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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Bush Goes Before Nation With High Stakes Strategy Change In Iraq; Vote To Raise Minimum Wage Passes Overwhelmingly In House; Interview With Senator Jack Reed

Aired January 10, 2007 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, it's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington. Just hours from now, President Bush goes before the nation with a high stakes strategy change in Iraq. But it's built around a sizeable troop increase and the first units could deploy within a week or so.

Will the American public buy the president's pitch?

It's 1:00 a.m. in Baghdad, where the sectarian slaughter rages on.

Can more U.S. troops really make a difference? Is the Iraqi government ready to do its part?

And on Capitol Hill, Democrats voice their doubts about temporary surge.

But will they use their newfound strength in a test of wills with the White House?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Two months ago, Americans voted for change in an election dominated by the war in Iraq. Tonight, President Bush will announce changes in his Iraq strategy, including a significant increase in American troop strength. But he may have a very tough job selling that to a war weary public and to a new Congress controlled by Democrats who are already accusing the president of escalating the war.

As U.S. troops prepare to deploy and as violence rages on in Iraq, we'll go live to CNN's Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, Ryan Chilcote in Baghdad.

But let's begin this hour once again with our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, clearly, the president's credibility is on the line here. Earlier today, President Bush reaching out to allies to really try to make sure that he has their support -- the leaders of South Korea, Japan, as well as Poland, also top officials of Iraq -- a Sunni, a Kurd and a Shiite.

It was just two months ago President Bush said that we were winning this war in Iraq. Well, tonight, senior administration officials tell us that he will acknowledge failure and mistakes, that there were not enough Iraqi troops, as well as U.S. troops, to accomplish the mission.

Now, here's what he is going to announce. More than 21,000 U.S. troops to head to Baghdad. That is five brigades, the first one leaving from Kuwait perhaps within the week. Also, 4,000 Marines going to Anbar Province. That, of course, a stronghold to al Qaeda.

Now, what are the Iraqis going to do?

We have been told that this is going to be a joint effort and they hope the Iraqis will be out in front here. Three more brigades to be sent beginning February or so. The goal here is for them to move into Baghdad, move into these other areas. And we are told that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has personally given President Bush assurances that they can go anywhere in the country, including going into Sadr City, tracking some of the most dangerous militia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This is not going to be cheap financially, this new strategy.

talk a little bit about the money the president's going to try to get Congress to authorize.

MALVEAUX: Well, he's not going to talk about numbers this evening, but here is what the administration is asking for. We are talking about $5.6 billion for the military effort. That, of course, being requested in the budget supplemental. And then a $1 billion jobs program to bring the Iraqis back to work.

So, clearly, this is going to be a very expensive program in blood, in treasure. And, as you know, Wolf, also in the president's own credibility here, his presidency and his legacy dependent on whether or not he succeeds or fails in the Iraq War.

BLITZER: The president is going to try to make this case in a 20 minute address to the nation standing from the residential library over at the White House.

Thanks, Suzanne, for that.

Even before the president's speech to the nation, Democratic Congressional leaders are speaking out. They met with Mr. Bush at the White House today, suggesting his Iraq plan is more than a day late and a dollar short.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I think this conversation we had with the president just now would have been much better a week ago, a month ago, six months ago. The president is practicing his speech right now. We had a conversation today that has no impact on what he's going to say.

Consultation, to me, means consultation. You sit down and talk with people you're trying to work something out with, not after you've already written the speech.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And defectors emerging now among Republican ranks, as well. Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota today spoke out against a troop increase, saying it will risk more American lives and won't solve sectarian violence. And Kansas Republican Senator and presidential hopeful Sam Brownback today said that sending more troops to Iraq also is not the answer. In a statement, he says: "Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution."

The president's plan for a buildup in Iraq has military planners working to step up the deployment of troops and some troops will have to pull extra duty in the war zone.

