WASHINGTON - President Bush spoke Saturday about parts of the Iraq Study Group report that mirror his policies — but he ignored the sections that criticize his administration's handling of the war.
In his weekly radio broadcast, Bush said the bipartisan group's report presented a straightforward picture of the "grave situation we face in Iraq." He said he was pleased the panel supported his goal of an Iraq that can govern, sustain and defend itself, even though that will take time. And he said he was glad the bipartisan panel did not suggest a hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
"The group declared that such a withdrawal would `almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence' and lead to `a significant power vacuum, greater human suffering, regional destabilization and a threat to the global economy,'" Bush said, quoting the report, which was issued Thursday.
"The report went on to say, `If we leave and Iraq descends into chaos, the long-range consequences could eventually require the United States to return,'" Bush noted.
The report, however, also said the situation in Iraq was "grave and deteriorating."
Bush is expected to settle on a new course for Iraq and present it to the nation in a speech before Christmas. He said he will consider the panel's 79 recommendations.
The president goes to the State Department for talks Monday, then meets in the Oval Office with independent experts on Iraq. On Tuesday, the president confers in a video conference with senior military commanders and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq. On Wednesday, he meets with senior defense officials at the Pentagon.
Democrats say the report vindicates their call for a change of course by the administration, but it's unclear how dramatic the changes the president is contemplating would be.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (news, bio, voting record), D-Texas, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the Iraq Study Group's report necessitates an immediate new direction in Iraq.
"Their report confirms what most of us have known for some time — President Bush's policy of stay the course is not working," Reyes said. "We need a new approach."
He said the Iraq Study Group recommends something that House and Senate Democrats have been advocating for months: To begin redeploying U.S. troops, the mission of the U.S. military must switch from combat to training and support.
"We must also demand more results from the Iraqi government, holding them accountable for their actions," Reyes said. "And we must launch a new diplomatic offensive to engage Iraq's neighbors and the international community in the process of stabilizing Iraq and that region. President Bush has not done this, but he must because our nation's security and the well-being of our 150,000 troops there depend on it."
Incoming Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois, who was among congressional leaders who met with Bush at the White House on Friday, said the president indicated he was open to changing tactics.
"I think we all understand tactics need to be changed, but the Iraq Study Group went further than tactics," Durbin said. "The Iraq Study Group talked about the new direction in Iraq in terms of starting to bring American troops home, redeploying them to safer places, holding Iraq to new standards of responsibility and opening up a new line of diplomacy."
Durbin said Bush didn't endorse the Iraq Study Group at the meeting and said the president's statements left him questioning whether Bush will support the panel's conclusions.