WASHINGTON -- As Congress and the administration gird for conflict over troop levels in Iraq, President Bush is asserting that he has the power to send more U.S. forces, regardless of what lawmakers want.
"I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it," Bush said in an interview broadcast yesterday on CBS' 60 Minutes. When asked whether he thought he had the authority to send more troops in the face of opposition from the Democratic majority in Congress, Bush said: "In this situation, I do, yeah."
The president's comments were part of an administration effort to quell the growing criticism about its Iraq strategy, as congressional Democrats plan nonbinding resolutions opposing the troop increase and some Republicans echo their resistance to the plan.
Bush acknowledged that some of the administration's steps contributed to Iraq's instability and said any mistakes should be laid at his feet. "If people want a scapegoat, they got one right here in me 'cause it's my decisions," the president said.
"No question decisions have made things unstable," he added. "But the question is: Can we succeed?"
Last week, the president unveiled a plan to subdue the violence in Baghdad and in nearby Anbar province by adding 21,500 soldiers and Marines to the 132,000 troops in the country. The decision ran counter to a recommendation by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that the administration draw down troops, and it brought denunciations from Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Norm Coleman of Minnesota.
In the 60 Minutes interview, taped last week, Bush said he wasn't bothered by his low approval ratings and called himself the "educator in chief," arguing that sharing his views would help overcome public and congressional resistance.
He said he was discouraged by the handling of Saddam Hussein's execution, which he saw on an Internet video. But Bush expressed pride in the U.S. achievements in Iraq: "I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude," he said.
Asked whether he owes the Iraqi people an apology for failing to provide adequate security, he said: "Not at all."
Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing on Fox News Sunday, said complaints from Congress would not stop the administration, which "cannot run a war by committee." He disagreed with the suggestion that the administration had overruled military commanders who argued against increasing troops, and he sidestepped a question about Americans' unhappiness about the war.
"I don't think any president worth his salt can afford to make decisions of this magnitude according to the polls," Cheney said.
Withdrawing forces, Cheney warned, would simply "revalidate the strategy that Osama bin Laden has been following from Day One: that if you kill enough Americans you can force them to quit, that we don't have the stomach for the fight."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and the author of a bill that would require the president to obtain authorization from Congress before raising troop levels in Iraq, said Bush is ignoring his generals, the Iraq Study Group and the public, as well as Congress.
"The stubbornness of this administration means repeating the same colossal mistakes over and over," he said.
Administration officials have said the added U.S. troops would help the Iraqi military confront sectarian violence and that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would no longer place restrictions on confronting the militia of leading Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
"There will be no safe havens, including Sadr City," the president's national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said yesterday on ABC's This Week, referring to the cleric's Baghdad stronghold.
Hadley said he expects Congress to fall into line with the administration's plan. "We will be able to persuade the Congress that this is the only option for success in Iraq," he said.
"It's simply clear that the Iraqis are not ready to take responsibility for the hard nut of security in Baghdad," he added. "We have to help them. And we believe - the president believes ... Congress is going to understand that's the only course for success."
Nicole Gaouette writes for the Los Angeles Times.