Monday, December 4, 2006

President Bush’s national security adviser said a leaked memo from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, which lists redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq as a potential alternative to current administration strategy, was “constructive” but not a formal proposal by the outgoing Pentagon chief.

“It was a useful and constructive memo, but it was not a proposal for a new course of action,” Stephen J. Hadley said during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It was much more a list of things that needed to be considered.”

Meanwhile yesterday, incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said that the president should accept the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, whose findings will be released this week and are expected to include a similar call for troop redeployment.

“I think it’s the right timeline,” Mr. Biden said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “Because it recognizes the reality: that, by the end of 2008, one of two things is going to have happened. We will either help broker a political settlement where the violence is abated in that country and/or things will be totally out of control.”

Although Mr. Hadley twice described the Rumsfeld memo, written the day before last month’s elections, as a “laundry list,” he said Mr. Bush agrees that a change of course in Iraq is necessary.

“He’s said that. He has said publicly what Secretary Rumsfeld said, that things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough in Iraq,” Mr. Hadley told George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC’s “This Week.” “We have to make some changes. We need a new way forward in Iraq, and that’s what this policy review is all about.”

However, some Senate Democrats remain skeptical that Mr. Bush will embrace either the Iraq Study Group findings or the Rumsfeld memo.

“His stubbornness has continued,” said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat.

Mr. Levin, slated to lead the Senate Armed Services Committee when the Democrats assume Congress’ reins next month, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he doesn’t expect Mr. Bush to make significant changes without pressure from Democratic lawmakers.

“He’s not going to make admissions; he’s not capable of admitting mistakes,” he said. “The Democratic proposal is a modest one. It is not precipitous. It’s been characterized as cut and run. It is not.”

Added Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat: “Nothing has changed. [Mr. Bush] said he’ll continue to be flexible. But he hasn’t been flexible. He doesn’t listen. And that’s just a fact.”

“I don’t think he listens to Republicans and he doesn’t listen to Democrats. He listens only to the selected few around him who essentially cater to this ‘stay the course’ theory,” she said during an appearance on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Yesterday’s discussion sets the stage for a busy week for the president on Iraq policy. He meets today with the head of Iraq’s largest political party; tomorrow, confirmation hearings begin for Robert M. Gates, whom Mr. Bush has picked to succeed Mr. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon; and Wednesday, the Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, releases its report.

Still, Mr. Hadley said during his “Face the Nation” appearance that Mr. Bush will take the various recommendations into account and come up with a bipartisan plan for Iraq.

“He’s going to listen to the Baker-Hamilton report. He’s going to listen to the reviews that are being done by his agencies. He’s going to want to hear what Republicans and Democrats and the Congress think about. Then he’s going to pull it together in terms of a way forward in Iraq that hopefully will command support from Republicans, Democrats, the executive branch and the Congress.”

Mr. Bush did receive support from a pair of Republican senators who have often criticized him on Iraq.

“Our president is listening, learning, and he’s open to take a change in course,” Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, said during his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said that he continues to reject calls for a timetable for withdrawal.

“I reject any proposal coming out of the Congress, any commission, the Pentagon or any other source that sets a deadline or a timeline.” Mr. Graham told “Fox News Sunday” that a redeployment would embolden terrorists. “If we redeploy to a friendly nation under these circumstances, the terrorists will see that as retreat and defeat, and they will come after us in that friendly nation.”

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