Bush admits US losing in Iraq


Richard Moore

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U.S. Not Winning War in Iraq, Bush Says for 1st Time

President Plans to Expand Army, Marine Corps To Cope With Strain of Multiple 

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; A01

President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States 
is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of 
the "stressed" U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global 
struggle against terrorists.

As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has now adopted the formula 
advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. "We're not 
winning, we're not losing," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. 
The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the 
November elections, declared, "Absolutely, we're winning."

In another turnaround, Bush said he has ordered Defense Secretary Robert M. 
Gates to develop a plan to increase the troop strength of the Army and Marine 
Corps, heeding warnings from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill that multiple 
deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are stretching the armed forces toward the 
breaking point. "We need to reset our military," said Bush, whose administration
had opposed increasing force levels as recently as this summer.

But in a wide-ranging session in the Oval Office, the president said he 
interpreted the Democratic election victories six weeks ago not as a mandate to 
bring the U.S. involvement in Iraq to an end but as a call to find new ways to 
make the mission there succeed. He confirmed that he is considering a short-term
surge in troops in Iraq, an option that top generals have resisted out of 
concern that it would not help.

A substantial military expansion will take years and would not immediately 
affect the war in Iraq. But it would begin to address the growing alarm among 
commanders about the state of the armed forces. Although the president offered 
no specifics, other U.S. officials said the administration is preparing plans to
bolster the nation's permanent active-duty military with as many as 70,000 
additional troops.

A force structure expansion would accelerate the already-rising costs of war. 
The administration is drafting a supplemental request for more than $100 billion
in additional funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on top of the $70 
billion already approved for this fiscal year, according to U.S. officials. That
would be over 50 percent more than originally projected for fiscal 2007, making 
it by far the costliest year since the 2003 invasion.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has approved more than $500 
billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for terrorism-related 
operations elsewhere. An additional $100 billion would bring overall 
expenditures to $600 billion, exceeding those for the Vietnam War, which, 
adjusted for inflation, cost $549 billion, according to the Congressional 
Research Service.

For all the money, commanders have grown increasingly alarmed about the burden 
of long deployments and the military's ability to handle a variety of threats 
around the world simultaneously. Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of 
staff, warned Congress last week that the active-duty Army "will break" under 
the strain of today's war-zone rotations. Former secretary of state Colin L. 
Powell, a retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on CBS News's 
"Face the Nation" on Sunday that "the active Army is about broken."

Democrats have been calling for additional troops for years. Sen. John F. Kerry 
(D-Mass.) proposed an increase of 40,000 troops during his 2004 campaign against
Bush, only to be dismissed by the administration. As recently as June, the Bush 
administration opposed adding more troops because restructuring "is enabling our
military to get more war-fighting capability from current end strength."

But Bush yesterday had changed his mind. "I'm inclined to believe that we do 
need to increase our troops -- the Army, the Marines," he said. "And I talked 
about this to Secretary Gates, and he is going to spend some time talking to the
folks in the building, come back with a recommendation to me about how to 
proceed forward on this idea."

In describing his decision, Bush tied it to the broader struggle against Islamic
extremists around the world rather than to Iraq specifically. "It is an accurate
reflection that this ideological war we're in is going to last for a while and 
that we're going to need a military that's capable of being able to sustain our 
efforts and to help us achieve peace," he said.

Bush chose a different term than Powell. "I haven't heard the word 'broken,' " 
he said, "but I've heard the word, 'stressed.' . . . We need to reset our 
military. There's no question the military has been used a lot. And the 
fundamental question is, 'Will Republicans and Democrats be able to work with 
the administration to assure our military and the American people that we will 
position our military so that it is ready and able to stay engaged in a long 
war?' "

Democrats pounced on Bush's comments. "I am glad he has realized the need for 
increasing the size of the armed forces . . . but this is where the Democrats 
have been for two years," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the new House 
Democratic Caucus chairman. Kerry issued a statement calling Bush's move a 
"pragmatic step needed to deal with the warnings of a broken military," but he 
noted that he opposes increasing troops in Iraq. Even before news of Bush's 
interview, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), incoming chairman of the House Armed 
Services Committee, told reporters that the military is "bleeding" and "we have 
to apply the tourniquet and strengthen the forces."

The Army has already temporarily increased its force level from 482,000 
active-duty soldiers in 2001 to 507,000 today and soon to 512,000. But the Army 
wants to make that 30,000-soldier increase permanent and then add between 20,000
and 40,000 more on top of that, according to military and civilian officials, 
who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Every additional 10,000 soldiers would 
cost about $1.2 billion a year, according to the Army. Because recruitment and 
training take time, officials cautioned that any boost would not be felt in a 
significant way until at least 2008.

Bush, who has always said that the United States is headed for victory in Iraq, 
conceded yesterday what Gates, Powell and most Americans in polls have already 
concluded. "An interesting construct that General Pace uses is, 'We're not 
winning, we're not losing,' " Bush said, referring to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, 
the Joint Chiefs chairman, who was spotted near the Oval Office before the 
interview. "There's been some very positive developments. . . . [But] obviously 
the real problem we face is the sectarian violence that needs to be dealt with."

Asked yesterday about his "absolutely, we're winning" comment at an Oct. 25 news
conference, the president recast it as a prediction rather than an assessment. 
"Yes, that was an indication of my belief we're going to win," he said.

Bush said he has not yet made a decision about a new strategy for Iraq and would
wait for Gates to return from a trip there to assess the situation. "I need to 
talk to him when he gets back," Bush said. "I've got more consultations to do 
with the national security team, which will be consulting with other folks. And 
I'm going to take my time to make sure that the policy, when it comes out, the 
American people will see that we . . . have got a new way forward."

Among the options under review by the White House is sending 15,000 to 30,000 
more troops to Iraq for six to eight months. The idea has the support of 
important figures such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and has been pushed by some
inside the White House, but the Joint Chiefs have balked because they think 
advocates have not adequately defined the mission, according to U.S. officials.

The chiefs have warned that a short-term surge could lead to more attacks 
against U.S. troops, according to the officials, who described the review on the
condition of anonymity because it is not complete. Bush would not discuss such 
ideas in detail but said "all options are viable."

While top commanders question the value of a surge, they have begun taking moves
that could prepare for one, should Bush order it. Defense officials said 
yesterday that the U.S. Central Command has made two separate requests to Gates 
for additional forces in the Middle East, including an Army brigade of about 
3,000 troops to be used as a reserve force in Kuwait and a second Navy carrier 
strike group to move to the Persian Gulf.

Gates has yet to approve the moves, which could increase U.S. forces in the 
region by as many as 10,000 troops, officials said. The previous theater reserve
force, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was recently moved to Iraq's Anbar 
province to help quell insurgent violence. Gen. George W. Casey, the U.S. 
commander in Iraq, has called for the additional brigade -- likely the 2nd 
Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division -- to be positioned to move into Iraq hotspots 
if needed.

The additional carrier strike group would give Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of the
Central Command, more flexibility in a volatile region, said one official. While
such a move would certainly send a pointed message to Iran, the official said it
would also allow additional strike capabilities in Iraq.

Staff writers Robin Wright, Lori Montgomery, Josh White, Ann Scott Tyson, 
Michael Abramowitz and Walter Pincus contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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