Let's get some more details from our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- mi.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, those deployment orders have already been prepared and Pentagon sources say that Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to sign them tomorrow morning following tonight's announcement by the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Pentagon officials say the infusion of five Army brigades into Baghdad will be accomplished by what's called a modest acceleration of already scheduled deployments and will not, at least initially, require sending any troops back to Iraq who were there last year.

First in, say Pentagon sources, will be a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, already on standby in Kuwait.

Next, will be the 4th Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division based on Fort Riley, Kansas. Additional brigades will follow from Fort Lewis, Washington, and Fort Stewart and Fort Benning.

While the plan will avoid breaking the Army's promise to soldiers to give them at least a year off from the battlefield, it will extend by four months the tour of one National Guard brigade from Minnesota already in Iraq.

President Bush is ordering the troop increase over the reservations of some senior commanders, including some members of the joint chiefs of staff, who warn unless the Iraqis suddenly do more, the plan could just make things worse. COL. DOUG MACGREGOR, U.S. ARMY (RET.): The notion that we are going to distribute small numbers of light infantrymen into neighborhoods, winning over the goodwill of the population, is delusional. What we really risk is the loss of substantial American life with that particular tactic.

MCINTYRE: But the Pentagon argues the additional U.S. forces will use completely different tactics, to prop up the Iraqi troops and ensure they hold Baghdad neighborhoods after they are cleared.

FREDERICK KAGAN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I think it can work. I really think that if we undertake this with the level of forces that we're proposing, this is a feasible undertaking. I really think that we have talked ourselves into believing that this problem is insoluble.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Now, the Pentagon says in the short-term, it can provide the reinforcements without putting too much stress on the military. But if the need for additional troops goes beyond August, then, Pentagon sources say, the Army is going to look at lifting the 24-month limit on the deployment of Guard and Reserve troops and consider sending back soldiers who have already spent two years in the war zone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we were told flatly by a senior administration official earlier in the day at the White House that if this has to be sustained, an additional 21,000,22,000 U.S. troops in Iraq for over a period of several months, the Pentagon is certainly going to have to look at activating National Guard and Reserve units that they had hoped not to have to activate.

But you're hearing the same thing.

MCINTYRE: Exactly. You know, the goal was to give those units, also, from the Guard and Reserve, two, two-and-a-half to three years off between deployments. And they may have to look at shortening that, as well.

BLITZER: Jamie, thank you very much for that.

Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

As President Bush prepares to reveal his new Iraq strategy, the violence in Iraq rages on. On the outskirts of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in a gas station, killing at least one person. To the north, a suicide bomber killed four people and gunmen ambushed a convoy carrying Shiite pilgrims. Ten died.

In the capital, authorities say they found 60 more bodies in the streets.

Will the president's plan offer Iraqis any answers?

Let's go live to CNN's Ryan Chilcote. He's in Baghdad.

He's getting the assessment there, how this is playing out in the streets of Iraq -- Ryan, what's the latest?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, we start with the Iraqi military. The Iraqi military commanders that I'm speaking with certainly think that this might be a step in the right direction. They think that more U.S. troops on the streets of Baghdad, which is what they consider to be the center of gravity right now in the war, will be helpful. It will help, perhaps, clean up Baghdad from the militants.

They also think that it's good that this new strategy includes going after the militias.

As for the Iraqi people, I think that many of them are hopeful but very skeptical. Keep in mind, they've seen three years of violence and they've seen that violence escalate over those last three years.

We also heard from at least one group that's very influential among Iraq's Sunni Arabs that make up about 20 percent of the population, the Association of Muslim Scholars. They don't think it's a good idea. They think it will only lead to more U.S. casualties there. Quite to the contrary, they're saying that the U.S. should pull out.

We haven't heard from any of the large -- larger Shiite groups. But many of the Shiites here in Iraq will be skeptical of this. They've gotten used to their own militias providing security for them, like the Mahdi Army. They will not welcome a troop increase.

