Bush Listening Tour After Iraq Report

ByJOHN COCHRAN

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2006 — -- After the Iraq Study Group presented President Bush with its report last week, he dropped some obvious hints that he would not accept all the advice the Baker-Hamilton commission had to offer.

His solution: Go out and gather some other advice, a whole lot of advice.

He began Monday morning at the State Department, where top officials gave the president their views. Bush later said "that advice is an important part, an important component of putting together a new way forward in Iraq."

Although the president has solicited other views, he has promised to give the Baker report serious consideration.

And the public clearly expects him to do just that. A Newsweek poll shows that 39 percent of Americans agree with the report's recommendations, while 20 percent disagree.

But by meeting with others, the president can prove there are other experts around with different views, such as retired Gen. Jack Keene, who was invited to the White House Monday afternoon.

Keene, an ABC News consultant, opposes the Baker-Lee report's recommendation for a virtual withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by 2008. Last week he said on ABC's "Nightline," "I'd give it an F. I think it's wholly inadequate. It's a cover story to accept defeat."

Bush aides also hope that the president's high-profile meetings this week will offset the five-day media blitz from James Baker and Lee Hamilton, who insist that their plan can work best only if all their recommendations are accepted. They urged the president not to cherry-pick from their suggestions.

Bush said that his final decisions would come from several sources, not just the Iraq Study Group.

"I want to hear all advice as I make the decisions to chart a new course in Iraq," Bush said.

So far, Bush has expressed enthusiasm for only one part of the Baker report. "The Iraq Study Group … explicitly endorses the strategic goal we've set in Iraq: an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself."

On Tuesday Bush will listen via teleconference to the views of American commanders in Iraq and of the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. Bush will also meet with the vice president of Iraq. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has already called the Baker report "an insult" to his nation.

The president travels across the Potomac Wednesday to meet with top officials at the Pentagon, including outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Bush will also get recommendations from his top aides within the White House.

Bush also got some unsolicited advice from Syria, which urged him to put in place the Baker report's recommendations, especially those that call for regional talks and for a new diplomatic initiative to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The newspaper of Syria's ruling party said the report's recommendations, if followed, would "diminish hatred for the U.S. in the region."

What will come of all this free advice the president is getting? White House aides said that Bush will tell us sometime before Christmas which ideas he likes -- and those he he will ignore.

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