Military chiefs share their concerns with President Bush
Bush is likely to stay with
his current policy.
WASHINGTON (AP) — At a key juncture in the Iraq war, the military chiefs conveyed to President Bush on Friday their concern about a growing strain on troops and their families from long and repeated combat tours.
Bush met privately at the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in preparation for decisions about how long to sustain the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq, whether to change course this fall and how to save the health of a heavily stressed Army and Marines Corps.
Indications are that Bush intends to stick with his current approach, at least into 2008, despite persistent pressure from the Democrat-led Congress — including some prominent Republicans — to find a new course.
Still to be heard is the long-awaited assessment of Gen. David Petraeus, Bush’s choice to execute the new strategy he announced in January to improve security in Baghdad.
Petraeus did not participate in Friday’s session, but one U.S. senior official said the general, along with Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, would likely tell Bush and Congress in mid-September that the buildup had succeeded in making slow but sure progress on both the military and political fronts.
Petraeus and Crocker also will argue for a continuation of the current policy with some adjustments, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations.
Bush’s critics point to mounting evidence that while the troop buildup may have halted the escalation of sectarian violence in Baghdad, the Iraqis are making almost no headway toward political reconciliation.
There are no signs that the Pentagon’s top generals and admirals are pushing for an early end to the war, but they are concerned not only about strains on troops but also about the possibility that the heavy focus on counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq leaves the military ill-prepared in the event of a crisis elsewhere.
Without revealing specifics of the Joint Chiefs’ remarks, Bush said afterward that they discussed preserving the military’s war-fighting capability for the long term and “monitoring the health of our all-volunteer force” — the latter an allusion to fears among some that war strains could break the military.
Included in the session was Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the former operations chief for the Joint Chiefs who this summer moved to the White House to become Bush’s personal adviser on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush did not speak in person after the meeting, but he issued a statement asking lawmakers to reserve judgment about the best next move in Iraq until they have heard from the top U.S. general and diplomat there.