are not like the bad guys."

    McCain also claimed that support from Powell and other military leaders has come because "they are very worried about, American military personnel will fall into the hands of the bad guys and they will modify or interpret the Geneva Conventions."

    While Hadley acknowledged the United States had never altered its interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, he continued to defend the administration's position.

    "What we're trying to do is answer a call that comes from the men and women in the CIA who are responsible for questioning al Qaeda detainees," Hadley said. "They want to know they are adhering to the law."

    McCain, thought by many to be positioning for a second run for the White House in 2008, seemed unfazed by any potential political fallout from taking on the president, the leader of the Republican Party, just seven weeks before crucial midterm elections that could sway the balance of power in Washington.

    "I believe this has nothing to do with politics," McCain said. "No matter what the political impact is, this is a matter of conscience."

    Despite their differences and a rare intra-party fight that erupted in full view of the public last week, both McCain and Hadley felt confident a compromise could still be reached.

    McCain predicted, "I still believe we will be able to work this out to the satisfaction of everyone concerned."

    Hadley stressed, "We need to find a way through that obstacle course and I think we can."

    But, for now, the Republican senator who faced then-Gov. Bush in a contentious 2000 presidential primary contest once again finds himself at odds with the president.

    "He's a friend and I hope he considers me a friend," McCain said of the president. "This has nothing to do with al Qaeda, it has everything to do with America."

    Bush fights rebels over tribunals

    George W Bush

    US President George W Bush has urged Congress to back his proposals on the treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

    Mr Bush told reporters at a hastily arranged press conference that his controversial plans were essential for the protection of the United States.

    He was speaking a day after four key Republican senators rebelled, backing an alternative draft proposal.

    The dispute centres on what evidence against them detainees can see and what interrogation methods are allowed.

    The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that Mr Bush did not by himself have the authority to order detainees tried by military tribunal, as the administration had been planning.

    The June verdict forced the White House to press Congress to pass a law governing the proposed trials.

    But the Bush proposal has run into resistance from several top members of his own party, including ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell.

    Mr Powell said in a letter made public on Thursday that the proposed changes could put US troops at risk.

    'Essential tool'

    But Mr Bush said they were essential in the so-called war on terror and to protect the US against attack.

    He urged Congress to act "promptly and wisely" to back his measures.

    "Were it not for this programme our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland," he told reporters at a White House briefing on Friday.

    Mr Bush said he would work with "members of both parties to get legislation that works".

    But he warned that "time is running out", and urged Congress to pass a "clear law with clear guidelines" before it goes into recess in two weeks, ahead of November's mid-term elections.

    Four Republican senators joined opposition Democrats on the Armed Services Committee on Thursday to endorse a alternative bill put forward by Republican John McCain.

    The senators argued that Mr Bush's proposals would effectively redefine the Geneva Conventions to allow harsh treatment of detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay camp in Cuba.

    They said their own version would provide fair trials and meet the demands of the US Supreme Court.

    The senators are also worried about White House efforts to reinterpret Article Three of the Geneva Conventions in order to allow tougher interrogations of suspects.

    The article in question governs detainee treatment - banning torture, violence and degrading treatment, and demanding that the sick and wounded are cared for.

    Ex-president blasts Blair US role

    Former US president Jimmy Carter

    Ex-US President Jimmy Carter has said he is "disappointed" by the apparently subservient attitude of the British government towards the White House.

    Mr Carter said Tony Blair was a good man, but could have used his influence with President Bush more wisely.

    The 81-year-old said there had once been "a very strong voice from London in the shaping of a common policy".

    His comments, to the BBC's Newsnight, come with Mr Blair under pressure over the timing of his exit from power.

    Mr Blair's close relationship with the White House has caused him difficulties throughout his years at Number 10.

    Earlier this week, the prime minister hit out at the "anti-American feeling" of some European politicians, describing it as "madness".

    "The reality is that none of the problems that press in on us can be resolved or even contemplated without them [America]," he wrote in a pamphlet published by the Foreign Policy Centre.

    'Ill-advised'

    But Mr Carter told Newsnight: "I have been really disappointed in the apparent subservience of the British government's policies related to many of the serious mistakes that have been originated in Washington."

    Mr Carter, an opponent of the US-led war in Iraq, added: "No matter what kind of radical or ill-advised policy was proposed from the White House, it seems to me that almost automatically the government of Great Britain would adopt the same policy without exerting its influence.

    This was the case "in the Middle East peace process, in the case of the Lebanese/Israeli war in the recent past and certainly in the ill-advised abandonment of the war against terrorism to substitute the war in Iraq", he said.

    Asked if he thought Britain was exerting its influence behind the scenes, Jimmy Carter replied he had seen no evidence of that.

    "I haven't seen the corrective effect of British disagreement with what the White House has proposed. It may be there, it hasn't been evident to the public," he said.

    A Downing Street spokesman said Number 10 had nothing to say about Mr Carter's comments, adding that Mr Blair had made clear why he thought the transatlantic relationship was important.

    In 1976 Mr Carter unseated the incumbent Gerald Ford to become the 39th US president, serving until 1981.

    He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, for what presenters cited as decades of work seeking peaceful solutions and promoting social and economic justice.

    Bush's 9/11 speech sparks bitter partisan squabbles

    story.1610.split.gi.jpg

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Bitter partisan squabbles engulfed Capitol Hill on Tuesday sparked by President Bush's 9/11 speech Monday night that was not supposed to be political.

    Eight weeks before elections that will determine control of the House and Senate, Democrats charged that the president was "playing election-year politics" with the memories of 9/11, and Republicans questioned whether Democrats are more interested in protecting terrorists than the country.

    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on Tuesday accused President Bush of trying to tap into the emotions renewed by the 9/11 anniversary to boost flagging support for the war in Iraq.

    In his speech, Bush portrayed the war in Iraq as part of a "struggle for civilization" with terrorists -- one on par with the World War II struggle against fascism and the Nazis. Democrats strongly contest that idea, saying that the Iraq war is a distraction from the global drive to stop terrorism.

    "We learned that America must confront threats before they reach our shores, whether those threats come from terrorist networks or terrorist states," Bush said. "I am often asked why we are in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat."

    White House spokesman Tony Snow said Tuesday the president wasn't "picking fights" when he brought up the Iraq war, according to The Associated Press.

    "This was not a speech that was designed to single out anybody for partisan reasons, but gave the president's honest reflections and reactions to what has happened since September 11, 2001," Snow said, according to the AP. "The president decided that yesterday wasn't a day for partisanship."

    But the speech, Reid charged, was partisan, meant only for his administration. Bush did not speak for the nation, Reid said, unlike the time the president stood on the rubble of the World Trade Center five years ago and used a bullhorn to promise a quick response to the September 11 attacks.

    "No bullhorn, only the bully pulpit of his office, which he used to defend an unpopular war in Iraq and to launch clumsily disguised barbs at those who disagree with his policies there," Reid said.

    "By focusing on Iraq in the manner he did, the president engaged in an all-too-familiar administration tactic: conflate and blur the war in Iraq with the response to 9/11," he added.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, also denounced Bush's speech, citing a Senate Intelligence Committee report released last week that said that the CIA had dismissed ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

    "In fact, the war in Iraq has made our effort to defeat terrorism and terrorists more difficult," Pelosi said in a written statement. "Last night's speech demonstrated that the president will go to any lengths to distract attention from his failures in Iraq, which have diverted focus from the war on terrorism."

    Republicans question Democrats' motives

    Sen. Reid's speech provoked quick and angry responses from Republicans.

    "I listen to the questions today and I listen to my Democrat friends, and I wonder if they are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people," House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said "The fact is, these people want to kill Americans -- they have killed Americans. And if we do not go after them and defeat them they are going to continue to kill and injure more Americans."

    Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, took the floor after Reid's comments and denounced them.

    "The very people that planned the attacks are the people who are in Iraq -- al Qaeda in Iraq -- causing that sectarian violence," he said. "Should we ignore that, I ask the senator from Nevada?"

    The group al Qaeda in Iraq was actually formed after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and was headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike June 7 north of Baghdad.

    Al-Zarqawi's group initially was called Unification and Jihad, but he changed the name to al Qaeda in Iraq in December 2004 and soon after received a blessing from bin Laden.

    Santorum also disagreed with Reid's characterization of the president's speech.

    "The president did not give a political speech last night," he said. "He spoke of the reality of the conflict that is before us. It is not popular to do so, I know. It is not popular to stand up and support a conflict that is difficult ... to deal with every day."

