CRAWFORD, Texas -- The White House responded sharply yesterday to a senior Democratic senator's criticism of possible increases in the U.S. military deployment in Iraq, as the president prepared to discuss the war today with top advisers.
Deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel took issue with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said on Tuesday that any troop increase would be "the absolute wrong strategy."
"I hope that Senator Biden would wait to hear what the president has to say before announcing what he's opposed to," Stanzel said.
President Bush plans to meet this morning with his senior national security advisers to consider new strategies for the war.
Bush has not said whether he will announce an increase in the approximately 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq when he presents his plans in a speech to the nation as early as next week.
But officials have said he is considering such a course, and leading U.S. military officials in Iraq have backed away from their earlier doubts that sending more troops would help stem the violence that continues to take a heavy toll on Iraqi citizens and the U.S. military.
Stanzel said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates were headed yesterday to Bush's ranch. They will be joined today, he said, by Vice President Dick Cheney; Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Stephen J. Hadley, the president's national security adviser; and J.D. Crouch, the deputy national security adviser.
The spokesman said they would be considering "all the potential options, making sure that due consideration is given to the next steps, making sure that we're thinking through the new way forward in Iraq, to take into account all of the differing views."
He reiterated earlier White House declarations that the meeting would not produce specific decisions on Iraq war policy.
The White House has said Bush was likely to deliver a speech on his new plans in early January, and Stanzel said that timetable remains in effect.
But the exact timing of the president's announcement, Stanzel said, "largely depends on how comfortable he is with the information he's receiving, making sure that we've thought through all the parameters of any options."
On a related matter, Stanzel played down the potential effect that the execution of Saddam Hussein could have on the security situation in Iraq. An appeals court there said Tuesday that his death sentence must be carried out within 30 days.
"That is a matter for the Iraqi people, and we are observers to that process," the spokesman said on the execution's timing.
Asked whether the execution would affect the preparation of a new policy, if it leads to increased violence, he said, "The enemy has always used just about any excuse they could find to foment violence, and that is not new."