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Archive for December, 2006

Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq


Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. “I don’t think I would have gone to war,” he said a little more than a year after President Bush had launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford’s own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford “very strongly” disagreed with the current president’s justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney — Ford’s White House chief of staff — and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford’s chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

“Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,” Ford said. “And now, I’ve never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.”

In a conversation that veered between the current realities of a war in the Middle East and the old complexities of the war in Vietnam whose bitter end he presided over as president, Ford took issue with the notion of the United States entering a conflict in service of the idea of spreading democracy.

“Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people,” Ford said, referring to Bush’s assertion that the United States has a “duty to free people.” But the former president said he was skeptical “whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what’s in our national interest.” He added: “And I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.”

The Ford interview — and a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005 — took place for a future book project, though he said his comments could be published at any time after his death. In the sessions, Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with key Bush advisers Cheney and Rumsfeld while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.

“He was an excellent chief of staff. First class,” Ford said. “But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious” as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell’s assertion that Cheney developed a “fever” about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. “I think that’s probably true.”

Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. “I don’t think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly,” he said, “I don’t think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.”

Ford had faced his own military crisis — not a war he started like Bush, but one he had to figure out how to end. In many ways those decisions framed his short presidency — in the difficult calculations about how to pull out of Vietnam and the challenging players who shaped policy on the war. Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was “the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew.”

“I think he was a super secretary of state,” Ford said, “but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend.”

In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. “Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood,” Ford said. “Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period.” But Ford viewed Kissinger’s dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration’s ability to fully air policy debates. “They were supposed to check on one another.”

That same year, Ford also decided to fire Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger and replace him with Rumsfeld, who was then Ford’s White House chief of staff. Ford recalled that he then used that decision to go to Kissinger and say, “I’m making a change at the secretary of defense, and I expect you to be a team player and work with me on this” by giving up the post of security adviser.

Kissinger was not happy. “Mr. President, the press will misunderstand this,” Ford recalled Kissinger telling him. “They’ll write that I’m being demoted by taking away half of my job.” But Ford made the changes, elevating the deputy national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to take Kissinger’s White House post.

Throughout this maneuvering, Ford said, he kept his White House chief of staff in the dark. “I didn’t consult with Rumsfeld. And knowing Don, he probably resented the fact that I didn’t get his advice, which I didn’t,” Ford said. “I made the decision on my own.”

Kissinger remained a challenge for Ford. He regularly threatened to resign, the former president recalled. “Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell. Monday morning he would come in and say, ‘I’m offering my resignation.’ Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. ‘Now, Henry, you’ve got the nation’s future in your hands and you can’t leave us now.’ Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew.”

Ford added, “Any criticism in the press drove him crazy.” Kissinger would come in and say: “I’ve got to resign. I can’t stand this kind of unfair criticism.” Such threats were routine, Ford said. “I often thought, maybe I should say: ‘Okay, Henry. Goodbye,’ ” Ford said, laughing. “But I never got around to that.”

At one point, Ford recalled Kissinger, his chief Vietnam policymaker, as “coy.” Then he added, Kissinger is a “wonderful person. Dear friend. First-class secretary of state. But Henry always protected his own flanks.”

Ford was also critical of his own actions during the interviews. He recalled, for example, his unsuccessful 1976 campaign to remain in office, when he was under enormous pressure to dump Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller from the Republican ticket. Some polls at the time showed that up to 25 percent of Republicans, especially those from the South, would not vote for Ford if Rockefeller, a New Yorker from the liberal wing of the Republican Party, was on the ticket.

When Rockefeller offered to be dropped from the ticket, Ford took him up on it. But he later regretted it. The decision to dump the loyal Rockefeller, he said, was “an act of cowardice on my part.”

In the end, though, it was Vietnam and the legacy of the retreat he presided over that troubled Ford. After Saigon fell in 1975 and the United States evacuated from Vietnam, Ford was often labeled the only American president to lose a war. The label always rankled.

“Well,” he said, “I was mad as hell, to be honest with you, but I never publicly admitted it.”

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In the latest Evans-Novak Political Report, conservative columnist Robert Novak suggests that Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) “aggressive” push for a U.S. troop expansion – or “surge” – in Iraq may be costing the top 2008 GOP contender in the polls, especially when matched against another presumed front-runner, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY).