Finally, no one really thinks that this strategy will provide the answers, unless their government is able to win over their support, to win their trust. And, again, is in a Shiite led government, but it does not have that much support even among Iraq's Shiites. And it has even less support among Iraq's Sunni Arabs, that believe that this government is acting in a sectarian Shiite way and that it doesn't have their interests in mind -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to see if this Iraqi government does what it's saying it will do. That's a key question right now.

Ryan, thanks very much.

We're going to get back to you soon.

And to our viewers, remember, you're going to want to say right here for the president's speech. Paula Zahn will be joining us right here in a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM with complete coverage and analysis. Our coverage starts 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

After the president's speech, special editions of "LARRY KING LIVE" and "ANDERSON COOPER 360." Once again, right here on CNN.

There's been a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives raising the nation's minimum wage, federal minimum wage.

Let's turn to Andrea Koppel.

She's got the details -- what do we know, Andrea?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled the vote in. As expected, the minimum wage, the vote to raise the minimum wage passed overwhelmingly, 315 yeas to 116 against. That means for the first time since 1997, the minimum wage will be raised from where it is right now, at $5.15 to $7.25. This will take place over the next two years, Wolf. And from here, it heads over to the Senate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll see what happens in the Senate and then the president certainly would have to sign it into law. So the process will continue.

Andrea, thanks very much for that.

Jack Cafferty is in New York once again with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush told us four years ago the invasion of Iraq was necessary to strip Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction.

That original mission has been accomplished. Saddam was toppled from power, U.S. inspectors later found that Iraq dismantled its weapons programs back in the 1990s and the 9/11 Commission eventually found that Iraq had no operational ties to al Qaeda.

The resolution that Congress passed in October of 2002 authorizing the president to use force to "defend the national security of the U.S. against the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and to "enforce all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."

Nothing about occupying the country indefinitely. Nothing about presiding over an Iraq civil war.

Meanwhile, Democrats are now talking about symbolic votes in the House and Senate on the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq. But symbolic votes against escalating the war in Iraq are just that -- they're symbolic. They mean nothing. They don't mean any more than Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's word that Iraq is suddenly going to stand up for itself.

So here's the question -- should Congress vote to reverse the original authorization of military force in Iraq?

E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

And we're just getting word from the White House, our reporters at the White House, that they've just released some of the excerpts from the president's address tonight. We're going to bring you some of those excerpts from his speech. That's coming up.

Also coming up, are Congressional Democrats divided over a troop increase for Iraq?

I'll ask Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's standing by to join us live.

Also, the political stakes of the president's plan. Some now saying they couldn't be higher for Iraq and the entire Middle East.

Plus, what's the reality of a troop increase on the ground in Iraq?

We're going to show you what it will look like.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The White House has just released some excerpts of the president's address to the nation tonight.

Let's go back to the White House.

Our correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, has got those excerpts -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, you may recall it was just two months ago President Bush said they were winning in this Iraq War and now White House officials say he is going to admit failure.

One of these excerpts says: "Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons. There was not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.

Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work. And Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated."

As you know, Wolf, that was a big, big problem, the limitations on U.S. troops, Iraqi troops, to actually go to Sadr City. That is where, of course, Muqtada al-Sadr's militia has really gained a strength -- stronghold in that area.

I want to mention another thing, another excerpt here. He says, when it comes to what Iraq must do, he says, "I've made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promise, it will lose the support of the American people and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people."

Wolf, the big question here is what does that mean?

We've been trying to get that answer all day.

Is there a Plan B?

That is something that the administration, the White House, just is not addressing.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, also, that they really are putting the squeeze on the government of Nouri Al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq. The White House, the Bush administration, they want this Iraqi government to deliver. They've been talking the talk but they haven't necessarily been walking the walk.

And it was interesting, when I was over at the White House earlier, Suzanne, I heard a top U.S. official, a top Bush administration official, saying that the criticism coming from Democrats and some Republicans on the Hill, and from the American public in terms of the vote in November, in effect, is helping the administration make the case to Nouri Al-Maliki, the prime minister, that America's patience is not unlimited.

