Jan 10, 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 General Jack Keane.
The 37-year veteran of the Army has made several trips to Iraq at the request of the Pentagon, and many visits to the Oval Office. He supported the strategy in Iraq until last year, when 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, now a consultant to ABC News. The general says the president is ready for change. "He knows the strategy is failing," says Keane.
The New York native has been able to speak his mind to the president and the leaders at the Pentagon. He calls it a different kind of influence because he has no chain of command to answer.
"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 level of forces and the right mission.
So tonight, he will be listening carefully to the numbers the president uses. "Anything less than five brigades moved in as quickly as possible" would be a disappointment to Keane. That would be 18,000 combat troops.
White House spokesman Dan Bartlett confirmed to ABC News that the president will call for 20,000 troops to head to Iraq quickly.
Keane believes the facts on the ground have to be changed. He says the Sunni minority believes they are winning the war and 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," says Keane.
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.
Keane is hopeful the president's speech changes the debate in this country. As Keane says, "This is the beginning of something. This is not the end of something."