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Bush offers concession on ground situation

Says US objective still unchanged

WASHINGTON -- President Bush conceded yesterday that "right now it's tough" for US forces in Iraq, but the White House said he would not change strategy in the face of polls that show voters are upset.

With Republicans anxious about the potential loss of Congress -- and with conditions seemingly deteriorating in Iraq -- Bush addressed the question of whether he would alter his policies.

"We are constantly adjusting our tactics so that we achieve the objective, and right now it's tough," Bush said in an interview.

Bush met with General John Abizaid, the top US commander in the Middle East, at the White House for a half-hour yesterday afternoon. The president also will consult by video conference today with Abizaid at US Central Command in Tampa and with General George Casey, who leads the US-led Multinational Forces in Iraq, to determine whether a change in tactics is necessary.

Despite calls for change, Bush said, "Our goal has not changed. Our goal is a country that can defend, sustain, and govern itself, a country that will serve as an ally in this war. Our tactics are adjusting."

There were fresh signs of Republican doubts about the war. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas said in a campaign debate Thursday that she would have voted against the war had she known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction.

Democrats also kept up the pressure on Bush. In a letter to the president, a dozen House and Senate Democratic leaders urged him to withdraw some US troops and force the Iraqis to take more responsibility for their security.

"We urge you to change course, level with the American people, and join with us to develop a policy that will work before the situation in Iraq is irretrievable," the letter said.

Bush, at a political fund-raiser for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, railed against his critics . Calling the Democrats the party of "cut and run," Bush said voters need to ask: "Which political party has a strategy for victory in this war on terror?' "

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