MALVEAUX: You're absolutely right. And there are one thing that the administration says the thinking of the president here, why they think this is going to work, is they say that, of course, they've got this plan ahead that Maliki is a Shiite, but they also believe that he is an Iraqi patriot, as well, and that he will ultimately put the interests of his country over any sect.

But, of course, as you know, Wolf, that really remains to be seen.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you for that.

Suzanne is going to be busy tonight. We'll be checking back with her often.

Coming up, a plan to end the chaos and the violence in Iraq. But the one the president unveils tonight won't be his first.

Can it succeed where others have failed?

Plus, we'll show you what's at stake for Iraq and the Middle East if this new strategy were to fail.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, the president's plan to try to save Iraq. President Bush addresses the nation. We'll set the stage tonight, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol Costello for another important -- a look at some other important stories making news -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

Nicaragua has a new president. He is former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. He led the country's Marxist government for 11 years while fighting a civil war against the U.S.-backed Contras. Among those attending the inauguration, Ortega's fellow leftist, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez, by the way, was also sworn in today for a new six year term, declaring in his oath, "Socialism or death."

Sudan's president rebuffing calls for United Nations' peacekeepers in war torn Darfur. New Mexico governor and possible Democratic presidential contender Bill Richardson is in Sudan trying to facilitate peace efforts. He did manage to force a 60-day cease- fire to allow for new talks. More than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur and two million displaced in what the U.S. government has termed a genocide.

Senate Democrats taking up privacy issues. The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on data mining. That's the computerized search for information on suspected terrorists and criminals. Witnesses testified that new technology is outdating current privacy laws. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and member Russ Feingold are co-sponsoring a bill increasing Congressional oversight of government data mining.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you very much.

We're going to get back to you soon.

Coming up, the president's new plan for Iraq. We're going to show you why critics say it's his last chance to try to turn around the war and preserve his legacy.

Plus, I'll talk about the Democrats' reaction to a troop increase and what they can do about it with Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's standing by live.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, President Bush poised to announced he's sending more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq in what many see as a last ditch effort to try to end the violence and the chaos plaguing the U.S. mission there. And we're now learning the first of those forces could be deployed within days. Most Congressional Democrats firmly opposed to any troop increase. Their hands, though, are largely tied on the matter.

Others, Democrats, including Senator Jack Reed, openly very, very skeptical. Senator Jack Reed is standing by. I'll ask him what he wants to see in the president's plan and what the Democratic strategy will be to deal with it.

And this won't be the first troop increase, but some say it's the president's last chance to salvage the war and his legacy.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As baseball great Yogi Berra one said, "It's deja vu all over again." This is not the first time the president will come out with a plan to try to stop the violence in Iraq. And a lot of what we'll hear tonight from the president may sound somewhat familiar.

Let's bring in our senior national correspondent, John Roberts -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Wolf.

We've heard it again and again over the last four years. In fact, almost every time the president gives a speech about Iraq, it could be the most important speech of his presidency.

Well, tonight's could be the most important speech of his presidency. And Americans can be forgiven if it gives them a sense of deja vu.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): If it feels like it's all been said before...

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been discussing our political, economic and military strategy for victory in that country.

ROBERTS: ... it's because it probably has.

BUSH: It's a major new campaign to end the security crisis in Baghdad.

ROBERTS: From his most recent series of speeches during last year's campaign all the way back to the deck of the Abraham Lincoln.

BUSH: The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time.

ROBERTS: ... the president has repeatedly appealed for patience, while successive plans to stabilize Iraq have failed.

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think this is the last -- the last chance for him. He's got only two more years left in his administration. He needs as much popular support as he's apt to get from this speech.

ROBERTS: And does this last chance stand any better chance than plans before it?

Perhaps, says General Don Shepperd, if the president gives up his central idea of winning.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): The key, the key is turning the war over to the Iraqis, not Americans winning the war. Americans cannot bring security to Iraq, nor can they bring security to Baghdad.

