Today's presidential meeting on Iraq is with senior officials at the Pentagon, after which Bush will make a statement. The AP reports that "Bush has decided the general direction he wants to take U.S. policy on Iraq and has asked his staff to work out the details as he wraps up a highly public review of the war and its aims." An unnamed defense specialist tells the AP that "Bush is delaying making public his new Iraq policy plan in part to allow officials to work out the funding."
The Chicago Tribune writes that "strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to 'double down' in the country with a substantial buildup in American troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Muqtada Sadr… Military officials, including some advising the chiefs, have argued that an intensified effort may be the only way to get the counterinsurgency strategy right and provide a chance for victory."
Per the new Washington Post/ABC poll, "Nearly eight in 10 Americans favor changing the U.S. mission in Iraq from direct combat to training Iraqi troops... Sizeable majorities agree with the goal of pulling out nearly all U.S. combat forces by early 2008, engaging in direct talks with Iran and Syria and reducing U.S. financial support if Iraq fails to make enough progress" -- all recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. "The dichotomy between the public's support for the plan and the Washington establishment's ambivalence illustrates the complex political environment... A war-weary public appears hungry for ideas that would represent a major change, but political leaders remain uncertain whether the plan's proposals would improve the situation."
The new Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll "shows a disaffected public that has grown more sour about the [Iraq] conflict since September, with only about one in seven believing Bush's claim that the U.S. is winning." The poll also shows that by "better than 2-to-1 margins, the public supports two key recommendations" of the Iraq Study Group, the calls "for direct U.S. negotiations with Iran and Syria about the future of Iraq and possibly withholding economic and military support from the Iraqi government unless it makes progress on political reforms and national reconciliation." Almost two-thirds say that Iraq is in a civil war.
The Wall Street Journal looks at "high-profile dissent" among Republican moderates over Bush's approach. "The dynamic has been triggered by the pessimistic assessment... released by the Iraq Study Group last week. In ways unimaginable just a few months ago, the report from the bipartisan panel... is giving moderate Republicans political cover to condemn the handling of the war -- creating a dilemma for the president and war supporters such as Sen. John McCain," who "is the war's staunchest supporter outside the White House."
The Washington Times says of the delayed Iraq speech, "The expectation to complete a plan before the holidays is complicated by incoming Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who will not be sworn in... until Monday. Mr. Gates has said he plans to travel to Baghdad for a crash course about the situation on the ground in Iraq before making his own recommendations to the president."
"The delay means that if Bush opts for an increase in the number of troops in Iraq - now about 140,000 - as some experts have advocated, he will not unveil the plan until after the winter holidays," says the Los Angeles Times. "The postponement prompted a complaint from" incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who charged that since election day, "Bush has done nothing but remove [Rumsfeld] as secretary of Defense 'and conduct a listening tour.'"