ALEX CHADWICK, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand.
Coming up, we'll talk with Senator John Kerry. The Bush administration doesn't like it, but Senator Kerry met today with Syria's president. We'll find out what they talked about.
CHADWICK: First, we go to the White House. President Bush today gave what's expected to be his final press conference of this year. He spoke about a variety of subjects, but once again the main topic: the future of Iraq.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq, except that it's going to require difficult choices and additional sacrifices because the enemy is merciless and violent.
BRAND: Joining us now is NPR's Don Gonyea, who's at the White House and was at that news conference. And, Don, it does sound like the president is being quite careful not to raise any expectations for the coming year.
DON GONYEA: That was very much the sense of it. And I don't want to overstate it based on one press conference. But his mood does seem to have changed. There was none of that overt optimism that he seems to take such pride in as a core part of his personality. Also, he wasn't as jocular today. He seemed to be recognizing publicly - more than he has in the past - what the American public thinks of this war.
Though, he also said, Madeleine, that the lesson he draws from the election is not that the people want the troops to come home now. He said he wants them to come home, but there has to be, you know, an expectation that the mission has succeeded. He said what he reads into the election is that the American public just wants to know that he's got a plan for victory that can work.
BRAND: And most of the questions from reporters today were about Iraq. Let's hear one.
Unidentified Man: Mr. President, less than two months ago, at the end of one of the bloodiest months in the war, you said absolutely we're winning. Yesterday, you said we're not winning. We're not losing. Why did you drop your confident assertion about winning?
President BUSH: My comments - the first comment was done in the spirit - I believe that we're going to win. I believe that - by the way, if I didn't think that, we wouldn't have our troops there. That's just you got to know.
BRAND: Don, clearly not as confident. He doesn't sound as confident the U.S. is going to win this war.
GONYEA: He says he is confident that the U.S. is going to win. But you can hear so much in his voice as he's trying to find the right words there, trying to parse it. You know, yesterday, he told the Washington Post that we're not winning, but we're not losing.
Today, he wouldn't even say that. But it is, I think, significant that he does not say - did not say today flat out that we are winning. He apparently feels that he can't say that at this point. He settled instead on the future tense that we will win. But again, it's become very difficult for him rhetorically.
BRAND: And, Don, he also told the Washington Post yesterday in today's paper that he like to increase the number of troops overall in the army. He didn't say exactly what that would mean for Iraq. Did he say any more about that, what his plans are?
GONYEA: Any question dealing with that he filibustered. He would knock it down as being a hypothetical, and then he'd go on and talk at lengths about other things.
BRAND: What about his poll numbers - pretty low these days. Did he address that?
GONYEA: He was asked about the likelihood that his legacy will be Iraq. And he shook his head and he says, you know, I'm reading a book about George Washington right now. They're still trying to sort him out. So if he's trying to make sense of what number one's presidency was all about, maybe number 43 should just do what he think is best and let history decide how good of a job he did.
BRAND: Okay. NPR's Don Gonyea at the White House. Thank you, Don.
GONYEA: A pleasure.
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