ROBERTS: By increasing troops, President Bush is both following an old play book to secure Iraqi elections...

BUSH: We will increase U.S. troop strength by about 12,000 personnel.

ROBERTS: And conducting what he said six months later.

BUSH: Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight.

ROBERTS: Will the gamble pay off this time around/ Here's what foreign policy expert Michael O'Hanlon told Congress today.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This is the very best you could help for out of a surge, is to get violence back to where it was maybe in 2004, or if you're really lucky, the more difficult parts of 2003.

ROBERTS: At risk for President Bush is legacy. Success could revive his presidency. Another failure could seal his place in history.

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There's no question that the one line after his entry in the encyclopedia, George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States, who chose to invade Iraq, and then whatever the consequences may be.

ROBERTS: And if it doesn't work, what then?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If this doesn't work, we leave Iraq, we put the best face on it we can, and we stand by for the next big event. And we be very, very careful and very steadied about committing ourselves to combat anywhere again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: But some experts believe that this war is going to pass on to the next administration. And they say Democrats who are planning all of this symbolic wrist-slapping over the next week should consider that they may end up inheriting this mess -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens.

Thanks very much for that. Good report, John Roberts.

Key Democrats suggest the president's new strategy is simply too little, too late. And they say that two months ago, voters demanded dramatic change and an end to the war. The Democrats worry that the president's new plan represents what they call an escalation of the war.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill, Democratic senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why not give the president at this point the benefit of the doubt and let him see if this new strategy actually works?

REED: Well, this is not a really a new strategy. It's just more of the old strategy, trying to take a military approach, primarily, to what is a fundamentally political problem which the Iraqis must solve. And the key ingredients to that solution are providing competent government, which they haven't done yet, for their own people; providing resources, their own resources to help their economy; but most particularly, going after all of the militias, not just the Sunni insurgents, but also the Shia militias. And Maliki and his government have done very little of that, even although they've said many times they would do it.

BLITZER: But he says he's got a firm commitment now from the Iraqi government, from the prime minister, to do what they have that you correctly point out they refused to do in the past. Is it too late to give the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, another chance?

REED: Well, I think it really is too late because, frankly, I think the political dynamic in Baghdad today is that the Shia government feels that they're winning. They're accomplishing their objectives, they're marginalizing the Sunnis, they're entrenching themselves so they'll never again fear a Sunni leadership dominating them.

That's an awful tough dynamic to change. And I think Maliki, with his best intentions, would be very challenged to change it.

One hopes he does that. But I think, again, the president has rested so much of what he wanted to do in Iraq on hopes, not on reality and not on good strategy.

BLITZER: This is a plan, this additional increase in the number of troops, that's not going to be cheap. The numbers coming out of the White House, total cost for this new Bush proposal, $6.8 billion, of which $5.6 billion is to pay for the troop increase, $1.2 billion for an aid package, including a jobs program for Iraqis.

What are you going to do about this money? Are you going to try to block it?

REED: Well, I think, first, what we're going to do, Wolf, is debate this whole new policy. It's not much of a new policy, but certainly debate it. And then I think we will vote next week up or down on a resolution of whether or not this Senate and the House, also, will favor this policy.

I think after that, we might be able to create a new dynamic, particularly if Democrats and Republicans alike are skeptical and oppose the policy. And then I think we have to look closely at the spending. But at this juncture, to sort of arbitrarily and categorically talk about what we're going to fund and we're not going to fund, I think is putting the cart before the horse.

BLITZER: Those are symbolic votes you're going to have in the House and the Senate. A sense of the Senate resolution, a sense of the House resolution. They send a political message to the White House, but they aren't binding.

REED: Well, they're not binding, but that political message, coupled with, I think, an adverse reaction by the American public, should, I think, get the president thinking again about a better strategy. A strategy that's not just more military, but talks about different missions that are more central to our national security.