    Bush launches 9/11 remembrances

    President Bush and wife laying wreath

    US President George W Bush has laid a wreath at Ground Zero, the site of New York's twin towers, ahead of the fifth anniversary of the 11 September attack.

    Afterwards he attended a remembrance service at a nearby chapel.

    The events come as Mr Bush continues to face criticism over his so-called war on terror in the run-up to November's mid-term Congressional elections.

    Earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US was now safer than it was before the 2001 attacks.

    There were clouds over Ground Zero as Mr Bush, accompanied by his wife, Laura, walked slowly down into the hole that marks the spot where the towers once stood.

    As a bagpiper played America the Beautiful, they silently placed floral wreaths of red, white and blue upon two dark ponds of water, set up to mark both the north and south towers, and then walked back up the ramp to street level.

    Mr and Mrs Bush were joined at the site by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and state Governor George Pataki.

    Afterwards, the president and his wife attended a service of prayer and remembrance at St Paul's Chapel, just across the street from the site of the World Trade Center.

    Minute's silence

    The simple wreath laying ceremony marked the formal beginning of the US' commemorations of the attacks on Washington and New York in which almost 3,000 people died.

    At precisely 0846 (1246 GMT) on Monday a minute's silence will be observed, recalling the exact moment when the first tower was hit.

    Mr Bush is expected to observe the silence with firefighters involved in rescue operations five years ago, whom he will be joining for breakfast.

    At Ground Zero relatives of the 2,973 people who died will read out their names, pausing only to recall the time when the second tower was hit and when both structures collapsed.

    Mr Bush will also visit the Pentagon, hit by a third plane, and the Pennsylvania crash site of the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93.

    National address

    On Monday evening at 2100 (0100 GMT) he is expected to make a formal TV address to the nation from the Oval Office.

    It is just the fifth time Mr Bush will make such an address to the American people - the first was on the day of the attacks.

    White House spokesman Tony Snow told AFP that Mr Bush's planned address "is not a political speech".

    Saddam 'had no link to al-Qaeda'

    President Bush commenting on the death of Zarqawi

    There is no evidence of formal links between Iraqi ex-leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda leaders prior to the 2003 war, a US Senate report says.

    The finding is contained in a 2005 CIA report released by the Senate's Intelligence Committee on Friday.

    US President George W Bush has said that the presence of late al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq before the war was evidence of a link.

    Opposition Democrats are accusing the White House of deliberate deception.

    They say the revelation undermines the basis on which the US went to war in Iraq.

    The BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says that the US president has again and again tried to connect the war, which most Americans think was a mistake, with the so-called war on terror, which has the support of the nation.

    The report comes as Mr Bush makes a series of speeches on the "war on terror" to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the 11 September attacks.

    Requests rejected

    The report is the second part of the committee's analysis of pre-war intelligence. The first dealt with CIA failings in its assessment of Iraq's weapons programme.

    The committee concluded that the CIA had evidence of several instances of contacts between the Iraqi authorities and al-Qaeda throughout the 1990s but that these did not add up to a formal relationship.

    It added that the government "did not have a relationship, harbour or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates".

    It said that Iraq and al-Qaeda were ideologically poles apart.

    "Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qaeda to provide material or operational support," it said.

    The Senate report added that the Iraqi regime had repeatedly rejected al-Qaeda requests for meetings.

    It also deals with the role played by inaccurate information supplied by Iraqi opposition groups in the run-up to the war.

    'Devastating indictment'

    Democrats said the White House was still trying to make the connection between the former Iraqi leader and al-Qaeda in an attempt to justify the war in Iraq.

    Less than three weeks ago Mr Bush said in a speech that "Saddam Hussein...had relations with Zarqawi".

    Democrat Senator Carl Levin described the report as a "devastating indictment" of these attempts.

    White House spokesman Tony Snow told the Associated Press news agency the report contained "nothing new".

    "In 2002 and 2003, members of both parties got a good look at the intelligence we had and they came to the very same conclusions about what was going on," he said.

    Zarqawi, who is believed to be responsible for numerous killings and kidnappings in Iraq since the war, was killed in a US raid in June.

    Saddam Hussein and several close associates are standing trial for the killings of Shias in the village of Dujail in the early 1980s and of more than 100,000 Kurds in 1988.

    Bush admits to CIA secret prisons

    George W Bush

    President Bush has acknowledged the existence of secret CIA prisons and said 14 key terrorist suspects have now been sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    The suspects, who include the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have now been moved out of CIA custody and will face trial.

    Mr Bush said the prisons were a vital tool in the war on terror and that intelligence gathered had saved lives.

    He added that the CIA treated detainees humanely and did not use torture.

    He said all suspects would be afforded protection under the Geneva Convention.

    In a televised address alongside families of those killed in the 11 September 2001 attacks, Mr Bush said there were now no terrorist suspects under the CIA programme.

    Mr Bush said he was making a limited disclosure of the CIA programme because interrogation of the men it held was now complete and because a US Supreme Court decision had stopped the use of military commissions for trials.

    He said the CIA programme had interrogated a small number of key figures suspected of involvement in 9/11, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 in Yemen and the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

    Mr Bush spelled out how the questioning of detainee Abu Zubaydah had led to the capture of Ramzi Binalshibh, which in turn led to the detention of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

    Mr Bush said the CIA had used an "alternative set of procedures", agreed with the justice department, once suspects had stopped talking.

    But he said: "The US does not torture. I have not authorised it and I will not."

    He said the questioning methods had prevented attacks inside the US and saved US lives.

    "This programme has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they have a chance to kill," the president said.

    The CIA programme had caused some friction with European allies. Some EU lawmakers said the CIA carried out clandestine flights to transport terror suspects.

    Dick Marty, who investigated the issue of secret CIA prisons for the Council of Europe, said it was now up to European governments to reveal what they know about secret CIA prisons in Europe.

    Revised guidelines

    Mr Bush said he was asking Congress to authorise military commissions and once that was done "the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September 11 2001 can face justice".

    All suspects will now be treated under new guidelines issued by the Pentagon on Wednesday, which bring all military detainees under the protection of the Geneva Convention.

    The move marks a reversal in policy for the Pentagon, which previously argued that many detainees were unlawful combatants who did not qualify for such protections.

    The new guidelines forbid all torture, the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners, water boarding - the practice of submerging prisoners in water - any kind of sexual humiliation, and many other interrogation techniques.

    The BBC's Adam Brookes in Washington says that in one stroke the Pentagon is moving to defuse all criticism of the way it treats the people it has captured in its war against terrorism.

    The US administration has faced criticism from legal experts and human rights activists over the policy on detentions of terrorism suspects.

    Mr Bush also said he was asking Congress to pass urgent legislation to clarify the terms under which those fighting the war on terror could operate.

    He said the laws must make it explicit that US personnel were fulfilling their obligations under the Geneva Convention.

    Mr Bush said those questioning suspected terrorists must be able to use everything under the law to save US lives.

    Bush defends national security record
    In campaign season speech, president vows to press fight against terrorism

    WASHINGTON - President Bush used terrorists’ own words Tuesday to battle complacency among Americans about the threat of future attacks, defending his record as the fall campaign season kicks into high gear.

    Quoting from letters, Web site statements, audio recordings and videotapes purportedly from terrorists, as well as documents found in various raids, Bush said that despite the absence of a successor on U.S. soil to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the terrorist danger remains potent.

    “Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them,” the president said before the Military Officers Association of America and diplomatic representatives of other countries that have suffered terrorist attacks. “The question is ‘Will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say?”’

    Bush said that al-Qaida has been weakened, with its leaders finding it harder to operate freely, move money or communicate with operatives. But, he said the terrorist network has adapted to U.S. defenses by increasingly using the Internet to spread propaganda, recruit new terrorists and conduct training. In addition, the movement has become more dispersed, with local cells more self-directed and responsible for more attacks.

    The president also said extremists from Islam’s Shiite sect are learning from Sunni extremists, and asserted the danger of the Shiite-controlled nation of Iran. He said Iran is fighting a proxy war with the U.S. and Israel by funding and arming the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

    ‘America will not bow down’
    “Like al-Qaida and the Sunni extremists, the Iranian regime has clear aims. They want to drive America out of the region, to destroy Israel and to dominate the broader Middle East,” Bush said. “America will not bow down to tyrants.”

