Saturday, January 27, 2007

Bush - "I am the decision-maker on troop strength!"


By Ron Hutcheson and Renee Schoof
McClatchy Washington Bureau

President Bush defended his Iraq strategy Friday in a closed-door meeting with Republicans in the House of Representatives and told reporters that he's ``the decision-maker'' on troop deployments even if Congress opposes his plans.

Bush brushed off his critics as congressional Democrats discussed ways to limit his war-making powers. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., speaking at a Washington research center, outlined a series of steps Congress could take that would go well beyond the non-binding resolution that's scheduled for Senate debate next week.

Proposals outlined

The resolution would put Congress on record against the president's plan to send 21,500 more soldiers to Iraq, but it would do nothing to stop it. Hoyer said additional possible steps included imposing limits on war spending and revising the congressional resolution that authorized the 2003 Iraq invasion. A revised authorization could be used to redefine the mission.

Hoyer didn't commit to any of the options. Although Democrats are under pressure from anti-war activists to get tough with Bush, party leaders are wary of any action that could be seen as undermining the troops.

A defiant Bush suggested that lawmakers should stifle their criticism and let him put his plan into action.

``I'm the decision-maker, and I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster,'' the president said. ``Some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work.''

He defended the plan during a White House photo session with Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who won Senate confirmation 81-0 Friday to become the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Bush also staunchly defended a new administration policy on Iran that is drawing criticism at home and anxiety abroad, insisting it is only sensible for U.S. troops to move aggressively against Iranians who endanger them in Iraq.

Bush, appearing with military advisers at the White House, said the policy is not meant to spread U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into Iran, but he asserted that U.S. troops have the right to seek out agents from Tehran, which he has accused of supporting Iraqi militants.

``It just makes sense that if somebody is trying to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goal, or killing innocent civilians in Iraq, that we will stop them,'' Bush said.

The administration announced two weeks ago, as part of its new strategy on Iraq, that it would move more aggressively against Iranian and Syrian agents in Iraq. Simultaneously, the White House moved Navy warships and fighter jets into the Persian Gulf in a display of determination to maintain influence in the region.

Sunni approval

The new push has been welcomed by some Sunni Arab countries that are worried about the rising influence of predominantly Shiite Iran, as well as by members of Congress who are nervous about the prospect of the country acquiring a nuclear weapon and possibly using it to threaten Israel.

But the approach has been unsettling to Shiite Arabs and Kurdish leaders in Iraq, as well as to others in the United States and Europe, who fear the confrontational words and moves could spiral into military confrontation at a time when the Middle East is already torn by sectarian strife.

Separately, at his first Pentagon news conference, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that whatever their intentions, lawmakers pushing for resolutions against President Bush's troop buildup are encouraging the United States' enemies.

Gates, in his Pentagon post just over a month, said he was certain supporters of measures criticizing the president's plan don't intend to harm U.S. interests in Iraq. ``But that's the effect,'' he said.

``It's pretty clear that a resolution that in effect says that the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn't have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries,'' Gates said in his first Pentagon news conference.

``I think it's hard to measure that with any precision, but it seems pretty straightforward that any indication of flagging will in the United States gives encouragement to those folks,'' Gates said, referring to the anti-government forces in Baghdad.

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