And also, beginning to do what I think ultimately has to be done, is some type of phased, careful redeployment. Until he does that -- and by the way, that was the bulk, I think, of the suggestions to the Iraqi Study Group -- I don't think the American public is going to be convinced -- and they're more important than D-R votes -- about his credibility and his capability of leading this country in Iraq.

BLITZER: The president insists failure is not an option. What would you -- you have been to Iraq several times, you're a respected voice when it comes to military matters, national security -- what do you want him to do to make sure that Iraq doesn't simply collapse into all-out -- even more civil war than may already be the case, and that Iran doesn't emerge as the principal player in that part of the world?

REED: Well, there are residual missions for American military forces.

First, I think he properly should be concerned about maintaining and enhancing the capability of the Iraqis, their security forces, to defend their country and to support their government.

Second, we have an ongoing mission to go after wherever they are al Qaeda elements.

And then third, I think we also have to be prepared through deterrents to prevent any type of exploitation of the situation by the neighbors of Iraq in the region. That can be done by redeploying first within the country, and also from continuing our countries in the Gulf region. That is, I think, a more sensible approach that minimizes the consequences of what today has been, I think, a flawed strategy, extremely poorly executed.

BLITZER: If you had your way, how long would it take to get U.S. forces, about 130,000, 140,000 there right now out of Iraq out?

REED: Well, I think the key benchmark are the combat brigades. Those units that are tasked with fighting the insurgents.

I would hope that within four to six months, we could begin to pull those brigades out, redeploy them out of certainly the contested areas. Maybe even into Kuwait.

There will be a long-term need to train the Iraqi security forces, but that mission of training, of equipping, and of getting up to capability the Iraqi security forces is probably an ongoing one. But it's one that's much more, I think, central to what our proper role is in Iraq.

BLITZER: Senator Jack Reed, thanks very much.

REED: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Also, congratulations to you and your wife, a little baby girl, Emily. Right?

REED: That's correct. Thank you.

BLITZER: A proud papa, indeed.

REED: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good work on that front as well.

Senator Reed, thank you.

And you're going to want to stay right here for tonight's speech by the president. Paula Zahn will be joining us in a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, with complete coverage and analysis. Our coverage will begin 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

And after the president's speech, special editions of "LARRY KING LIVE" and "ANDERSON COOPER 360," all right here on CNN.

Up ahead, if the president's high-stakes strategy shift doesn't work, it could be Iraqi leaders who would pay the price. Waiting in the wings, a powerful anti-American faction.

From surge, to increase, to escalation, the language attached to the president's plan troop boost has many meanings to many people. Carol Costello is standing by to take a closer look.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: While the president's new Iraq plan calls for a significant U.S. troop buildup, it will also put a lot of responsibility on Iraq's very fragile government. Can the Iraqis do their part?

CNN's Brian Todd has that part of the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, real concerns tonight in Baghdad beyond whether the Bush plan will secure the streets. This new turn, experts say, has serious ramifications for the country's political future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A besieged prime minister is confident his side is ready for President Bush's new plan to stabilize Iraq.

NURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): All our political, economic, media, security and military resources will be used to support the operations which the capital of Baghdad is waiting for.

TODD: The political resources had better be ready, because experts say the political stakes couldn't be higher. If the plan falters and Nuri al-Maliki is pushed out, one analyst says the real powers from his Shia majority will take over.

KEN POLLACK, SABAN CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY: The Mahdi army, the Badr brigades and a few other Shia militias really run this government. If the U.S. plan is seen as not working, those groups are unlikely to leave the government because they benefit so much from their involvement in it.

TODD: With Shias left to pursue their interests, minority Sunnis would be completely alienated. A top Bush administration official tells CNN, "The Sunnis, although they're part of this government, believe they're not protected by it." An expert who's worked with the Bush administration on this plan says that's got to change.

