Bush Administration Reviews Iraq Strategy

President Bush is meeting with advisors at a two-day policy retreat at Camp David to discuss the evolving strategy for the continued occupation of Iraq. NPR senior Washington, D.C. editor Ron Elving joins Alex Chadwick to talk about this and other issues likely to dominate the upcoming week in politics.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The war in Iraq overshadows a lot of what happens in Washington. But often the Bush administration and Congress prefer to talk about something else. This week several events will bring the war back to Mr. Bush at Camp David and to Capitol Hill.

NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving is with us.

Ron, welcome back. The President is meeting with his National Security team and his cabinet, and a host of advisers up there at Camp David, a big conference on the war. What is the agenda there?

RON ELVING reporting:

Alex, the President wants to extend some of that feeling of hope that came out of Baghdad last week, not only from the elimination of the al-Qaida leader, Al Zarqawi, but also from the completion of the cabinet of the government we're supporting there.

The White House also wants the world to see that it's widening its circle of advice, involving more people, the whole cabinet, not just the national security team. And also more people from outside the government, outside experts. And you know, really, whether they are going to talk about withdrawing any troops, or making any major policy direction changes here or not, what they want to do is give an impression of greater effectiveness, and greater openness going forward.

CHADWICK: These outside advisors who are coming in, Ron, do you know if this includes critics of the war?

ELVING: No, I don't believe that there are going to be critics of the war. The President has reached out to some former members of the cabinet, people who served in previous administrations and gotten their advice. But what's going to on today is a war council planning meeting.

CHADWICK: Okay. Well, the President wants a fresh start building on last weeks' news in Iraq. What about Congress?

ELVING: Congress is interested in Iraq for a couple of reasons. First of all, money. There's a spending bill for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Katrina that's been before the Congress since February. They're going to finish it in the House and Senate this week, send it on to the President. And along the way, they'll get a chance to air all the arguments about the war, what's going on there.

CHADWICK: This spending bill, it's called the Urgent Supplemental Appropriations. Isn't it? But it's been held up since February. Is it controversy over the war?

ELVING: It's actually not about the war. It's about the portions of that bill that were not dedicated to the war. It was a $92.5 billion request for Iraq, Afghanistan and Katrina. It got all the up to $109 billion with things that House and Senate members wanted to put on and see passed with the necessary bill. So the President threatened to veto it. And now it's been slimmed back down to approximately where it began.

CHADWICK: Okay, so that's one thing. And I think you mentioned two things forcing the war to the forefront for Congress.

ELVING: Yes, indeed. The other thing is, of course, politics. The House Republican leaders have tried to avoid talking about Iraq through recent months, because there hasn't been much good to say about it, since the elections last winter. Now, with a shot of good news out of Baghdad last week, they feel this is a good moment for a declaration of support for the President and the troops, and by extension a declaration of support for the war policy itself.

So later this week, probably Thursday, the House is going to debate and vote on a resolution doing just that.

CHADWICK: And that, that's going to be a vote of record. Isn't it? That's going to be an interesting choice for Democrats.

ELVING: Exactly. And that's more or less the point. If you're a member who opposes the war, and thinks it was a mistake, and there was an AP poll last week that says about nearly 60% of the country thinks that, your only choice - your only chance to show that opposition will be to vote for immediate withdrawal. Cut and run.

CHADWICK: But if you do that, of course, the argument is going to come right back, well, you're not supporting the troops, and that we have American military forces over there and we've got to help out our guys. Right? I mean, this is not an attractive alternative for the Democrats.

ELVING: Yes. In fact, what this resolution is about is partly to bolster the President at tough time, but it's also to put the Democrats on the spot, whether they're already in Congress, or whether they're running for Congress as Democrats this fall.

CHADWICK: Well, some of them just might take that chance to say okay, I'm against the war. This could develop.

ELVING: It is always possible that more of the Democrats will decide that it's time to be four square about opposition to the war rather than trying to find some sort of a moderate position that supports the troops but not necessarily the President's policies.

CHADWICK: NPR'S senior Washington editor Ron Elving, the author of Watching Washington, online at npr.org.

Ron, thank you.

And you're listening to DAY TO DAY.

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