WASHINGTON -- With President Bush just days from announcing "a new way forward" in Iraq, the incoming Democratic congressional leaders emphatically urged the president yesterday to reject the surge of additional U.S. military forces that the White House is considering.
The president, who plans to address the nation next week about a new war strategy, has not made a final decision about any new deployment of U.S. forces, according to the White House.
Yet he has spoken with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki about the importance of "sufficient force" to restore order in Baghdad.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada urged Bush in a letter yesterday to reject an increase in forces, saying, "Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain."
Other Democratic senators, joining Republicans in a private meeting with the president at the White House yesterday, called on Bush directly to shelve the idea of a surge of forces.
"I and others expressed the view - I said definitively that I thought it was a bad idea," Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said after the meeting. "There were others who expressed some misgivings about it."
Sen. Larry E. Craig, an Idaho Republican, who was in the room with Obama; Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat; and others, said, "This was not a meeting with lots of smiles."
Bush provided no signal of a decision about this or any other aspect of the plan under consideration, according to senators of both parties who attended the meeting.
"I think he is considering it very carefully," Obama said of the surge idea. "They have obviously run that possibility through the traps. He did not say definitively that that's the decision he has made."
While the president revealed no troop number in any possible increase in the size of the American force in Iraq, it reportedly could entail 20,000 or more - in addition to the 140,000 U.S. forces now deployed in Iraq. Bush has indicated publicly, however, that any increase in force must be attached to a clear and achievable mission.
"One thing is for certain," Bush told reporters at the White House this week. "I will want to make sure that the mission is clear and specific and can be accomplished."
In a two-hour teleconference with the Iraqi prime minister this week, Bush and al-Maliki also agreed about "the importance of having sufficient force in Baghdad to maintain security," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
But Bush "has not signed any orders," Snow said yesterday. "He has not made final decisions, and he has made that clear to people in the rooms. ... There is no final word on this yet, but there will be, we expect, by sometime next week."
Some analysts say additional U.S. forces could restore order in the Iraqi capital. Fred Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and retired Gen. Jack Keane, former acting Army chief of staff, have issued a report, "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq," that calls for a "large and sustained surge of U.S. forces to secure and protect critical areas of Baghdad."
Others suggest that additional forces alone will not bring security to Iraq.
"The problem is not total U.S. force levels or the security of Baghdad," said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It is the ability to reverse the current drift toward a major civil war and separation of the country by finding a new approach to U.S. intervention in Iraq."
While Bush considers a boost in forces, many lawmakers are calling for a phased withdrawal of troops in Iraq. Obama said the Iraqi government will not take its responsibility to protect the country seriously unless the U.S. starts pulling back.
"Sending more troops in rather than initiating some sort of phased withdrawal makes them feel as if we will be there to prop them up in perpetuity," Obama said, "and that's a mistake."
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, who also met with the president yesterday, said her support for any plan depends upon the president's clarifying the goals that can be achieved with it.
"The president has the burden of proof to give specific reasons and clear directions, if in fact he is going to call for a troop surge, what that surge would do, how big it would be, how long the troops would stay," Landrieu said. "I think the American people's patience is wearing thin with vagueness."
Mark Silva writes for the Chicago Tribune.