FREDERICK KAGAN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INST.: It would be worthwhile trying to make it clear to the Iraqi Sunni that this is -- on the contrary, it's not an assault on them, but on the contrary, it's an effort to protect them.

TODD: But if the Sunnis and other minority groups bail on this government, more than one analyst predicts it could trigger all-out civil war. Outside powers like Saudi Arabia could openly back Sunni militants. Iran, already supporting Shia groups, would step that up.

Then...

POLLACK: Inevitably, what happens is that one side or another starts to lose. And when that happens, the backer, the great power backer, inevitably escalates its involvement, typically rising to the level of outright intervention, outright invasion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: If that seems farfetched, remember it's already happened in Lebanon. In Baghdad, it come downs to securing the streets and making the Sunnis and other minorities feel they're protected, and making sure the Shias play along. That's' why one analyst tells us there's really no distinction in Iraq between the political stakes and security on the ground -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, says the plan executions of two officials from the Saddam Hussein era should be delayed. He says that might ease sectarian tensions which have spiked since last month's hanging of the former dictator. Both men were sentenced to death in the same case which led to Saddam Hussein's execution.

Barzan Hassan is Hussein's half brother and former intelligence chief, while Awad Bandar is the former head of Iraq's revolutionary court.

The White House is always very careful with the language it uses, and perhaps even more so when it comes to the controversy over a troop increase for Iraq.

Let's go back to CNN's Carol Costello. She's in New York with more on this story -- Carol.

COSTELLO: They are careful, Wolf. Some might say masters at governing by slogan. You know, "No Child Left Behind," "compassionate conservatism." But the latest catch word has created a war of words over the war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): One of the latest Republican buzz words? Surge. Suddenly everybody who's anybody has been saying it.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A surge of troops.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: The surge will occur.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The decision of the surge.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Whether it is called a surge or any other name...

COSTELLO: It didn't come out of nowhere. "The New York Times" on November 21st reported the term sprung from the Pentagon. And ever since, it's caught on, describing Mr. Bush's idea of adding troops in Iraq.

Eric Schnure is a political speechwriter.

ERIC SCHNURE, POLITICAL SPEECHWRITER: Well, I think they meant to connote something that would be quick.

COSTELLO: And indeed, the definition of surge is a strong forward movement, like waves in the ocean, in then out.

But opponents of the surge quickly came up with their own buzz word.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: ... saying we don't support this escalation of the war.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Escalation.

EDWARDS: An escalation.

COSTELLO: Americans have caught on to the game. Bloggers coming up with alternatives to the term "surge". Examples, swellify and viagrafication.

Of course, none of this is really funny, but Schnure bets "surge" will not come out of the president's mouth tonight.

SCHNURE: Knowing the reaction that "surge" got, my guess is that they would try to stay away from the catchy.

COSTELLO: What might work then? Well, if you subtract "surge" from "escalation," you might get "increase temporarily." Other terms you most likely will not hear...

BUSH: Stay the course.

Stay the course.

COSTELLO: Pundits coined that phrase to mean steely resolve. It's come to mean stubbornly rigid.

So instead you may hear this...

BUSH: It's the way forward...

... to fashion a new way forward.

COSTELLO: Here's another one likely won't hear...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some isolationists or cut-and-run approach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People, this is not a cut-and-run strategy.

COSTELLO: It used to mean Democrats are cowards. Now because most Americans want our troops to leave Iraq, it's called...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His hope, that the U.S. troops can begin to withdraw.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: ... sought to seek an artificial date for withdrawal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: The words politicians use are so important. Sometimes they actually poll the public to see how it responds to a term before a politician ever utters it in public -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you very much.

Carol Costello reporting. Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour, a few minutes from now. Lou's standing by to tell us what he's working on -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.

Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, tonight we're reporting on a case that has sparked national outage. Two former U.S. Border Patrol agents are scheduled to go to prison next week for doing their jobs and shooting a Mexican drug smuggler given immunity by the Justice Department. Some in Congress are simply furious, and one of those lawmakers is Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. He's among our guests here tonight.