    One document Bush cited was what he called “a grisly al-Qaida manual” found in 2000 by British police during an anti-terrorist raid in London, which included a chapter called “Guidelines for Beating and Killing Hostages.” He also cited what he said was a captured al-Qaida document found during a recent raid in Iraq. He said it described plans to take over Iraq’s western Anbar province and set up a governing structure including an education department, a social services department, a justice department and an execution unit.

    “The terrorists who attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, are men without conscience, but they’re not madmen,” he said. “They kill in the name of a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs that are evil but not insane.”

    His speech came after the White House released a 23-page booklet called “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism,” which proclaims that the nation has made progress in the war on terrorism but al-Qaida has adjusted to U.S. defenses and “we are not yet safe.”

    Rumsfeld defended
    The White House rejected Democrats’ calls for replacing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. “It’s not going to happen,” said presidential spokesman Tony Snow. “Creating Don Rumsfeld as a bogeyman may make for good politics but would make for very lousy strategy at this time.”

    In its updated counterterrorism strategy, the White House said, “The enemy we face today in the war on terror is not the same enemy we faced on Sept. 11. Our effective counterterrorist efforts in part have forced the terrorists to evolve and modify their ways of doing business.”

    Two months before the midterm elections, the report was the White House’s latest attempt to highlight national security, an issue that has helped Republicans in past campaigns.

    Dems: Attacks up, security down
    Democrats, meanwhile, were releasing their own assessment, saying it shows the country is less secure today than before Bush took office.

    Citing research by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, the report said the number of al-Qaida members has jumped from 20,000 in 2001 to 50,000 today.

    It also charged that average weekly attacks in Iraq have jumped from almost 200 in spring 2004 to more than 600 this year, using numbers provided by the liberal-oriented Brookings Institution think tank.

    “All the speeches in the world won’t change what’s going on in Iraq,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

    “The truth is the president’s policies have not worked and have not made us safer,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del.

    Reinstate the draft?
    Rep. John Murtha, a hawkish Pennsylvania Democrat who voted for the war but now favors withdrawing troops, said the administration has botched the war so badly that a draft might be needed.

    The updated White House strategy comes in the wake of the weekend release of a new al-Qaida video that raised concerns about the possibility of another attack as the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 nears. The tape featured an American — believed by the FBI to have attended al-Qaida training camps — urging his countrymen to convert to Islam.

    The Department of Homeland Security had raised the terror threat for aviation to red — its highest level — in mid-August when the British, working with the United States, broke up what was purported to be a plot against international flights bound from Britain to the U.S.

    Five years after the attacks, about one-third of the American people think the terrorists are winning, according to a recent AP-Ipsos poll.

    The administration’s updated terrorism-fighting strategy took credit for some successes but also acknowledged, “While the United States government and its partners have thwarted many attacks, we have not been able to prevent them all. Terrorists have struck in many places throughout the world, from Bali to Beslan to Baghdad.”

    “There will continue to be challenges ahead, but along with our partners, we will attack terrorism and its ideology and bring hope and freedom to the people of the world,” the strategy booklet said. “This is how we will win the war on terror.”

    The President and His Critics Mark Anniversary Along Coast

    -- A year after Hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi and Louisiana, President Bush and Democratic leaders are converging on the Gulf Coast this week to commemorate the losses while continuing the political argument over the federal response to the country's largest natural disaster.

    Arriving Monday in this seaside city for the first stop of a two-day visit that later took him to New Orleans, Bush paid homage to the grit of ordinary Mississippians in their efforts to rebuild their communities and promised that his administration will not neglect them as memories of the storm fade.

    "One year doesn't mean that we'll forget," Bush said after lunching on fried shrimp and gumbo with community and state leaders at the small Ole Biloxi Schooner restaurant. "Now is the time to renew our commitment to let the people down here know that we will stay involved and help the people of Mississippi rebuild their lives."

    In returning to scenes of one of his administration's biggest political embarrassments, Bush visited a city that remains a shell of its former self. Much of the debris has been removed and casinos are starting to sprout along Biloxi's waterfront, but empty lots abound, thousands of displaced people continue to live in trailers, and federal money is only beginning to trickle down to individuals and businesses, according to local leaders.

    Democratic lawmakers and liberal advocacy groups flocked to the Gulf Coast in Bush's wake to offer their own, vastly more critical assessments of how well Bush and the federal government have performed in rebuilding communities swamped by Katrina.

    In an interview, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast is going "not very well," and asserted that federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration are botching the delivery of federal funds to individuals and small enterprises. "Yes, the recovery is underway," she said. "It is still painfully slow. We have unnecessarily lost so much because the system is overburdened."

    Landrieu has been joined by Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) for parts of what she has termed a "Hope and Recovery" tour for the region.

    Another prominent Democrat, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), inspected damaged sections of New Orleans along with other lawmakers on Monday, and predicted that Americans will be "very surprised to know this recovery is way, way behind what their expectations would have been."

    The administration's halting initial response to Katrina, especially in Louisiana, was a political debacle that even some Bush supporters believe still burdens the White House. Mindful of the symbolism of the one-year hurricane anniversary, White House aides have been distributing fact sheets and statistics suggesting progress, including the more than $110 billion of federal money that has been set aside by Congress for Gulf Coast assistance and reconstruction.

    Less than half of that has actually been spent, however, and local officials in Mississippi and Louisiana have been complaining about red tape slowing the flow of funds for housing and small businesses.

    Tommy Longo, the mayor of Waveland, another hard-hit town on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, said he does not blame Bush for the delay and is unsure who is at fault.

    "I don't think the money is held up in Washington -- it is held up somewhere in between," said Longo, as he awaited Bush's appearance in Biloxi.

    Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who accompanied Bush on his visit to Biloxi, said a combination of factors has caused the government to stall. "Part of it is federal bureaucracy," he said. "Part of it is state bureaucracy."

    Bush's visit to Mississippi, carefully scripted by the White House, left little possibility of the president encountering much anger over the federal reconstruction efforts. After meeting with Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and other leaders for lunch, Bush toured a working-class east Biloxi neighborhood that he visited a year ago, passing empty lots and FEMA trailers along the way. The hot sun left his blue shirt sleeves soaked in sweat.

    Some of the same people he met last year were in a friendly audience of several dozen local residents who heard from Bush after he finished his tour Monday, a few clutching pictures of themselves being consoled by the president in the aftermath of the storm last September. One of them was Patrick Wright, 38, a delivery driver for FedEx whose house was destroyed by the storm and who is now living in a FEMA trailer.

    Wright expressed satisfaction with Bush's efforts on behalf of Mississippi, saying that while he was still waiting for federal housing money to begin rebuilding his house, he feels that the government is moving as fast as possible. "Some people say it was slow, but for the number of people affected, you expect it to be slow," said Wright.

    In his remarks to Wright and his neighbors, Bush acknowledged "some frustration" among homeowners but said the government is "working hard to make sure that when that money is spent, it's spent well, and it goes to people who deserve it."

    Later, speaking to reporters after visiting a shipbuilding enterprise in Gulfport, Bush said it would take "years, not months" for the area to be fully rebuilt, although he did not mention a specific time frame. "The progress in one year's time has been remarkable," Bush said.

    Here in Mississippi, the cleanup from Katrina has been judged to be moving somewhat more quickly than in neighboring Louisiana, though there remains a huge reconstruction task and lingering complaints from many locals that New Orleans has drawn the focus of national attention.

    Mississippi appears to have benefited from a less fractious political environment than in Louisiana, with Barbour -- a former top lobbyist in Washington -- capitalizing on his extensive ties and the state's power in Congress to leverage extra funds.

    Bush himself alluded to the difference between Mississippi and Louisiana in developing reconstruction plans. "In Louisiana, it's been a little slower," he told reporters in Gulfport. "And I look forward to talking to the folks there about what we can do to work together to expedite these plans being implemented."

    Kerry Calls Lieberman the New Cheney

    Senator Labels Bush Iraq Policy 'Disaster,' Lieberman Bid 'Huge Mistake'

     - Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., blasted a fellow Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman, for continuing his bid in the Connecticut Senate race despite a narrow loss to newcomer Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary earlier this month.

    "I'm concerned that [Lieberman] is making a Republican case," Kerry told ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" in an exclusive appearance.

    Kerry accused the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate of "adopting the rhetoric of Dick Cheney," on the issue of Iraq.

    "Joe Lieberman is out of step with the people of Connecticut," Kerry added, insisting Lieberman's stance on Iraq, "shows you just why he got in trouble with the Democrats there."

    Kerry called Lieberman's independent bid a "huge mistake" and applauded businessman-turned-politician Lamont as "courageous" for challenging Lieberman on the war.

