By Martha Raddatz
Monday 09 July 2007
White House trying to find consensus to appease Democrats and "wobbly Republicans."
ABC News has been told the White House is "in panic mode" over the recent defections of Republican senators on the President's stay-the-course policy in Iraq.
Senior Bush administration officials are deep in discussion about how to find a compromise that will "appease Democrats and keep wobbly Republicans on board," a senior White House official tells ABC News.
The official said the White House "is in panic mode," despite Monday's on-the-record briefing by White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, who played down any concern over the recent spate of GOP senators who have spoken out publicly in support of changing course in Iraq.
The Republican defections are seen as "a crack in the dike," according to the senior White House official, and National Security Advisor Steven Hadley is most concerned.
Bush administration officials are currently discussing options about how to get out of "this conundrum with the Republicans," while giving General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, time to implement the troop surge strategy in Iraq, according to a senior White House official.
"We're not retreating or announcing troop withdrawal," the official said, but, "we need to buy more time for Petraeus." The White House has not reached any kind of consensus about what to do, despite the high-level discussions.
The White House suggests a much anticipated report on the progress of the President's policy in Iraq will likely be released Thursday and that is the day President Bush will likely make comments about it.
A senior White House official tells ABC News the report will be "mixed." They do believe there has been progress on the security front in Iraq, but the political progress is obviously very bad.
One official familiar with the report said there are some bizarre "categories" in the report under benchmark that say "satisfactory, non satisfactory and unsatisfactory".
Despite the report's mixed conclusions about the President's policy, senior White House officials tell ABC News to not expect Bush to announce any kind of changes, or new strategy.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been pressing for pullback that would reduce the combat brigades in Baghdad by early next year.
Under his plan, those combat units that remain in Iraq would take up a more limited mission of training Iraqis, watching the borders and going after Al Qaeda. Gates believes that if the troop surge in Iraq was extended, it would further stretch the Army. He is adamant about not extending troops again.
One White House official tells ABC News he expects Petraeus will be able to show that "momentum" is shifting in the favor of the US by September of this year, allowing President Bush to say that it is his hope that a drawdown could begin in the spring, if that momentum continues.
However, the official expects the President would make clear that this drawdown would be conditions based, and that if the momentum was lost in the spring, then there would be no drawdown.
The official also said former Iraq commanders General George Casey and General John Abizaid had hoped this type of drawdown would be possible in 2006, but didn't happen because conditions on the ground changed for the worse.
Thus far, however, no decision has been made by the White House on changing the strategy.
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