This Thanksgiving, Bush Team and Iraq Leaders Face Range of New Realities
Three years ago, I was in a rehabiliation hospital in Tyler after having been run over by an SUV and nearly killed. Most of my fellow patients were elderly men and women in their 70s who had just undergone knee or hip replacements. I remember celebrating Thanksgiving dinner with them in our common dining area as Bush came on CNN with his fake turkey. I voiced dissent about the war even then (after all, I believe 9/11 was an "inside job" and did from almost the day it happened) and it was only because we were all so old and/or decrepit that the old geezers didn't break my kneecaps (which had not been damaged in the accident; both my legs were intact). My hip had already been shattered, though, although I didn't have to have it "replaced."
By JIM RUTENBERG
Published: November 23, 2006
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 — Three years ago this week, President Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Baghdad, where he told a group of stunned soldiers that the United States did not wage a bloody war to depose Saddam Hussein “only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.”
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Tim Sloan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
For Thanksgiving Day in 2003, President Bush was flown without advance public knowledge to Baghdad, where he visited soldiers.
Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will spend this Thanksgiving at Camp David, in part for a discussion about the meeting recently scheduled for next week between Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, in Amman, Jordan. There, Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki will have to contend with the thuggery and killing that continues to plague Iraq three years after that hopeful Thanksgiving Day visit.
White House officials said Wednesday that Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki would discuss a range of issues — from giving the Iraqis more control over security forces to American frustrations with the pace of the disarmament of militias in Iraq to the new political realities facing the president with the newly elected Democratic Congress, many of whose members are calling for some sort of withdrawal from Iraq.
The meeting comes as the administration, fresh off Republican losses and its subsequent announced ouster of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, is considering a significant change in approach to the war in Iraq, which will surpass World War II in duration on Sunday. Officials acknowledge that the change that is in the air in Washington is causing unease for leaders in Iraq.
“It’s an important period we’re in with Iraq and for his government, and there is a lot of speculation going on,” said Dan Bartlett, the White House counselor. “The president will assure the prime minister that he’s the one who sets foreign policy for the country.”
Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters on Tuesday night that Mr. Bush would also discuss with Mr. Maliki the roles that Iran and Syria could play in helping to stabilize Iraq, rather than to inflame it.
But White House officials appeared to play down expectations for the meeting, with Mr. Hadley telling reporters, “We’re not looking for a big, bold announcement.”
In diplomatic circles, the visit was being taken as an attempt to send a clear signal that Mr. Bush was intensely focused on Iraq after a losing election that has been seen as a referendum on the war. The meeting comes as the Iraq Study Group, being led in part by James A. Baker III, his father’s longtime friend and adviser, is moving toward releasing a blueprint for a new approach to Iraq.
“I think after Nov. 7 they have to demonstrate that they’re seriously looking — turning every stone — for a strategy that will work,” said Ivo H. Daalder, a national security official for President Clinton and now a scholar at the Brookings Institution.
Mr. Daalder said the administration appeared in part to be trying to pre-empt the study group’s widely expected call for direct talks with the Iranians and the Syrians about the security situation in Iraq.
But two administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so that they could speak freely about internal matters, said in private conversations that it would be unlikely that the president would do anything that could be seen as pre-empting Mr. Baker’s report, though they bristled at its expected suggestion of direct talks between the United States and Iran and Syria on Iraq.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, David M. Satterfield, the State Department coordinator for Iraq, said the United States was prepared “in principle” to enter a “direct dialogue” with Iran to speak about Iraq, but that the timing of such talks was undecided. Mr. Satterfield dismissed any similar consideration for Syria.
Officials have been trying to emphasize that there are regional allies other than Syria and Iran that can help stabilize Iraq. In announcing that the president would meet Mr. Maliki in Jordan, Mr. Hadley said, “Jordan has been very helpful and supportive of the unity government in Iraq.” The White House announced Wednesday that Vice President Dick Cheney would travel at the end of the week to Saudi Arabia, another key ally in the region. Mr. Hadley said that at the top of Mr. Bush’s agenda with Mr. Maliki would be the results of a joint commission they impaneled several weeks ago to study ways to transfer more control over security forces to Mr. Maliki’s government.
That is one of several studies under way, including the one being overseen by Mr. Baker — along with the former Democratic congressman Lee H. Hamilton — and reviews under way by the National Security Council and the Pentagon. Those reviews will give Mr. Bush an array of options beyond any that come from Mr. Baker’s group.
Speaking aboard Air Force One on Tuesday night, Mr. Hadley suggested that Mr. Bush would spend the holiday weekend going over reports from the administration reviews still in progress as he considers a new course in Iraq.
“There are many voices the president will want to listen to,” Mr. Hadley said, including those of the new Congress and Mr. Baker’s commission. But, Mr. Hadley said, what is no less important will be the opinion of Mr. Maliki, “who’s obviously been developing his own ideas on the way forward.”
Thom Shanker and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.