“The decline in the polls of [McCain], as measured against [Clinton], reflects more than declining Republican popularity nationally in the weeks after the election,” writes Novak in his exclusive report. “It connotes public disenchantment with McCain’s aggressive advocacy of a ‘surge’ of up to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq.”

One recent poll shows Clinton – who hasn’t confirmed her intent to run for president yet – pulling ahead of McCain, who recently launched his own exploratory committee website. According to the Newsweek poll, voters with their choices limited to just the pair, prefer Clinton by seven percent (Clinton earned 50% to McCain’s 43%, with 7% opting for “undecided, other”).

Novak warns that unless the expanded U.S. force in Iraq yields quick results, “President George W. Bush’s determination to put more boots on the ground is feared by Republicans as another political burden to bear.”

Yet McCain presses on, despite “the American public’s growing impatience for the end of the war,” Holly Bailey wrote for Newsweek two weeks ago.

Republicans “are growing unhappy with the war,” Bailey reported, including voters in critical states such as South Carolina, where McCain lost to Bush in the 2000 GOP primaries, which essentially marked the end of his last presidential bid.

“Even in conservative New Hampshire,” Bailey adds, citing a state poll, “38 percent of voters now support bringing troops ‘home ASAP.'”

“People are wondering how long this is going to go on,” a Republican Columbia, South Carolina committeeman told Newsweek. “I don’t think a proposal like [a troop surge] is going to get McCain any votes down here.”

But Bailey concluded that, despite unfavorable signs, “some members of McCain’s inner circle are convinced the position could actually work to his advantage, reminding independents of the maverick they fell in love with in 2000.”

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that McCain’s troop push was “personal.”

“John McCain’s public certainty about Iraq masks a more private and potentially wrenching connection,” Elizabeth Williamson wrote. “If more troops go there, as McCain hopes they will, his youngest son could be one of them, taking his place in a line of family warriors that is one of the longest in U.S. history.”

Earlier today, the 2004 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, former Senator John Edwards, stepped into the race, as Raw Story reported, one day earlier than expected due to an Internet mix-up.

Also, Novak’s latest column claimed that freshman Democratic Senator Barack Obama had made up his mind, as well, and would run for certain in 2008, now that security fears based on his race had been “dismissed as a problem.”

Novak added that the Illinois senator’s “strength” was partly responsible for Clinton’s recent statements that she would have opposed the invasion of Iraq, if she had full knowledge of the information which came to light afterwards. Edwards has gone even further, and apologized for his vote to support the resolution in 2002.

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Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq


Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. “I don’t think I would have gone to war,” he said a little more than a year after President Bush had launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford’s own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford “very strongly” disagreed with the current president’s justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney — Ford’s White House chief of staff — and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford’s chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

“Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,” Ford said. “And now, I’ve never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.”

In a conversation that veered between the current realities of a war in the Middle East and the old complexities of the war in Vietnam whose bitter end he presided over as president, Ford took issue with the notion of the United States entering a conflict in service of the idea of spreading democracy.

“Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people,” Ford said, referring to Bush’s assertion that the United States has a “duty to free people.” But the former president said he was skeptical “whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what’s in our national interest.” He added: “And I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.”

The Ford interview — and a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005 — took place for a future book project, though he said his comments could be published at any time after his death. In the sessions, Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with key Bush advisers Cheney and Rumsfeld while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.

“He was an excellent chief of staff. First class,” Ford said. “But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious” as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell’s assertion that Cheney developed a “fever” about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. “I think that’s probably true.”

Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. “I don’t think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly,” he said, “I don’t think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.”

Ford had faced his own military crisis — not a war he started like Bush, but one he had to figure out how to end. In many ways those decisions framed his short presidency — in the difficult calculations about how to pull out of Vietnam and the challenging players who shaped policy on the war. Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was “the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew.”

“I think he was a super secretary of state,” Ford said, “but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend.”

In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. “Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood,” Ford said. “Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period.” But Ford viewed Kissinger’s dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration’s ability to fully air policy debates. “They were supposed to check on one another.”

That same year, Ford also decided to fire Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger and replace him with Rumsfeld, who was then Ford’s White House chief of staff. Ford recalled that he then used that decision to go to Kissinger and say, “I’m making a change at the secretary of defense, and I expect you to be a team player and work with me on this” by giving up the post of security adviser.