    Of his own views on Iraq, Kerry stated forthrightly, "The course of this country in Iraq is making the world more dangerous."

    Kerry, the Democrat's nominee for president in 2004, supported the 2003 Senate resolution that ultimately led to the invasion of Iraq, and was criticized throughout his White House bid for then opposing a measure funding continuing operations in that effort. The Bush campaign seized on what they described as Kerry's wavering views on Iraq, which in part led to the senator's 2004 election defeat.

    Since 2004, Kerry has steadily sharpened his opposition to the Iraq war, calling for a steady withdrawal of U.S. troops beginning last year.

    Kerry told chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos, "Iraq is not the center of the war on terror," while also asserting, "Iraq is in a civil war; of course it's in a civil war."

    Kerry said he supports the efforts of Senator John Warner, R-Va., to introduce a second resolution on Iraq if and when the country descends into outright civil war. Kerry believes that moment has come and reiterated, "We have to set a date for the withdrawal," before concluding, "The absence of diplomacy is putting our troops at greater risk and is reducing our ability for success."

    On the uncertain ceasefire involving Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah, Kerry said the near-month-long violence "set back" Hezbollah, but did so "at a greater cost to Israel."

    Kerry also criticized President Bush's approach to the troubled region.

    "I know that I would have handled the diplomacy," he said.

    Kerry connected the hostilities between Israel and Lebanon to Iraq, once again proclaiming, "I believe the president's policy in Iraq is a disaster of catastrophic proportions." He said his more diplomatic approach to Iraq might have prevented the instability the region currently faces.

    Regarding the 2008 presidential content, Kerry remained uncommitted, but dismissed early polls that seem to frame Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., as a leading contender.

    "George, you're talking to somebody who was once 30 points down," Kerry said. "My decision [to run] … will not be based on any poll. It will be based on my vision for the direction of the country."

    Bush Stands By Wiretap Program
     
     President Bush voiced strong objection Friday to a federal judge's ruling that his administration's warrantless wiretapping program was unconstitutional and should be shut down.

    In his first public comment on the matter, Mr. Bush said he "strongly disagrees" with the judge's ruling and believes the program is needed to protect the nation, CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports.

    "I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live. I strongly disagree with this decision," he told reporters at the presidential retreat in Camp David.

    "We strongly believe it's constitutional and if al Qaeda is calling into the United States we want to know why they're calling," he said.

    The Justice Department is appealing the ruling.

    On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

    "Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion.

    The parties in the lawsuit agreed to a delay of the injunction to stop the surveillance until they can argue before Judge Taylor for a stay pending appeal, CBS News producer Beverley Lumpkin reports.

    U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the surveillance program has been "very effective" in protecting Americans.

    "We believe very strongly that the program is lawful. ...," Gonzales said in Washington. "We respectfully disagree with the decision of the judge and have appealed the decision."

    Read the district court opinion.
    The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult for them to do their jobs. They believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets of the program, which involves monitoring phone calls and e-mails between people in the U.S. and those in other countries, without obtaining warrants from a judge, when a link to terrorism is suspected.

    The government argued that the program is well within the president's authority, but said proving that would require revealing state secrets.

    The ACLU said the state-secrets argument was irrelevant because the Bush administration already had publicly revealed enough information about the program for Taylor to rule.

    "At its core, today's ruling addresses the abuse of presidential power and reaffirms the system of checks and balances that's necessary to our democracy," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said in a conference call with reporters.

    He called the opinion "another nail in the coffin in the Bush administration's legal strategy in the war on terror."

    The Justice Department said it had appealed Taylor's ruling because the program is "an essential tool for the intelligence community in the War on Terror."

    "In the ongoing conflict with al Qaeda and its allies, the President has the primary duty under the Constitution to protect the American people," the department said in a statement. "The Constitution gives the President the full authority necessary to carry out that solemn duty, and we believe the program is lawful and protects civil liberties."

    Taylor's ruling won't take immediate effect. The Justice Department said it had reached an agreement with the ACLU to postpone implementing the order until Taylor hears its request for a stay pending appeal. A hearing on the motion was set for Sept. 7, Snow said.

    While siding with the ACLU on the surveillance issue, Taylor dismissed a separate claim by the group over NSA data mining of phone records. She said not enough had been publicly revealed about that program to support the claim and further litigation would jeopardize state secrets.

    The lawsuit alleged that the NSA "uses artificial intelligence aids to search for keywords and analyze patterns in millions of communications at any given time." Multiple lawsuits have been filed related to data mining against phone companies, accusing them of improperly turning over records to the NSA.

    However, the data mining was only a small part of the Detroit suit, said Ann Beeson, the ACLU's associate legal director and the lead attorney on the case.

    In the decision, Judge Taylor quoted Justice Earl Warren from the 1967 case, U.S. v Robel, Lumpkin reports.

    "Implicit in the term 'national defense' is the notion of defending those values and ideas which set this Nation apart. ... It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of ... those liberties ... which makes the defense of the Nation worthwhile," Taylor wrote.

    Largely Muslim crowd rallies to protest Mideast violence
     
    WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of people gathered across from the White House on Saturday, even though the president was out of town, to condemn U.S. and Israeli policies in the Middle East.

    Speakers in Lafayette Park energized the mostly Muslim crowd with chants and speeches condemning Israeli involvement in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, U.S. support for Israel and U.S. involvement in Iraq.

    "Occupation is a crime," the crowd chanted, equating the situations in the three areas. But they also called for peace and justice for all.

    "We all stand united against the violence and the killing in the holy land," said Esam Omesh, president of the Muslim American Society, a co-sponsor of the demonstration, along with the American-Arab Anti- Discrimination Committee and the National Council of Arab Americans.

    "There is no difference between Muslim life, Christian life or Jewish life," said Omesh.

    In San Francisco, about 2,000 people marched in support of Lebanese and Palestinians and against the Israel military action.

    "The occupiers are being seen as the victims, and I'm really ashamed of what is going on in the Middle East," said Alicia Jrapko, a member of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, which organized the rally.

    "End the occupation now!" one demonstrator's sign read, a call for Israel to leave historically Palestinian lands.

    Several hundred counter-demonstrators gathered to show their support of Israel, waving American and Israeli flags. "Hezbollah out of Lebanon!" a protester's sign said.

    Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark drew cheers from the Washington crowd when he called for President Bush's impeachment.

    "We've made more enemies during the presidency of George Bush than in the rest of our history combined," Clark said.

    Rahat Husain, 24, of Columbia, Md., said he did not have much hope that the Bush administration would change its policies because of the demonstration, but said it could raise Americans' awareness and create compassion for Lebanese citizens.

    Hassan Rida, 26, traveled from Farmington Hills, Mich., with his 15-year-old cousin, Hassan Mokbel, who was vacationing in southern Lebanon when the current crisis started and had to escape through Syria. He and friends Nehme Mhanna, 24, and Mona Alaouie, 24, from Dearborn, Mich., said they wanted to show support for the Lebanese and educate Americans about the situation.

    "There's always two sides of the story," Rida said.

    Habib Ghanim, 55, of Silver Spring, Md., said he voted for Bush, but would probably vote democratic in the next election, because he is disappointed and wants to "stop the fighting on all sides."

    The family friendly crowd was filled with Muslims, but also contained many non-Muslims, including a handful of orthodox Jews. Yeshaye Rosenverg, 23, traveled form Monsey, N.Y., to "show the support for the Lebanese and Palestine people and to make clear that it's not a Jewish fight between Arabs and Jews."

    A law enforcement official on the scene estimated that there were about 5,000 people attending the rally and subsequent march through the streets of Washington, which was sponsored by the ANSWER Coalition, the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation and the National Council of Arab Americans.

    Poll: Public split on Bush's handling of the Mideast crisis

    Majority doubts Gibson hates Jews

    ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Respondents to a CNN poll released Friday were nearly evenly split on President Bush's handling of the current conflict in the Middle East.

    Forty-six percent of 1,047 Americans participating in the telephone poll, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for CNN, said they disapproved of Bush's handling of the crisis, while 43 percent said they approved. Ten percent had no opinion.

    Overall, Bush's job approval rating continues a slow climb, but the majority of Americans -- 59 percent -- said they disapprove of how Bush is handling his job as president. Forty percent said they approved.

    The approval numbers are a jump from previous polls. In April, only 32 percent said they approved of the way Bush was handling his job, and 60 percent disapproved. Since then, his approval numbers have been creeping upward.

