Bush's advisers adopt new tone on Iraq

Updated: 2006-11-13 08:59

WASHINGTON - Responding to a humbling election, White House aides said Sunday that President Bush would welcome new ideas about the unpopular war in Iraq, even from Democrats he had branded as soft on terrorism.

US President George W. Bush speaks during Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Bush suggested that a shift in his Iraq policy could be in the works, by praising his new defense secretary nominee as "an agent of change." [AFP]
As Bush planned to meet Monday with a key advisory group on the war, his advisers adopted a new tone, days after a dissatisfied public handed the White House a divided government.

"Full speed ahead" in Iraq, as Vice President Dick Cheney put it in the final days of the campaign, was replaced by repeated calls for a "fresh perspective" and an acknowledgment that "nobody can be happy" with the situation in Iraq.

"We clearly need a fresh approach," said Josh Bolten, Bush's chief of staff, making the rounds of morning talk shows.

Democrats, meanwhile, showed they were not all in accord on how to proceed in Iraq. Although party leaders back a multifaceted approach to stabilizing the country, lawmakers have not unified on when to bring troops home without risking more chaos in Iraq.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee, urged that US troops begin coming home in phases within four months to six months. He and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, predicted many Republicans would support such a resolution now that the election is over.

"We have to tell Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over," Levin said.

Yet the Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, did not seem to go as far. He said he thought the withdrawal of US troops should began within a few months, but when asked if he would insist on a specific date, he said, "Absolutely not."

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The administration will not support a timetable for drawing down troops, Bolten said.

"Nobody wants to get the troops out of there more than President Bush," he said. "But they need to be there to support the Iraqi government, to make sure that the Iraqi government succeeds. And as soon as we can get them out, we will."

As the war dominated the US political debate, there was more carnage in Iraq. Suicide bombs erupted in a crowd of police recruits in Baghdad, while Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rebuked lawmakers for putting party and sectarian loyalty ahead of Iraq's stability.

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