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Bush's rethink on Iraq

He crafts the 'way forward' with a show of consultation.

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Whatever options President Bush chooses for the future of US policy in Iraq, one thing appears clear: He is trying to convey to voters that he is not acting alone.

Under intense pressure to come up with a new course of action following the publication of the Iraq Study Group report, Mr. Bush is holding three days of very public consultations this week, meeting with everyone from Iraqi politicians to retired generals to historians who have been critical of some of his actions.

It's possible this schedule is just for show, a way in essence to blunt the effect of the publicity of the ISG report's release.

It's also possible that it is genuine outreach at a time of national need.

"My own sense is that probably President Bush is in the same place as a lot of people on Iraq," says Jim Walsh, a research associate in the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "He knows things aren't going well, but doesn't know what he needs to do."

It now appears that Bush will give a speech to the nation early next year outlining a new "way forward" for Iraq, according to an unnamed White House source. Originally, the speech had been tentatively scheduled for before Christmas.

On Monday morning, Bush met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In the afternoon, he heard from a group of military experts from outside government, including retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey and Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University.

Tuesday Bush, via videoconference, listened to military commanders in Iraq. He also met at the White House with Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, leader of the most powerful Sunni political party.

Wednesday he is to meet with outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials.

In one sense, there is a theatrical quality to at least some of these meetings. Presumably, Bush already knows well the attitudes of the officials of his own administration. Why call on them now?

In addition, despite the implication that US policy will soon change, Bush's tone in recent days has not hinted where he might go.

But there have been enough events in recent weeks – from the outcome of the November elections to the continued Iraqi violence and the Iraq Study Group's dire warnings – that they must at least have given the president pause, says Mr. Walsh.

"All of this presumably would have shaken anyone of the sense that they should keep going in the course they're on," he says.

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