    Sixty-two percent of respondents said they disapproved of Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq -- tying poll results in May for the most respondents who disapprove. Another 59 percent said they disapproved of Bush's handling of the economy.

    About half the respondents -- or about 524 people -- were asked about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Sixty-two percent said they approved of her job performance, and 59 percent said they were "confident" or "somewhat confident" about her ability to handle the Middle East situation.

    Relations with Cuba supported

    Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of the respondents -- 62 percent -- said they favored re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Twenty-nine percent were opposed and 9 percent had no opinion on the issue. If Cuban leader Fidel Castro dies and his brother, Raul, takes power in Cuba, 69 percent said they would favor re-establishing Cuban relations.

    On the current Middle East conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, more than two-thirds -- 68 percent -- said their sympathies lie with Israel, compared to only 6 percent who sympathize with Hezbollah. Eleven percent said they sympathized with neither, while another 11 percent had no opinion.

    Forty-one percent said they thought Israel's military reaction to the July 12 kidnapping of its soldiers by Hezbollah -- which triggered the current conflict -- was "about right," but 32 percent said it went too far.

    Respondents were also split about what Israel should do now. Forty-six percent said it should continue its military campaign until Hezbollah is unable to launch attacks against it; 44 percent said Israel should agree to a cease-fire as soon as possible.

    Asked whether Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah are allies of the United States, 82 percent said they either considered Israel an ally or "friendly, but not an ally;" 37 percent said Lebanon was "friendly, but not an ally;" and 69 percent said Hezbollah was either "unfriendly" toward the United States or an enemy.

    A majority, 51 percent, said they favor the presence of U.S. ground troops in an international peacekeeping force on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

    On U.S. aid to Israel, 49 percent said they believed the economic aid should stay at the current level, and 51 percent said they thought military aid should stay at the same level.

    Majority doubts Gibson is anti-Semitic

    Lastly, Mel Gibson's drunken-driving arrest and comments concerning Jews at the time it was made appears to have done little to diminish his popularity among Americans, poll results indicated. Fifty-two percent said they did not believe Gibson is anti-Semitic, and 58 percent said they are still among Gibson's fans.

    The poll was conducted August 2-3 by telephone with adult Americans. The margin of error for most questions is plus or minus 3 percentage points; on the questions concerning Rice, the margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

    Administration Appeals Spy Suit Ruling

    Bush Administration Appeals Domestic Spying Decision That Allows a Lawsuit to Go Forward

     

    SAN FRANCISCO - The Bush administration appealed a court decision Monday that allowed a lawsuit to go forward challenging the president's warrantless domestic spying program.

    In rejecting government claims that the suit could expose state secrets and jeopardize the war on terror, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled July 20 that the eavesdropping was so widely reported there appears to be no danger of spilling secrets. Walker also said he did not see how allowing the lawsuit to continue could threaten national security.

    The case, which names AT&T Inc. as a defendant, is among three dozen lawsuits alleging telecommunications companies and the government are illegally intercepting communications without warrants. Walker is the only judge to rule against the government's claim of a "state secrets privilege."

    A federal judge in Chicago dismissed a similar case last week, agreeing the government could invoke the privilege the U.S. Supreme Court first recognized in the McCarthy era.

    The San Francisco lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation privacy group challenges President Bush's assertion that he can use his wartime powers to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant. It accuses AT&T of illegally making communications on its networks available to the National Security Agency.

    The government argued in court papers filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Walker's ruling "placed at risk particularly sensitive national security interests."

    Bush confirmed in December that the NSA has been conducting warrantless surveillance of calls and e-mails thought to involve al-Qaida terrorists if at least one of the parties is outside the United States. The White House contends the program is legal and necessary.

    Bush 'apology' over bomb flights

    Tony Blair and George Bush at the White House

    US President George Bush has apologised to Tony Blair over the use of Prestwick Airport to refuel planes carrying bombs to Israel, Mr Blair's spokesman says.

    The spokesman said Mr Bush gave a "one-line" apology for the fact proper procedures had not been followed.

    The two men held talks in the US on Friday over the Middle East crisis.

    Some air traffic controllers at Prestwick, near Glasgow, have raised concerns about handling flights carrying bombs.

    The result of an investigation into the Israeli-bound bomb cargo flights is expected to be made known on Monday.

    The Civil Aviation Authority has been conducting an inquiry into the landings, which the Foreign Office believes may have broken rules.

    Briefing reporters after the discussions, Mr Blair's official spokesman told reporters: "President Bush did apologise for the fact that proper procedures were not followed, but that was all.

    "It was just one line. As part of the introduction, the president said sorry there was a problem.

    "It was a gracious thing to do."

    'Very uncomfortable'

    BBC Scotland has learned that staff were unhappy about dealing with the US planes because flight plans appeared to mention that there were bombs on board.

    Some of the 200 air traffic controllers said they were "very uncomfortable" handling certain aircraft.

    Unions have considered an approach to the management as a result.

    One air traffic controller, who did not want to be identified, said: "We usually don't know the cargo that is on board but for some reason this one's flight plan was brazenly advertising it was carrying bombs.

    "People are very uncomfortable with that.

    "We usually don't have time to worry about what's on board but there is a feeling that this is not good.

    "We work with military aircraft all the time and people here are professional.

    "They would never leave traffic that needs to be dealt with but there are people who feel uncomfortable working with certain aircraft."

    The Foreign Office's concern is a matter of procedure because the cargo does not appear to have been notified as it should have been.

    Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has raised concerns with the US Government.

    Following Mrs Beckett's open display of displeasure over the flights issue, a White House spokesman said he was sure procedures were in order.

    Immediate ceasefire

    First Minister Jack McConnell is under pressure to prevent further arms shipments using Scottish soil.

    His office said aviation and foreign policy were matters reserved to Westminster.

    Backbenchers have urged Mr Blair to push for an immediate ceasefire between Israeli forces and Hezbollah.

    A senior Scottish Labour MP said the prime minister must stop defying public opinion over the crisis in Lebanon.

    Mohammed Sarwar, who is chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, said he was "really disappointed" in the government for refusing to call for a ceasefire.

    The Glasgow Central MSP also said it is "totally unacceptable" that US planes used a Scottish airport while carrying bombs to Israel and said it must not happen again.

    Democrats launch 'Six for '06' agenda

    Party unveils campaign themes, says elections will be about Bush

    story.dems.gi.jpg

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate's top Democrat says 1994's "Contract with America," the Republican campaign agenda the year the GOP regained control of Congress -- was an "urban myth."

    "The 'Contract with America' didn't accomplish anything," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. "(It) didn't change the election at all."

    Republicans signed the 10-point plan with fanfare on the steps of the Capitol before they took control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

    Yet, even as Reid dismissed the "Contract with America," he and other Democrats were promoting their own election-year document of six broad legislative goals, called "Six for '06."

    Democrats insist most of this year's campaigns -- 75 percent -- will be a referendum on President Bush.

    But they also realize they have to give voters a reason to vote for them, not just against Republicans.

    "Its closing the deal," said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

    The document, which carries the title "A New Direction for America," is a brief compilation of six themes Democrats have been pushing in various ways all year:

  • National security
  • Jobs and wages
  • Energy independence
  • Affordable health care
  • Retirement security
  • College access for all
  • "This 100 days is about drilling in the different direction we as Democrats will take this country," said Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

    Republicans: Democrats are 'flailing'

    Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign, said Democrats are "flailing in their desperate attempt to demonstrate that they have a plan and are unified."

    "Their plan is really to raise taxes, increase spending and weaken important tools that protect Americans in the war against terror," he said.

    Absent from the Democratic proposal is the catchphrase "culture of corruption," which Democrats constantly used against Republicans after the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. It became less prominent after some Democratic lawmakers' legal troubles made headlines.

    But Schumer insisted it will be "woven through" their overall push for change in Washington.

    After having a joint lunch to discuss campaign strategy during the August congressional recess, House and Senate Democrats rallied in a park across the street from the Capitol and tried to portray an air of confidence and momentum.

    "We don't see anything down the road that is really in our way in terms of doing well," Schumer said. "The wind is at our back."

    15 seats

    Emanuel said that their polls show 12 Democratic candidates currently ahead of Republican incumbents.

    However, neither he nor Schumer would predict how many seats Democrats will pick up. They need 15 seats to take control of the House.

    At a meeting with reporters at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee headquarters, Democratic leaders unveiled a Web video with clips of the president saying "stay the course" interspersed with graphics such as "gas prices at an all time high."

