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U.S.: Bush Says Military May Need Bolstering

Bush at the December 20 news conference (epa) WASHINGTON, December 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- For the past six years, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued successfully for a streamlined military that relied on advanced technology and intelligence gathering to keep the number of soldiers to a minimum.

Now Rumsfeld is gone, and President George W. Bush is considering a new strategy. At a news conference today, Bush talked about increasing the size of U.S. ground forces.

Bush said he isn't ready to decide whether to order a temporary troop surge in Iraq, but he said he wants to add more permanent troops to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

The president said he has asked his new defense secretary, Robert Gates, to advise him as soon as possible about how to make that happen. Gates is currently in Iraq consulting with U.S. commanders about this and other subjects.

Today, Bush was asked if Rumsfeld was wrong to advocate a smaller, more agile military. Bush said Rumsfeld "has introduced some substantive changes to the Pentagon, and I support them strongly. However, that doesn't necessarily preclude increasing end-strength for the army and the Marines. And the reason why I'm inclined to believe this is a good idea is because I understand that we're going to be in a long struggle against radicals and extremists."

Spreading Resources Too Thin?

Bush has said he'll announce his new strategy for Iraq after the New Year. He is reported to favor the idea of sending in more troops on a temporary basis, while the Joint Chiefs of Staff are said to oppose it, in part because of the burden it would put on forces already stretched thin by deployment on two fronts, Iraq and Afghanistan.

That concern was also recently expressed by Representative Ike Skelton (Democrat-Missouri), who will become chairman of the influential House of Representatives Armed Services Committee when Congress reconvenes on January 4.

Skelton said on December 19 that the U.S. military already is under great pressure. He said he is "very concerned about an additional burden on the army and Marine Corps."

"As you know, both the army chief of staff and the Marine Corps commandant have spoken recently about the stretch and the strain on their respective services, and needless to say it's a deep concern of mine," he added.

Learning From Mistakes

At today's news conference, a reporter asked whether Bush has learned any lessons from the Iraq war that he can apply to a new strategy. The president pointed to the sectarian violence, which many say is now a civil war.

"Clearly, one aspect of this war that has not gone right is the sectarian violence inside Baghdad, a violent reaction by both Sunni and Shi'a to each other that has caused a lot of loss of life as well as some movements in neighborhoods inside of Baghdad, and it's a troubling, very troubling, aspect of trying to help this Iraqi government succeed," he said.

Bush said he will ask Iraqi leaders to do more in the fight against insurgents and sectarian militias.

Talking To Syria, Iran

On December 6, a group of foreign-policy experts called the Iraq Study Group recommended in part that the Bush administration try to enlist Iran and Syria in a regional effort to stabilize Iraq. Bush has said he remains reluctant to approach them, and today was asked again about his position.

He replied that he won't hold talks with Iran until it stops defying the international community and abandons its nuclear program. He said it’s a pity that the Iranian people are represented by a president who denies the Holocaust during World War II and has isolated his people from the world economy.

"My message to the Iranian people is, you can do better than to have somebody try to rewrite history, you can do better than somebody who hasn't strengthened your economy, and you can do better than having somebody who's trying to develop a nuclear weapon that the world believes you shouldn't have," Bush said.

As for Syria, Bush said talks with Damascus are impossible until it stops trying to influence the internal affairs of neighboring Lebanon, and stops supporting groups like Hizballah, which the United States has designated a terrorist organization.

RFE/RL Iraq Report

RFE/RL Iraq Report

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