Kissinger was not happy. “Mr. President, the press will misunderstand this,” Ford recalled Kissinger telling him. “They’ll write that I’m being demoted by taking away half of my job.” But Ford made the changes, elevating the deputy national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to take Kissinger’s White House post.

Throughout this maneuvering, Ford said, he kept his White House chief of staff in the dark. “I didn’t consult with Rumsfeld. And knowing Don, he probably resented the fact that I didn’t get his advice, which I didn’t,” Ford said. “I made the decision on my own.”

Kissinger remained a challenge for Ford. He regularly threatened to resign, the former president recalled. “Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell. Monday morning he would come in and say, ‘I’m offering my resignation.’ Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. ‘Now, Henry, you’ve got the nation’s future in your hands and you can’t leave us now.’ Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew.”

Ford added, “Any criticism in the press drove him crazy.” Kissinger would come in and say: “I’ve got to resign. I can’t stand this kind of unfair criticism.” Such threats were routine, Ford said. “I often thought, maybe I should say: ‘Okay, Henry. Goodbye,’ ” Ford said, laughing. “But I never got around to that.”

At one point, Ford recalled Kissinger, his chief Vietnam policymaker, as “coy.” Then he added, Kissinger is a “wonderful person. Dear friend. First-class secretary of state. But Henry always protected his own flanks.”

Ford was also critical of his own actions during the interviews. He recalled, for example, his unsuccessful 1976 campaign to remain in office, when he was under enormous pressure to dump Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller from the Republican ticket. Some polls at the time showed that up to 25 percent of Republicans, especially those from the South, would not vote for Ford if Rockefeller, a New Yorker from the liberal wing of the Republican Party, was on the ticket.

When Rockefeller offered to be dropped from the ticket, Ford took him up on it. But he later regretted it. The decision to dump the loyal Rockefeller, he said, was “an act of cowardice on my part.”

In the end, though, it was Vietnam and the legacy of the retreat he presided over that troubled Ford. After Saigon fell in 1975 and the United States evacuated from Vietnam, Ford was often labeled the only American president to lose a war. The label always rankled.

“Well,” he said, “I was mad as hell, to be honest with you, but I never publicly admitted it.”

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Long-rumored shuffle of generals expected

A shuffle of top American generals in Iraq is likely to accompany the shift in U.S. policy that President Bush is considering.

Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to go ahead with a retirement that is months overdue, according to the U.S. Central Command.

And the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, has indicated in recent months that he also may not stay much longer than the end of this year.

Since they have opposed sending more troops to Iraq, their departures could make it easier for Bush and his new Defense Secretary Robert Gates to switch course in the troubled campaign, where they are considering a short-term surge in forces.

Abizaid’s three-year tour as commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East was to have ended last July, but he agreed to stay until early 2007 at the request of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said a Central Command statement from Tampa, Fla.

The changes, both rumored before Rumsfeld’s announced resignation and Gates’ nomination, would allow Gates to choose his own commanders for Iraq, the issue he has said will be his top priority as secretary.

Abizaid, long considered a voice of candor, told a Senate committee last month that the number of troops deployed to Iraq should not increased or decreased sharply. Instead, the U.S. should focus on accelerating the training of Iraqi forces so they can be pushed front and center into battle, he said.

His remarks provided no help to lawmakers hoping for big changes in Iraq policy following elections in which Democrats were handed control of Congress by Americans angry over the course of the war.

The opposition to a bigger force in Iraq now also appears to be out of step with the White House, which says it is considering sending more U.S. troops to try to get spiraling violence under control.

Abizaid and other generals worry that sending thousands of additional troops temporarily to Iraq could be ineffective without bold new political and economic steps. And they fear the effect it could have on an already overstretched Army and Marine Corps — the two services bearing the brunt of the work in Iraq.

Casey has been mentioned as a possible choice for Army chief of staff or to replace Abizaid at Central Command.

Others that could be affected in a shuffle include:

• Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who led the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 Iraq invasion and later headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. He most recently oversaw the rewriting of the Army and Marine field manual for counterinsurgencies.

• Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who last week finished his tour as the No. 2 general in Iraq, as commander of the multinational forces there.

• Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, also a former division commander in Iraq and now head of the Iraq training effort.

