The New York Times says, per Administration officials, that the choice of new military commanders "was part of a broader effort to change almost all of the top American officials in Iraq as Mr. Bush changes his strategy there. 'The idea is to put the whole new team in at roughly the same time, and send some clear messages that we are trying a new approach,' a senior administration official said Thursday."
NBC's Andrea Mitchell provides some background on the civilian personnel changes Bush will announce today, noting that Bush's nominee to replace John Negroponte as director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, had turned down requests to replace Negroponte before. What changed? Primarily, he has told friends, the replacement of Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Rumsfeld had jousted with intelligence leaders over turf. New Defense Secretary Robert Gates and McConnell have worked together in the past and have a good relationship.
As for Negroponte's new job at the State Department, Mitchell says, the agency has been struggling for months without a top deputy for Condoleezza Rice. The problem became even worse this fall with the resignation of her top counselor. The changes come as Rice is about to undertake a major new diplomatic initiative in the Middle East and wants to be able to delegate more of the responsibility for North Korea and Iraq. Negroponte brings a strong diplomatic background and experience in both areas. While the White House denies any dissatisfaction with Negroponte's short tenure as director of national intelligence, privately, some have said he wasn't a good enough bureaucratic infighter against Rumsfeld and never fulfilled their hopes for a more streamlined intelligence operation.
The Wall Street Journal says the troop surge will be "as many as 20,000." "The administration's emerging Iraq strategy, which it is calling 'The New Way Forward,' will also include an effort to funnel U.S. money to moderate Iraqi political parties as a means of building a centrist political coalition to support Mr. Maliki, according to people familiar with the matter."
The Washington Post on the expected troop surge: "The U.S. military is increasingly resigned to the probability that Bush will deploy a relatively small number of additional troops -- between one and five brigades -- in part because he has few other dramatic options available to signal U.S. determination in Iraq, officials said. But the Joint Chiefs have not given up making the case that the potential dangers outweigh the benefits for several reasons."
Further illustrating the splits in the Democratic party over Iraq, new Senate Armed Services chair Carl Levin said yesterday that a temporary surge in troops, with concrete conditions, is "worthy of consideration," NBC's Ken Strickland reports. Repeating what he'd told the New York Times earlier, Levin said that "a temporary surge that's part of an announced drawdown of troops below the current level starting in 4-6 months," with "milestones for a political settlement which are announced and must be met before the surge begins,... would be worthy of consideration."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair and presidential candidate Joe Biden (D) tells the Washington Post in an interview that "he believes top officials in the Bush administration have privately concluded they have lost Iraq and are simply trying to postpone disaster so the next president will 'be the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof,' in a chaotic withdrawal reminiscent of Vietnam." Biden appears on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday.
Looking at recent public polls in his National Journal column, NBC political analyst Charlie Cook writes that if Bush calls for a surge of troops in Iraq, "he'll find himself standing on exceedingly thin ice... Obviously, the situation is bad for Bush. But it is also awkward for Democrats. Voters expressed displeasure with the war, yet haven't amended the Constitution. The president remains commander-in-chief."
A new Pew Hispanic Center poll finds that two in three Hispanics want to bring home troops from Iraq as soon as possible, the Houston Chronicle writes. "It shows a marked, negative shift in the Hispanic population's perspective on the war, even among those born here, who were traditionally more supportive."
"House Democrats have drawn up sweeping legislation that would authorize billions of additional dollars to screen all cargo bound for the United States, purchase new screening technology for airline passengers, and dramatically expand efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world," the Boston Globe has learned. "But while the Democratic initiatives have attracted some Republican support, conservative think tanks have warned about the budgetary implications of creating large programs that may not achieve their goals."