    They played the video on a small laptop in the front of the room full of reporters because, they said, they couldn't find a screen projector.

    Bush administration urges updated wiretap laws

    story.fisa.gi.jpg

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- As debate continues over the legality of President Bush's wiretapping program, the administration pressed Congress Wednesday to ease decades-old surveillance restrictions to catch up to the technology of the Internet age.

    But Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee countered that legislation updating the 1978 law covering such monitoring -- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- is tilted too far in favor of Bush since it would also award a secret court jurisdiction to determine whether the current program is legal.

    They argue that updating the law is a secondary concern since the White House claims its ongoing surveillance operations in the war on terror are not bound by it.

    Technological advances and a shift in adversaries from Cold War rivals to terrorists mean the FISA law is now behind the times, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden told the panel.

    For starters, the existing law covers telephone and e-mail traffic that are routed through the United States, but which begin and end overseas.

    As part of a deal with Bush to submit his warrantless wiretapping program for court review, the Republican-controlled committee is considering updating the FISA law. The administration monitors international calls and e-mails of Americans if terrorism is suspected.

    "Congress did not anticipate the technological revolution that would bring us global high-speed fiber-optic networks, the Internet, e-mail and disposable cell phones," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury.

    But tinkering with the law brings into play the larger question of whether the administration is violating constitutional protections against illegal searches by permitting electronic spying in the United States without a judge-approved search warrant.

    The administration has argued that the ongoing surveillance program, revealed by the New York Times in December, is exempt from the restrictions of the FISA law.

    It argues that a 2002 law giving Bush authority to use military force against Saddam Hussein also gave him authority to conduct the warrantless wiretapping program without obtaining permission from a secret FISA court established by the 1978 law. Considerable controversy has followed, with Democrats and some Republicans arguing that the administration is openly breaking the law.

    "Whether or not FISA is in need of fine-tuning is a legitimate consideration, but FISA's possible imperfections provide no excuse for the administration's flouting of existing law," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the panel.

    Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, is pushing new legislation to give the secretive FISA court jurisdiction over whether the administration's domestic spying program is legal.

    The measure comes as lawsuits have sprung up in other federal courts. The White House is battling them, arguing that they should be dropped because state secrets would be revealed if they are thoroughly argued.

    "There has to be a balance to the value to security, contrasted with the intrusion into privacy, and that can only be determined by judicial review," Specter said. "And in a context where the president is demonstrably unwilling to have the program subjected to public view, it would have to be determined by the FISA court if it is to be ruled on constitutionally at all."

    On Tuesday, a federal court threw out a lawsuit aimed at blocking AT&T Inc. from giving telephone records to the government for use in the war on terror on the grounds that information would be disclosed that would reveal too much about the government's intelligence programs to U.S. adversaries.

    A similar lawsuit against AT&T in San Francisco is proceeding, however, though Specter said U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling in that case expressed so many concerns about national secrets that it seems likely to be closed soon.

    Specter's bill would also require the attorney general to provide the court with information on the program's legal basis, the government's efforts to protect Americans' identities and the process used to determine that the intercepted communications involved terrorism. It would also clarify that international calls that merely pass through terminals in the United States are not subject to the judicial process established under the law.

    Bush seeks world support for Korea condemnation

    story.bush.pool.jpg

    CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- President Bush said Friday he is determined to rally world support in confronting North Korea over its missile tests to send a "loud and clear" message to the communist regime.

    He said North Korea was not like dealing with Iraq. There, he asserted, he decided to launch the 2003 invasion after exhausting diplomatic options.

    "You know, the problem with diplomacy is it takes a while to get something done" while "acting alone, you can move quickly," Bush said.

    In a rare out-of-town news conference, he also vowed to keep hunting for terror leader Osama bin Laden, a search that has been fruitless in the nearly five years since the September 11 attacks.

    "No ands, ifs or buts, my judgment is it's a matter of time -- unless we stop looking, and we're not going to stop looking as long as I'm president," Bush said.

    He said he wanted to make clear to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "with more than one voice" that the world condemned the test firing this week of seven missiles, including a long-range missile that failed.

    Bush said the United States had "a reasonable chance" of shooting down the long-range missile, if it had not failed.

    But he also said, "Our anti-ballistic systems are modest, they are new."

    The setting for Bush's rare out-of-town news conference was the rotunda of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. He stood in front of a large photograph of Chicago skyscrapers. The setting underscored the lengths the White House went to to pose the president outside of Washington.

    Bush gave a rambling 15-minute opening statement in which he talked about Chicago's vibrant economy, the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq.

    Bush is spending more time on the road this summer -- and less time vacationing on his Texas ranch -- as part of a public-relations effort aimed at boosting his low standing in polls and GOP chances in this fall's midterm elections.

    "It might do me some good," Bush said.

    Following a government report showing unemployment holding steady at 4.6 percent in June, Bush also praised the U.S. economy. "Productivity is high, people are better off, people are working," he said.

    Bush said immigration was one of the top issues in this midterm election year. "The system we have now isn't working," he said.

    'All of us said: Don't fire'

    Bush was asked why he was committed to going before the Security Council in an effort to restrict North Korea's missile and nuclear programs while he ignored the council's opposition to going to war in Iraq in 2003.

    "I have always said it is important for an American president to exhaust all diplomatic avenues before use of force," Bush said. As to Iraq, "all diplomatic options were exhausted as far as I was concerned."

    In defending his decision to seek U.N. support, Bush said that the leader of the reclusive communist regime in Pyongyang had "defied China and Japan and South Korea and Russia and the United States."

    "All of us said, 'Don't fire that rocket.' He not only fired one, he fired seven. Now that he made that defiance, it's best for all of us to go to the U.N. Security Council and say, loud and clear, 'Here's some red lines.' And that's what we're in the process of doing," Bush said.

    As to efforts to also find consensus on dealing with Iran's nuclear program, Bush noted that some nations had economic interests in Iran that colored the deliberations.

    "Part of our objective is to make sure national security interests trump economic interests," he said.

    A local reporter asked the president what he thought of some Republican candidates keeping their distance this election year because of his low poll numbers. The reporter cited a comment from an aide to Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka, who reportedly had said Bush would be welcome only in the middle of the night.

    "It didn't work," Bush laughed, noting he was going straight from the news conference to a lunchtime fund-raiser for Topinka, the state's treasurer who is running to unseat Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

    The event was drawing about 500 people and was expected to add a hefty $1.1 million-plus to Topinka's campaign account. "I was invited, I gladly came and I think we're going to have a pretty successful fundraiser for her," Bush said.

    Bush says he'll work with Congress on tribunal plan

    Frist says he'll introduce bill to authorize military commissions

    story.bush.koizumi.conf.cnn.jpg

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Thursday he will "conform with the findings" of the Supreme Court that strongly limit his power to conduct military tribunals for suspected terrorists imprisoned at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Bush made his comments during an appearance with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The court's ruling was released while the two leaders were meeting, and the president said he had not been able to review the decision fully.

    "To the extent there is latitude to work with the Congress to determine whether or not the military tribunals will be an avenue in which to give people their day in court, we will do so," Bush said.

    He also said that the "American people need to know that this ruling, as I understand it, won't cause killers to be put out on the street."

    "One thing I'm not going to do, though, I'm not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people," Bush said, adding, "I understand we're in a war on terror, that these people were picked up off of a battlefield."

    He said the White House will work with lawmakers, with some senators seeing "a way forward with military tribunals in working with the United States Congress."

    Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said Thursday afternoon that he would introduce legislation after the Fourth of July break that would authorize the military tribunals.

    "To keep America safe in the war on terror, I believe we should try terrorists only before military commissions, not in our civilian courts," Frist said.

    Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, already has offered to work with the White House to draft legislation that would allow the administration to try the Guantanamo detainees before a military tribunal.

    "The court said that military commissions would be proper if Congress blessed those commissions -- that the president by himself could not do this, that he had to come to Congress and get the Congress to bless the military tribunal." Graham said.

    "I agree with that. I think it would be better off if the Congress and the White House work together to pass a statute that would allow these terrorists to be tried in a military court."

    Guantanamo will not close immediately

    White House spokesman Tony Snow reiterated Bush's position that he wants to close the Guantanamo holding facilities, according to The Associated Press, but not until the administration establishes a system to determine what to do with the prisoners.

    "This will not mean closing down Guantanamo Bay," Snow said, according to the AP. "There is nothing in this opinion that dictates closing down Guantanamo Bay. We're studying very carefully what other implications there may be."