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U.S. ready to send 3,500 troops: sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is expected to send 3,500 troops into Kuwait to stand ready for use in Iraq, senior defense officials said on Tuesday as the Bush administration weighs adjusting force levels in the war.

The “call-forward” force was requested by Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of the military command responsible for the Middle East, and must be approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

According to one official, Abizaid’s request came before Gates’ fact-finding trip last week to Iraq to assess possible alternative strategies in a war that he and
President George W. Bush say America is not winning.

Options for changing course in the war include a short-term increase, or “surge,” of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The U.S. force level there now stands at 134,000.

“If we’re going to surge, this makes sense,” the official on Tuesday.

Gates questioned U.S. commanders last week about the possibility of a surge and what it might accomplish. He has given little hint of his thoughts on the concept, but said generals in the war zone worry an increase in U.S. forces could allow Iraqis to delay taking responsibility for security.

“I think that any time that you look at adjusting the troop strengths, the coalition troop strengths, you have to consider the impact that that has on the populace, to the extent that it benefits the security situation and at the same time has a negative impact on the Iraqi people given that you are still an occupying force in a sovereign nation,” said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman about Gates’ consideration of more troops.

“There’s a tension there that you have to be cognizant of and finding the right balance is important and I think that’s what our commanders have always emphasized and I’m sure that they relayed to the secretary in their discussions,” Whitman said.

Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not know if Gates had yet approved the deployment of the standby force, but said the announcement was expected as early as Wednesday.

The unit likely would come from Fort Bragg and fill a reserve slot that has been empty since commanders moved the previous call-forward force into the war zone earlier this year, that official said.

The troops could be in place in Kuwait by mid-January.

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Waxman sets sights on ‘very long list’


Bush administration, war contractors likely to be among Democrat’s targets

WASHINGTON — Bald, mustachioed, 5-foot-5, the Hollywood congressman who’d rather watch the Academy Awards at home than mingle with the stars, Henry Waxman is hardly a fearsome or famous figure to most of America.

But Time magazine recently dubbed the California Democrat “The Scariest Guy in Town.”

With his political party taking control of Congress, the incoming chairman of the House Government Reform Committee has subpoena power to probe the Bush administration or just about anything else that strikes his investigative fancy.

The soft-spoken son of a Jewish grocer, Waxman grew up over the family store in Watts. During more than three decades in Congress, he has relished putting powerful people — from baseball sluggers accused of taking steroids to tobacco company officials who claimed nicotine wasn’t addictive — on the committee witness chair.

He has been called “the Eliot Ness of the Democrats” by Nation magazine, and aims to go after the Republican administration with zeal over the coming two years.

“The most difficult thing will be to pick and choose” what to investigate, Waxman told reporters after the November elections.

“He’s got a very long list,” said Norman Ornstein, a congressional analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank. “I’m sure he’s going back to the contracting mess (in Iraq and Afghanistan and post-Katrina), Halliburton and others. And not just contractors.”

Waxman also will be examining the role of the federal government, from the Defense Department to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and grilling the officials who greased the deals with contractors, Ornstein predicted.

“Henry is not afraid to go after anyone,” said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., his predecessor as chairman of the committee. “He’s going to be very aggressive.”

When parties collide

When one party controls the House and the other controls the executive branch, the Government Reform Committee is historically more eager to exercise its oversight powers, Davis said.

When Indiana Republican Dan Burton was chairman, for instance, the committee was relentless in its investigations of the Clinton administration.

But Waxman’s successful relationship with Davis shows that neither is as partisan as often painted, said Ornstein.

“Does Henry have strong liberal views? Yes. Can he be a tough-as-nails partisan? Absolutely,” said Ornstein. “But I don’t think he’s going to come in as some sort of avenging angel taking a meat ax to his political adversaries.”

Community connections

When the new Congress convenes in January, the 67-year-old Waxman will begin his 17th term representing Los Angeles’ West Side, a district that includes the famed Beverly Hills 90210 ZIP code, the shops of Rodeo Drive, the movie studios of Hollywood and the ritzy neighborhoods of Malibu and Bel Air.

The district also holds California’s largest Jewish community. Re-elections have come easily for an unabashedly liberal congressman who keeps kosher.

Despite long fundraising ties with the entertainment industry, glitzy he is not. Waxman takes pride in having never attended the Academy Awards. At first he wasn’t invited, but now it is part of his shtick.

