- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney say they have full authority to send more than 21,000 troops into Iraq, with or without congressional approval, and with funding already in place for the increase, lawmakers have little chance of stopping the surge.

“I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it. But I’ve made my decision. And we’re going forward,” Mr. Bush said in a “60 Minutes” interview aired last night. Asked if he has sole authority “to put the troops in there no matter what the Congress wants to do,” Mr. Bush said: “In this situation I do, yeah.”

Mr. Cheney said yesterday on “Fox News Sunday” that criticism from lawmakers will not derail Mr. Bush’s plans, and he dismissed any effort to “run a war by committee.”

“The president is the commander in chief. He’s the one who has to make these tough decisions,” Mr. Cheney said.

The tough stances, coming a week after pledges of bipartisanship from the president and vice president, set up the year’s first conflict between the Republican administration and the new Democrat majority in Congress. Although Mr. Bush has pledged to work with lawmakers as he enacts his war strategy, his new remarks illustrate that he will move forward without their approval.

Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney said Democrats have offered no real plan of their own to secure Iraq. “To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible,” Mr. Bush said in his national radio address on Saturday.

Mr. Cheney said, “It’s not enough for them to be critics anymore.”

“We have these meetings with members of Congress, and they agree we can’t fail … but then they end up critical of what we’re trying to do, advocating withdrawal or so-called redeployment of force, but they have absolutely nothing to offer in its place,” he said.

“I have yet to hear a coherent policy out of the Democratic side with respect to an alternative to what the president has proposed in terms of going forward. … If the Democrats don’t like what we’re proposing, it seems to me they have an obligation to put forward their proposal, and so far we haven’t seen it,” he said.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Mr. Bush was contrite, acknowledging that he has made mistakes in the execution of the Iraq war. For the first time, Mr. Bush admitted that troops levels throughout the war “could have been a mistake.”

“Well, no question, decisions have made things unstable,” he told CBS News reporter Scott Pelley. “I think history is going to look back and see a lot of ways we could have done things better. No question about it.”

But the president said Americans should not blame the military. “If the people want a scapegoat, they got one right here in me, because it’s my decisions.” Still, he defended his new strategy to add troops. “There are not enough troops on the ground right now to provide security right now for Iraq, and that’s why I made the decision I made.”

He added, “My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the correct decision in my judgment. … Our administration took care of a source of instability in Iraq. Envision a world in which Saddam Hussein was rushing for a nuclear weapon to compete against Iran. … He was a significant source of instability.”

Mr. Bush, who has seen parts of the Internet video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging, also criticized the actions of the Iraqi government run by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been criticized for the manner in which the Dec. 30 execution was handled.

“I thought it was discouraging. … It’s important that that chapter of Iraqi history be closed. [But] they could have handled it a lot better,” he said.

Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney said that leaving Iraq now would mean ceding the country to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and give insurgents a foothold in the Middle East from which to launch a campaign of terrorism.

“They’re convinced that the United States will, in fact, pack it in and go home if they just kill enough of us,” Mr. Cheney said. “They can’t beat us in a stand-up fight, but they think they can break our will.”

The vice president also said, “You cannot simply stick your finger up in the wind and say, ‘Gee, public opinion’s against us, we better quit.’ ” Doing so would “validate the al Qaeda view of the world,” he said.

Mr. Bush said that his new plan will deal with sectarian violence in Iraq, which left unchecked will become a destabilizing factor that “could lead to attacks here in America.”

The president and vice president also warned Iran to stop meddling in Iraq. Mr. Bush announced deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region, along with Patriot air-defense systems “to reassure our friends,” and vowed to strike Iranians aiding insurgents in Iraq.

“Iran is fishing in troubled waters, if you will, inside Iraq,” Mr. Cheney said. “I think the message that the president sent clearly is that we do not want them doing what they can to try to destabilize the situation inside Iraq. We think it’s very important that they keep their folks at home.”

The White House said Friday that there already is enough money in the budget to pay for Mr. Bush’s proposed troop surge in Iraq, leaving Congress almost no viable way to stop him before he commits the troops.

Some members of Congress had proposed using the power of the purse to cut off funds for the new troops, but White House press secretary Tony Snow said there’s already enough money in the pipeline to begin the deployment of more than 17,000 soldiers to Baghdad to quell Sunni-Shi’ite violence and 4,000 Marines to Anbar province to go after al Qaeda fighters.

“Funding for the forces and to dispatch them to the region, it’s already in the budget. So we’re going to proceed with those plans,” Mr. Snow said.

That leaves Congress with few other options.

One possibility, proposed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, would rescind Congress’ 2002 blanket grant of authority to use force in Iraq, and would require Mr. Bush to gain congressional approval before boosting forces.

Mr. Cheney said that will not happen. “The Constitution is very clear that the president is, in fact, under Article II, the commander in chief,” he said.

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