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Bush Drops `Stay the Course' on Iraq to Emphasize Flexibility

Richard Keil and Demian McLean / Bloomberg | October 23 2006

The Bush administration has dropped the phrase ``stay the course'' from discussions about Iraq as a recent surge in violence has forced a change in tactics on the ground and renewed calls in the U.S. for a different approach to the conflict.

President George W. Bush remains committed to the goal of setting Iraq up to govern itself and take responsibility for quelling sectarian strife, Press Secretary Tony Snow said today. Because the administration is flexible about how to achieve those goals, he said, Bush is no longer talking about sticking to one approach.

``It left the wrong impression about what was going on,'' Snow said. ``And it allowed critics to say, `Well, here's an administration that's just embarked upon a policy of not looking at what the situation is,' when, in fact, it's just the opposite.''

Democrats have been repeating the phrase, which Bush has used in speeches and other remarks, in their criticism of the president's policy as they campaign overturn the Republican majority in Congress in the Nov. 7 election. The administration and congressional Republicans are countering by trying to reshape the debate on the war, which polls show is increasingly unpopular with the U.S. public.

Snow and White House Counselor Dan Bartlett stressed that the U.S. is being flexible while staying true to the president's overall strategy.

Flexibility

``It's never been a stay-the-course strategy,'' Bartlett said on CBS's ``Early Show,'' one of five morning news programs where he gave interviews today. ``Strategically, we think it's very important that we stay in Iraq and we win in Iraq.''

Snow also said the U.S. is pressing the Iraqi government to take more responsibility for quelling the sectarian and insurgent violence that has wracked the country, while declining to issue firm deadlines for achieving milestones.

``We're not in the business of issuing ultimatums,'' Snow said.

``This has always been a dynamic policy that is aimed at moving forward, at all times, on a number of fronts,'' he said. Bush hasn't used the phrase ``stay the course'' for at least two months, according to Snow.

Communications strategists working with House Republicans circulated a three-page memo today that advises candidates to stress those same points in their campaigns. It suggests Republicans highlight past statements by military and administration officials that show that the U.S. is adapting to changing military conditions and requiring Iraqi police and security forces to take a more prominent role in combating sectarian violence.

`Winning'

``Winning means helping the Iraqis achieve stability and security and doing it as quickly and effectively as possible in order to bring our troops home,'' the memo states in a section outlining suggested talking points for candidates. ``We continue to work with the Iraqis to do this.''

Bush is under increasing pressure to change his Iraq strategy as casualties mount more than three years after the U.S.-led invasion. At least 81 military personnel have been killed in action this month, the highest total since November 2004. Six soldiers and four Marines were killed since Oct. 21, the U.S. Army said in e-mailed statements.

An independent bipartisan commission established by Congress and headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton plans to make recommendations on U.S. policy in Iraq after the November election.

Britain's army chief, General Richard Dannatt, said Oct. 13 that U.K. soldiers in Iraq are in danger of exhaustion and that they should be withdrawn in ``a year or two or three.''

Election

Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent critic of the administration's Iraq policy, said a change in Congress may bring a change in Iraq.

The outcome of the election ``will determine if we have any chance of getting the administration off its absolutely, totally failed policy in Iraq,'' Biden said in a conference call with reporters.

Biden said that two Republican senators, who he refused to name, have given him private assurances that they will join a bipartisan effort to force a change in administration policy if Democrats make significant gains in the election.

Bush met two days ago with his military commanders to discuss strategy, after a security clampdown by U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad was met with a surge in sectarian violence.

Bush acknowledged the same day that the situation in Iraq remains difficult. ``As we engage our enemies in their stronghold, these enemies are putting up a tough fight,'' he said in his weekly radio address.

U.S. public optimism about the outlook for the war in Iraq has dropped to just 20 percent, compared with 45 percent in June, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll of 1,006 registered voters. The survey, published Oct. 19, had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

 

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