“It’s such a long night,” he told Time. “When I watch it on TV, I can get a snack.”

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Bush in Texas to rethink Iraq course

CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush went to his ranch Tuesday to rethink U.S. involvement in Iraq as his spokesman hailed a Baghdad court’s decision upholding the death sentence for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Saddam, who was deposed by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, is to be hanged within 30 days.

“Today marks an important milestone in the Iraqi people’s efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law,” deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel told reporters aboard Air Force One to Texas, where Bush was to meet this week with his national security team.

Iraq’s highest appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Nov. 5 sentence against Saddam for ordering the killing of 148 Shiites in Dujail in 1982, following an attempt on his life. Chief Judge Aref Shahin said the sentence must be implemented within 30 days, and could be carried out as early as Wednesday.

“Saddam Hussein has received due process and legal rights that he denied the Iraqi people for so long, so this is an important day for the Iraqi people,” Stanzel said.

Bush, saddled with low approval ratings for his handling of Iraq, will host a National Security Council meeting on Thursday at the ranch, but is not expected to make any final decision on what he says will be a new way forward in Iraq.

Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley will attend the meeting.

Stanzel said there could be other National Security Council meetings before the president makes up his mind and delivers a speech to announce his decisions. The speech is expected before the State of the Union address on Jan. 23.

Bush is under mounting pressure to change U.S. involvement in Iraq where violence continued to escalate this month.

On Tuesday, the U.S. military reported that seven more American soldiers had died, pushing the U.S. military death toll for the month to 90. With five days remaining in the month, December is already the second deadliest month for the U.S. military this year, behind the 105 soldiers killed in October.

The latest deaths also brought the number of U.S. military members killed since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 2,978 — five more than the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Stanzel said Bush continues to question advisers and think through the consequences of various U.S. actions. “Our forces, coalition forces in Iraq are continuing to take the fight to the enemy, and the president will announce a new way forward when he’s comfortable” with his decision, he said.

When the president arrived in Texas, about 50 well-wishers, squinting in the sunshine, welcomed him as he walked down the steps of the plane with Mrs. Bush and her mother, Jenna Welch. The president spent the Christmas holiday with his family at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

Mrs. Bush gave the president a new blue suit, biking shoes and country singer Sam Moore’s CD titled “Overnight Sensational.” He gave her amber-colored citrine earrings to match the triple-strand citrine necklace he gave her for her birthday.

As part of a family gift name drawing, the Bushes donated mosquito nets in the name of former President George H.W. Bush through Malarianomore.org, a mission set up to urge individuals, organizations and institutions to protect families from malaria.

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Biden vows to fight any Iraq troop boost

WASHINGTON – Sen. Joseph Biden, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he will fight President Bush if the administration decides to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.

Biden, who has his eye on the Democratic presidential nomination, also warned that if congressional Republicans do not join him in speaking out against Bush that they — not Democrats — will suffer in the 2008 elections.

“I just think it’s the absolute wrong strategy,” Biden said Tuesday of an increase in troops.

Bush is scrubbing his options in Iraq, after Republicans lost control of Congress in the Nov. 7 elections and an independent bipartisan panel determined Bush’s plan was dangerously off track. The Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, concluded that the U.S. could pull combat troops out of Iraq by early next year. The few troops left behind would be tasked with advising Iraqi units.

While administration officials say all options remain on the table pending Bush’s final decision to be announced next month, a surge of up to 30,000 troops is widely considered a favored option by Bush.

Biden said he is interested in the study group’s findings and wants to hold a series of hearings on Iraq beginning Jan. 9. Biden said he has asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify and she has agreed; the timing of Rice’s testimony, however, is not decided. Rice said she would come to Capitol Hill after Bush announces his new plan in Iraq.

In a conference call with reporters, Biden said the purpose of the hearings would be to generate a bipartisan consensus among lawmakers on Iraq and pressure the president to abandon any talk of surging U.S. forces into Baghdad.

“Even with the surge of troops, in a city of 6 million people you’re talking about a ratio that would still be roughly above one to 100,” Biden said. “It’s bound to draw down support that we need in other parts of Iraq, including Anbar province.”

Biden, taking advantage of the quiet holiday week to generate media attention by holding a telephone press conference and appearing on CBS’ “The Early Show,” said he thinks Republicans will have more to lose in 2008 than Democrats if the violence in Iraq continues and U.S. troops remain committed in such large numbers. There are currently an estimated 140,000 troops in Iraq.