Also, the House of Representatives has voted to raise the minimum wage for the first time in a decade. The corporate and special interests still trying to block the increase with the help of their friends in the U.S. Senate.

We'll have that story.

And left-wing leaders in Latin America forming a dangerous alliance with Iran's president to confront the United States in this hemisphere.

We'll have that special report, a preview of the president's Iraq speech tonight.

All of that, all of the day's news, and more at the top of the hour. Please join us.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: See you in a few minutes, Lou. Thank you very much for that.

Still ahead, he lost his son in Iraq when the death toll was 1,800. In our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, John King pays a return visit to a family still grieving.

And just ahead, Barbara Starr has new details about the hunt for al Qaeda in Somalia. She's traveling in Africa right now. She's right in the region.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at The Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

Off the coast of Somalia, an F-18 takes off from the deck of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Near Beijing, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert checks out the Great Wall of China.

In New Orleans, first lady Laura Bush plays a drum with a third- grader at a children's museum.

And at the Phoenix Zoo in Arizona, an orangutan plays with her mom.

Some of today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is, should Congress vote to reverse the original authorization of the use of military force in Iraq?

Alice in Sanford, Florida, writes, "Yes, the military has completed it's job, Saddam's gone, the new government has been voted in. We support our troops best when we don't subject them to unnecessary danger. They did a great job. Bring them home."

"Of course, this was not the intention of the neo-cons and President Bush. They want to stay and control the country and its resources, even if our military is subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. We treat our criminals better."

Marta of Topsfield, Massachusetts, "Our vote was not symbolic. It elected them. I expect more than a symbolic vote from them."

D., "Congress definitely should rescind their original misbegotten vote on Iraq. The real question is whether President Bush would pay any attention. Even if congressional authorization were withdrawn, Bush would probably stay the course illegally. Would Congress then have the backbone to begin impeachment proceedings?"

Kevin in Columbus, Ohio, "Congress reversing the authority for military action in Iraq would be an absolute disaster. Iraq would become a country dominated by Iran and used as a staging ground for terrorists attacks against the free world. Our oil interests would e in jeopardy, and all our soldiers who were wounded and died would be for nothing."

Anna, Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, "Oh, sure, the Democratic Congress should vote to reverse the funding for the Iraq war. Can you imagine the outcry about not supporting the troops then? President Bush is stubbornly determined to add his name to our history books no matter how many names it puts on tombstones."

And Kerry in Alaska writes, "Jack, your question opens a can of worms. Why can't we reverse our vote for who was elected the last two terms?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, where you can read more of this stuff online -- Wolf. BLITZER: You know, it's fascinating. We're not surprised that Democrats are coming out against the president's new strategy. But increasingly, more and more Republicans are doing that.

We're just getting a statement from Senator George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio. He says, "At this point I am skeptical that a surge in troops alone will bring an end to sectarian violence and the insurgency that is fomenting instability in Iraq. The generals who have served there do not believe additional troops alone will help."

It's an interesting development after the election.

CAFFERTY: Well, let's see, the Democrats don't want. An increasing number of Republicans don't want. The American public doesn't want it.

The Iraq Study Group doesn't want it. The generals who were in charge of the war who didn't want it aren't there anymore.

What are we doing?

BLITZER: We're going to be listening to the president's speech tonight. That's coming up after we come back in one hour.

Jack, thanks very much for that.

One additional note we're getting. Another name to add to the race for the White House.

Senator Chris Dodd will announce his bid for the presidency tomorrow. That according to Democratic officials quoted by The Associated Press.

Dodd is a Democrat, as you know, from Connecticut. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974 at the age of 30. He's been in the Senate now for some 26 years.

And this note. Chris Dodd will join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow -- tomorrow afternoon.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

Remember, starting in one hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Paula Zahn will be here with me to get ready for the president's address to the nation.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

Let's go to Lou Dobbs in New York.

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