WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2007 -- When President Bush announces his "way forward" in Iraq Wednesday night, expect to hear some of the thoughts of a former Army paratrooper who ended up with four stars on his shoulder.
"Defeat is unacceptable" in Iraq, says retired Gen. Jack Keane.
The 37-year veteran of the Army has made several trips to Iraq at the request to the Pentagon, and many visits to the Oval Office. He supported the strategy in Iraq until last year when he said he realized "we are failing."
What have those meetings with the president been like?
"The toughest guy in the room is George Bush. He has the conviction that what he is doing is the right thing," says Keane, who is now a consultant to ABC News. The general says the president is ready for change.
"He knows the strategy is failing," Keane says.
The New York native has been able to speak his mind to the president and to the leaders at the Pentagon. He calls it a different kind of influence, because he doesn't have to answer to any chain of command.
"It gives you a certain freedom and flexibility," Keane says. And he remains cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of the plan he helped develop.
"We do have a window of opportunity if we do the right thing," he says.
The right thing, according to the general, is the right amount of forces and the right mission. So Wednesday night he will be listening to the numbers the president uses.
"Anything less than five brigades moved in as quickly as possible" would be a disappointment, Keane says. That would be 18,000 combat troops. ABC's Martha Raddatz reports tonight from the White House that the president will call for 22,000 troops to head to Iraq quickly.
Keane believes the facts on the ground have to be changed. He says members of the Sunni minority believe they are winning the war and they see the erosion of public support in America for the war.
"We have underestimated this enemy. This political culture is not ready for representative government," Keane says.
This is an unlikely role for the retired four-star general. He wanted to stay engaged but never thought he would be one of the "architects" of the president's new strategy. Would he put the uniform back on if asked? "I've been down that road," he says without really answering the question.
He hopes the president's speech will change the debate in this country. As Keane says, "This is the beginning of something. This is not the end of something."