“I think we’ll only have to accept responsibility for the war if we remain silent,” said Biden, who has spoken candidly of his desire to run for president and has made repeated visits in the past year to early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Biden said he delivered this message in a recent meeting at the White House, where he told Bush: “Mr. President this is your war.”

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Bush is bracing for new scrutiny

White House hiring lawyers in expectation of Democratic probes

WASHINGTON- President Bush is bracing for what could be an onslaught of investigations by the new Democratic-led Congress by hiring lawyers to fill key White House posts and preparing to play defense on countless document requests and possible subpoenas.

Bush is moving quickly to fill vacancies within his stable of lawyers, though White House officials say there are no plans to drastically expand the legal staff to deal with a flood of oversight.

“No, at this point, no,” Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said recently. “We’ll have to see what happens.”

Snow rebutted the notion that Bush is casting about for legal advice in the wake of his party’s loss of control of the Congress.

“We don’t have a war room set up where we’re … dialing the 800 numbers of law firms,” he said.

Still, in the days after the elections, the White House announced that Bush had hired two replacements to plug holes in his counsel’s office, including one lawyer, Christopher G. Oprison, who is a specialist in handling white-collar investigations. A third hire was securities law specialist Paul R. Eckert, whose duties include dealing with the Office of the Special Counsel. Bush is in the process of hiring a fourth associate counsel, said Emily A. Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman.

“Obviously, if we do have investigations, we’ll have to make sure we have enough people to be prepared to answer questions that come our way,” Lawrimore said. “As of right now, I wouldn’t say it’s anything special.”

Republicans close to Bush say any such moves would not come until the White House sees how aggressive Democrats are in trying to pry the lid off the inner workings of the administration.

“They just think it’s inevitable that there will be some investigations that will tie up some time and attention,” said Charles Black, a strategist with close ties to the White House. But there’s no panic in the ranks of Bush’s team, he added. “They don’t think they have anything to hide.”

Bush still must do what he can now — before Democrats take over the majority in Congress next month — to prepare, legal specialists say.

“At a time like this, the experienced people in the White House view themselves as in a race they hope to win, of organizing and coordinating their defenses to have them in place in time to slow down or resist oversight before the oversight can get organized,” said Charles Tiefer of the University of Baltimore Law School, a former House counsel and veteran of congressional investigations.

People familiar with the counsel’s office caution against reading too much into the new additions, saying that Bush has yet to go on a hiring spree akin to President Bill Clinton’s when he faced impeachment. But White House officials know of the potential challenges, they said.

“It’s certainly not lost on them that there will be more investigative requests and more things for them to respond to, but I don’t think that you’re going to see any dramatic changes,” said Reginald Brown, a former associate in Bush’s White House counsel’s office who is now in private practice.

Democrats’ stated intention to conduct more rigorous oversight of the Bush administration “simply will mean that [White House officials] need a few more people to manage the paper flow,” Brown said.

Veterans of investigative battles between the White House and Congress predict that Bush ultimately will need to add staff members — or at least borrow some from government agencies — to contend with Democrats with subpoena power on Capitol Hill.

“Like any White House that has to deal with a Congress run by the other party, this White House has to bulk up its staff to deal with the inevitable flood of subpoenas. They’re also going to have to coordinate with lots of friends and supporters,” said Mark Corallo, a former top Republican aide to the House committee that issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to the Clinton camp.

Corallo and Barbara Comstock, another Republican public-relations executive with broad experience in Hill investigations, are launching a crisis-communications firm to serve officials and corporations who, Corallo said, could end up as “drive-by victims” in a new round of probes.

Snow said the firm is “certainly independent of the White House.”

Republican lobbyist David M. Carmen has added an oversight practice to his firm’s menu of services, tapping Frank Silbey, a veteran of congressional investigations, to minister to companies and public figures caught in the web of expected probes.

Democrats are reluctant to reveal their investigative plans, but they have made it plain that they want to conduct more oversight of the Bush administration.

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7 Americans killed in Iraq; 90 in Dec.

BAGHDAD, Iraq – At least 54 Iraqis died Tuesday in bombings, officials said, including a coordinated strike that killed 25 in western Baghdad. Separately, the U.S. military announced the deaths of seven American soldiers, raising the death toll significantly in one of the bloodiest months for the military this year.