    The court's 5-3 ruling effectively means officials will either have to come up with new procedures to prosecute at least 10 detainees awaiting trial or release them from military custody.

    At the center of the dispute is a Yemeni man, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, accused of ties to Osama bin Laden. Officials said he has admitted to being the al Qaeda leader's driver and bodyguard.

    The case was a major test of Bush's authority as commander in chief in a wartime setting.

    Bush has aggressively asserted the power of the government to capture, detain and prosecute suspected terrorists in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

    Democrats hail ruling

    Democratic lawmakers praised the Supreme Court's decision as a rebuke to the Bush administration and a check on its aggressive expansion of executive power.

    "The justices have given our system a constitutional tonic that is sorely needed if we are to counter terrorism effectively, efficiently and with American values," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement. "This decision is a triumph for our constitutional system of checks and balances. I commend the justices for acting as a much needed check."

    Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat and ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, also lauded the ruling.

    "Since 9/11, the Bush administration has operated in the 'fog of law' -- expanding executive branch power, ignoring the will of Congress, bypassing courts and disregarding international law," Harman said in a statement.

    "Today's Supreme Court decision will help lift that fog. The opinion makes clear that the president's power is not unlimited when it comes to holding people without due process."

    Bush blasts 'terror funds' report

    Bundles of US dollars

    The US president has accused US newspapers of hampering the "war on terror" by publishing details of a secret scheme to track money transfers.

    George W Bush defended the scheme and said the disclosure was "disgraceful".

    The New York Times revealed last week the US government had monitored global money transfers using a banking group.

    The paper said it acted in the public interest. It is now the focus of a fierce debate about press freedom, says the BBC's Justin Webb in Washington.

    Some right-wing politicians have even called for the New York Times' editors to be charged with treason - but our correspondent says this is unlikely to happen.

    The newspaper has a long record of opposition to President Bush and has won a Pulitzer Prize for revealing a secret US government scheme to monitor telephone calls as part of its "war on terror".

    Mr Bush's attack was echoed by his deputy, Dick Cheney, who said the New York Times had twice disclosed secret programmes in defiance of the advice of administration officials.

    'Follow their money'

    Last week the New York Times, followed by other news organisations, revealed that the CIA had been given access to payment records in the world's main financial clearing house.

    The paper said the government had used its powers of administrative subpoena following the 9/11 attacks to compel Swift (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) to open its records, but added that the move had led to the arrest of al-Qaeda members.

    Mr Bush said the disclosure had made it "harder to win this war on terror".

    "We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America. And for people to leak that programme and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America," he said.

    Mr Bush said the monitoring scheme was lawful and Congress had been made aware of it.

    "If you want to figure out what the terrorists are doing, you try to follow their money," he said.

    The Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security said earlier that the New York Times should be prosecuted for the publication.

    "The New York Times is putting its own arrogant, elitist, left-wing agenda before the interests of the American people," , Peter King told Fox News television.

    US Treasury Secretary John Snow and White House officials also criticised the revelations last week.

    'No risk'

    The New York Times' executive editor, Bill Keller, said the paper had listened "patiently and attentively" to the government's case against revealing the scheme.

    Specter: White House eavesdropping deal near
    Senate Judiciary Committee chair says Bush ‘does not have a blank check’

    WASHINGTON - The White House is nearing an agreement with Congress on legislation that would write President Bush’s warrantless surveillance program into law, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said Sunday.

    Bush and senior officials in his administration have said they did not think changes were needed to empower the National Security Agency to eavesdrop — without court approval — on communications between people in the U.S. and overseas when terrorism is suspected.

    But Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and other critics contend the program skirted a 1978 law that required the government to get approval from a secretive federal court before Americans could be monitored.

    “We’re getting close with the discussions with the White House, I think, to having the wiretapping issue submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” Specter told “Fox New Sunday.”

    The administration has asserted that a post-Sept. 11, 2001, congressional resolution approving the use of military force covered the surveillance of some domestic communications.

    Specter has said that the president “does not have a blank check” and he has sought to have administration ask the special court to review the program.

    After the program was disclosed by The New York Times in December, the White House opposed changing the law. Over time, that position has shifted gradually.

    When the president’s nominee to head the CIA had confirmation hearings in the Senate in May, Michael Hayden told Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., that he would support a congressional debate on modifying the law.

    “We’re having a lot of conversations about that,” Specter said Sunday. He added that he and Vice President Dick Cheney have exchanged letters and that Cheney has indicated that he was serious about discussing the issue.

    “I’ve talked to ranking officials in the White House, and we’re close,” Specter said. “I’m not making any predictions until we have it all nailed down, but I think there is an inclination to have it submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and that would be a big step forward for the protection of constitutional rights and civil liberties.”

    Iraq Debate in Senate Shows Dems' Split

    Dems' Split Over Iraq Will Be on Display When Senate Takes Up Proposals to Withdraw U.S. Forces

    WASHINGTON - So much for consensus. Fissures in the Democratic Party over Iraq will be on display Wednesday when the Senate takes up two proposals to withdraw U.S. forces, touching off an election-year showdown between Republicans and Democrats.

    "Setting a deadline to redeploy U.S. troops from Iraq is necessary for success in Iraq," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said in remarks planned for his introduction of a proposal that would require U.S. combat forces to begin leaving the war zone immediately and be out of Iraq completely by July 1, 2007.

    Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and most of his rank-and-file colleagues don't exactly agree.

    They back a separate nonbinding resolution that would not set such a hard-and-fast deadline. It would simply call for not require the administration to begin a phased redeployment of U.S. forces this year.

    "It's not a cut-and-run strategy. It does not set a fixed timetable or an arbitrary deadline for the redeployment of our troops," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. To that end, Levin said, "We believe it represents where a majority of our caucus is."

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Wednesday that while neither measure was likely to pass, "we need this debate ... it's good and healthy for the Senate and the country." But while there is great pressure in the U.S. for a troop withdrawal, the Iraqis are not ready to stand on their own, he said.

    "I understand that this is an even-numbered year, an election is coming up and all of us are for withdrawal but it's got to be how we leave, not when we leave," McCain said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

    White House counselor Dan Bartlett said that while there is "a lot of heated rhetoric in Washington," an immediate troop withdrawal "will only put our country at more risk."

    "Leaders here in Washington who voted for this war have to continue to stand up and say that we're go to support these troops at the very difficult moment we're in," Bartlett said Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show.

    While neither Democratic proposal is expected to win enough votes to be attached as an amendment to an annual military measure pending in the Senate, both are drawing ridicule from Republicans.

    They lumped Democrats into two groups what they called the "cut and run" crowd backing the Kerry position and the "cut and jog" folks supporting the other proposal.

    Still, Kerry's proposal, co-sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., has attracted at least six other Democratic backers, reflecting a growing sense among some senators that the administration must tell the increasingly frustrated public when the conflict will end.

    "The Senate's finally catching up," said Feingold, who last summer was the first Democratic senator to call for a withdrawal timetable.

    Despite the conflicting proposals, Senate Democrats downplayed differences over Iraq within their ranks.

    "We all agree there should be a change in the course of the war. We all agree that there should be redeployment starting sooner rather than later," said Reid, D-Nev.

    As Democrats see it, the only issues they don't agree on is exactly when to start withdrawing troops immediately or not and whether there should be a date when all troops must be out of Iraq.

    Republicans relish the forthcoming debate on Iraq and are seeking political advantage as they try to hang onto control of the House and Senate in the November elections.

    "Leaving Iraq to the terrorists is simply not an option. Surrendering is not a solution," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Tuesday. "We cannot retreat. We cannot surrender. We cannot go wobbly. The price is far too high."

    Senate Democrats sought to write a resolution that could get wide support among Democrats after Kerry and Feingold, potential 2008 Democratic presidential candidates, separately said they would introduce proposals for a quick withdrawal of troops. The hope was that Democrats could stand united on Iraq.

    The Senate debate comes a week after the GOP-controlled Senate and House engineered back-to-back votes on Iraq that forced lawmakers in both parties to go on record on the war.

    In the end, both chambers of Congress soundly rejected timetables for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq foreshadowing the likely fate of the two Democratic proposals.

    War council gathers at Camp David

    Bush, top aides discuss Iraq war strategy

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    CAMP DAVID, Maryland (AP) -- President Bush was briefed by his top war commanders Monday about how to deal with violence in Iraq as senior national security advisers gathered at his presidential retreat to chart how to help the newly named government in Baghdad.