The three coordinated car bombs in western Baghdad injured at least 55 people, a doctor at Yarmouk hospital, where the victims were taken, said on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. The attacks occurred in a mixed Sunni and Shiite neighborhood.

In other attacks, a car bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in northern Baghdad at the beginning of the evening rush hour, killing 17 people and wounding 35, a doctor at Al-Nuaman hospital said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A bomb also exploded in a central Baghdad market, killing four people and wounding 15, police said. Two roadside bombs targeted an Iraqi police patrol in an eastern neighborhood of the capital, killing four policemen and injuring 12 people.

In Kirkuk, 180 miles north of the Iraqi capital, a roadside bomb killed three civilians — including an 8-year-old girl — and wounded six other people, police said.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, said seven more American soldiers had died, pushing the U.S. military death toll for the month to 90. With five days remaining in the month, December is already the second deadliest month for the U.S. military this year, behind the 105 soldiers killed in October.

In Washington, White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott Stanzel said Tuesday that President Bush grieves for each member of the armed forces who has died.

“The war on terror is going to be a long struggle,” he said. “We will be fighting violent jihadists for the peace and security of the civilized world for many years to come.”

The latest deaths also brought the number of U.S. military members killed since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 2,978 — five more than the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

President Bush has said the Iraq war is part of the United States’ post-Sept. 11 approach to threats abroad. Going on the offense against enemies before they could harm Americans meant removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, pursuing members of al-Qaida and seeking Saddam Hussein’s ouster in Iraq, Bush has said.

There has been no direct evidence of links between Saddam’s regime and the Sept. 11 attacks. Democratic leaders have said the Bush administration has gotten the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, detracting from efforts against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

The Associated Press count of those U.S. military members killed in Iraq includes at least seven military civilians. Prior to the deaths announced Tuesday, the AP count was 15 higher than the Defense Department’s tally, last updated Friday. At least 2,377 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers.

American troops fought gunmen in a Shiite militia stronghold in east Baghdad on Tuesday, witnesses said.

Fighters loyal to the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr engaged in the clashes with U.S. forces in and near Sadr City, an official in al-Sadr’s office said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. There was no immediate word on casualties.

British soldiers were on alert for reprisals a day after they raided a police station in the southern city of Basra, killing seven gunmen in an effort to stop renegade Iraqi officers from executing their prisoners.

“We fully expect more attacks on our bases and on Basra stations, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary,” said Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a military spokesman. “But this is part of a long-term rehabilitation of the Iraqi police service, to make it more effective and more accountable, and ultimately provide better security for the people of Basra.”

After the British stormed the police station, they removed 127 prisoners, who showed evidence of torture, then evacuated the building before blowing it up, he said.

Burbridge had previously said only 76 prisoners were in the station, but later said soldiers miscounted the prisoners because the operation was done under cover of darkness.

Some 800 of the British military’s 7,200 troops in Iraq were involved in the operation, he said.

A spokesman for Iraq’s defense minister said Monday that the Iraqi Interior and Defense ministries approved the Basra operation, but some members of the Basra provincial council were not notified.

“We object to the way the operation was conducted,” council member Hakim al-Maiyahi told The Associated Press. “There was no need to bring in such a huge number of forces and break down the station.”

Burbridge acknowledged the council members’ concerns, but said British officials had alerted the provincial governor, Mohammed al-Waili, who approved the operation.

“He told us it was the right thing — the way forward. He supported our activity,” Burbridge said.

Al-Waili refused to comment on the matter.

Separately, in Cairo, Khaled al-Attiya, deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, said Iraq’s neighbors should do more to prevent terrorists from illegally entering Iraq.

“What is happening in Iraq will reflect on its neighbors. Arabs and Muslims should not wait until civil strife” spreads to their countries, al-Attiya said.

Elsewhere, Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit said Tuesday that a former Iraqi Cabinet minister who escaped from a Baghdad prison this month had arrived in Jordan on a U.S. plane.

Ayham al-Samaraie, a former minister of electricity with dual U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, had been serving time for corruption when he escaped mid-December.

Lou Fintor, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the U.S. government was not involved in al-Samaraie’s escape “in any way.” He denied in “unequivocal terms” the claim that al-Samaraie flew out of Iraq on an American plane.

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