    The meeting came as the administration sought to boost public support for the unpopular war and capitalize on the death of a top terrorist leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. "I fully recognize that's not going to end the war," Bush said. He asked the commanders to congratulate the troops "for bringing Zarqawi to justice."

    Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were briefed by video conference by Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, who has overseen the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

    Bush endorsed the views of his advisers.

    "I thought your assessment of the situation in Iraq was very realistic and I think your recommendations to us on how to win in Iraq -- to have an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, defend itself -- your recommendations are valid," the president said.

    Khalilzad commended Iraq's new prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. "We've got a prime minister who is very much hands on," the ambassador said.

    Dan Bartlett, a senior presidential counselor, played down Casey's television interview comments Sunday in which the general said coalition troops could gradually move out of Iraq in the coming months. Bartlett said Casey had stipulated that troop reductions could be made only if Iraqi forces are able to deal with the violence.

    Bartlett said it was too narrow-minded to view the U.S. efforts in Iraq only through troop reductions and that Bush's Camp David meetings were to determine how else the U.S. government can help Iraq. "We're taking a soup-to-nuts look across all agencies," Bartlett said.

    Participants in the meeting included Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, Central Intelligence Director Michael Hayden, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and others.

    White House officials have said announcements of force reductions are not expected at the two-day work session at the Camp David presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. Yet, Casey said he thinks it will be possible to withdraw some of the approximately 130,000 U.S. forces in the months ahead as long as Iraq makes continuing progress in cementing its new government and strengthening its security forces.

    Casey would not say in advance of Monday's meeting whether he planned to advise Bush on a troop reduction plan. But he did hint that the time soon may come for such a recommendation.

    "I was waiting until we got a government seated before I gave the president another recommendation, so we have some sense of what we've got," Casey said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

    The Camp David meeting began as insurgents in Iraq stepped up attacks to show they weren't defeated by the U.S. airstrike that killed al-Zarqawi, leader of the al Qaeda terrorist network in Iraq, near Baqouba last Wednesday. Bush is hoping to bolster declining public support for the war by capitalizing on momentum from his death and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's appointments last week of key national security ministers.

    With Republicans worried about losing control of Congress in November's midterm elections and most Americans saying they would like some troops to come home, Bush is under pressure. Only a third of respondents to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll in early June supported Bush's handling of the situation -- an all-time low.

    But Bush has been careful not to signal any troop reductions yet, continuing to say he will make those decisions when commanders in the field advise him to do so.

    Bush Directs Outreach on Gitmo Suicides

    Bush, Concerned With Guantanamo Suicides, Directs Aggressive Diplomatic Outreach

    WASHINGTON - President Bush expressed "serious concern" Saturday over the suicides at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay and directed an aggressive effort by his administration to reach out diplomatically while it investigates.

    "He wants to make sure that this thing is done right from all points of view," White House press secretary Tony Snow said Saturday evening.

    Bush, who is spending the weekend at Camp David, was notified at 7:45 a.m. EDT.

    Snow said it was during his daily intelligence briefing just afterward when the president voiced his concern over the incident and directed that the bodies be "treated humanely and with cultural sensitivity" to show respect for Muslim traditions regarding the dead.

    The administration's controversial detentions at Guantanamo Bay of hundreds of men on suspicion of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, many of them for up to 4 1/2 years and without charge, is a point of contention between the United States and many of its allies in Europe in the Mideast.

    Reflecting the potential diplomatic headaches that the suicides could create for the White House, they prompted an extraordinary round of global outreach by officials from the White House's National Security Council, the State Department and Bush's congressional liasons.

    Within hours, the Bush administration had contacted the United Nations, the European Union, most European nations individually, the embassies of Mideast and near-Mideast countries, the International Committee of the Red Cross, bipartisan members of the congressional leadership and the ranking Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, Snow said.

    "There's been an aggressive effort not only on the part of the Pentagon to begin investigating and follow proper procedures and also the White House," Snow said. "It's kind of common sense. Guantanamo is obviously an issue of some concern."

    The subject of the prison had come up just a day before in talks between Bush and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, one of the president's staunch supporters who has been pushing Washington to close the prison. Bush defended the detentions, while saying his ultimate goal is to see Guantanamo emptied through releases or transfers of prisoners to their home countries.

    Snow said there was "no direct indication" that the suicides were connected to the killing this week of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq.

    He also said that "to the best of anybody's knowledge" all proper procedures were followed to prevent the suicides at a facility where a few dozen had been previously attempted. But Snow said the investigation would continue until those sorts of questions were fully answered.

    "These things do happen and it's an awful thing," he said. "People are going to take a very careful look at the situation there."

    Bush presses case for war on terror at ceremony
    President marks Memorial Day with visit to Arlington National Cemetery


    ARLINGTON, Va. - President Bush, visiting America’s most hallowed military burial ground to “honor this place where valor sleeps,” said Monday the nation must persevere in the war against terrorists for the sake of those have already given their lives in this cause.

    Noting that some 270 fighting men and women of the nearly 2,500 who have fallen in Iraq are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Bush said, “We have seen the costs in the war on terror that we fight today.”

    The president spoke after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He ventured across the Potomac River on a sun-splashed Memorial Day just a short time after signing into law a bill that restricts protests at military funerals.

    At the White House, Bush signed the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act,” passed by Congress largely in response to the activities of a Kansas church group that has staged protests at military funerals around the country, claiming the deaths symbolized God’s anger at U.S. tolerance of homosexuals.

    The new law bars protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery.  This restriction applies an hour before until an hour after a funeral. Those violating the act would face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

    Monday’s observance at Arlington National Cemetery was not a funeral, so demonstrators were free to speak their minds at the site.

    And several did.

    Approximately 10 people from the Washington, D.C., chapter of FreeRepublic.com, a self-styled grass roots conservative group, held signs at the entrance of the cemetery supporting U.S. troops. A large sign held by several people said, “God bless our troops, defenders of freedom, American heroes.”

    They were faced off against a handful of anti-gay protesters who stood across a four-lane highway as people headed toward the national burial grounds.

    The FreeRepublic.com group was trying to counter demonstrations by the Kansas-based group, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps. He previously had organized protests against those who died of AIDS and gay murder victim Matthew Shepard.

    In an interview at the time the House passed the bill that Bush signed Monday, Phelps charged that Congress was “blatantly violating” his First Amendment rights. He said that if became law, he would continue to demonstrate but would abide by the law’s restrictions.

    Bush signed a second bill Monday that allows combat troops to deposit tax-free pay into individual retirement accounts.  Supporters of the legislation argued that rules governing these accounts were punishing soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq who earn only tax-free combat pay.

    White House seeks to block NSA lawsuits
    Feds claim defending domestic surveillance program would expose secrets


    NEW YORK - The Bush administration has asked federal judges in New York and Michigan to dismiss a pair of lawsuits filed over the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping program, saying litigating them would jeopardize state secrets.

    In papers filed late Friday, Justice Department lawyers said it would be impossible to defend the legality of the spying program without disclosing classified information that could be of value to suspected terrorists.

    National Intelligence Director John Negroponte invoked the state secrets privilege on behalf of the administration, writing that disclosure of such information would cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security.

    The administration laid out some of its supporting arguments in classified memos that were filed under seal.

    The government’s motion, widely anticipated, involves two cases challenging an NSA program that allows investigators to eavesdrop on Americans who communicate with people outside the country suspected of terrorist ties.

    Groups allege Bush abusing power
    In New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights has asked a judge to stop the program, saying it was an abuse of presidential power. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a similar lawsuit in Detroit.

    For decades, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been required to seek court approval before using electronic surveillance on Americans. That was not done by the NSA in the program at issue, but President Bush has said the eavesdropping was made legal by a congressional resolution passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    Shayana Kadidal, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, called the administration’s motion “undemocratic.”

    Ample safeguards could be put in place to allow the case to continue without disclosing classified information, he said. The center has also argued that the court already has enough information to decide whether the program was legal.

    “The Bush administration is trying to crush a very strong case against domestic spying without any evidence or argument,” Kadidal said in a written statement. “Can the president tell the courts which cases they can rule on? If so, the courts will never be able to hold the president accountable for breaking the law.”

    Justice Department attorneys said in their legal brief that the legality of the president’s actions could only be properly judged by understanding “the specific threat facing the nation and the particular actions taken by the president to meet that threat.”

    “That understanding is not possible without revealing to the very adversaries we are trying to defeat what we know about them and how we are proceeding to stop them,” they wrote.