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THE SITUATION ROOM

Special Edition: Awaiting President Bush's Address to Nation

Aired September 13, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Kitty.
Happening now, President Bush prepares to brace the nation for the long haul in Iraq, but will limited troop reductions buy him more time with a nation weary of war. We're counting down to his primetime address tonight.

Plus, two U.S. soldiers who came out against the war die for their country in Iraq, tonight, their criticism, their patriotism and their tragedy.

And your safety at risk on America's roads and bridges, after the deadly collapse in Minnesota, critics are now outraged about lawmakers' pet projects in a brand new transportation bill. Wait until you hear what it includes.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, President Bush is set to tell the American people it's never too late for success in Iraq and he's prepared to link that success to how and when U.S. troops can come home, but Mr. Bush faces a nation and a Congress with little patience left for the war. And so his plan to talk tonight about an "enduring relationship" -- that's a quote -- with Iraq may be a bright red flag to his critics.

Let's begin with our special coverage of the president's address to the nation with our chief national correspondent John King. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You know a lot of people have suggested, John, that the troop withdrawal, some 30,000 troops between now and next summer is a sign that this president is -- start to bring this war down, but there are critics who are already suggesting he has another reason for bringing those troops home.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the critics say this is a charade, Wolf, that the president is only doing this because he has to do it. That the Pentagon doesn't have the troops to sustain the surge and they will jump on their terms enduring relationship to say he wants an open-ended commitment in Iraq. If you talk to people in both parties who are not locked into the rigid partisanship of the Iraq debate, they do see tonight as a very significant turning point.

For the first time, the American people will hear from their president, and he will say we can begin to bring troops home because of successes in Iraq. The challenge then is to capture that political momentum and reframe the debate. There are many who say if you can get a bipartisan consensus in Congress, you can force the president to take the next step. You get to 130,000 by next summer, by pulling out the surge troops.

Can you then get to say 130,000 by the time the president leaves office? The Democrats, especially those running for president will say no, all of the troops out by the end 2008, but most people in both parties, the pragmatists would say you are never going to get that. The challenge is can you seize on this new political opening to make sure that once the 30,000 come out, you can get the president to then do 30 or 40,000 more.

BLITZER: These troops are tired after what four-plus years of war. That was underlined by General Petraeus himself.

KING: The biggest headline of this week, we all got caught up in the numbers, him saying he could bring some troops home, but to have the general leading the charge in Iraq say in so many interviews, look, I have been deployed year after year after year. I'm tired. My family is tired.

That was a very clear signal that the commanding general in Iraq knows that the Army and its families are tired. And we now know from our sources that General Petraeus is not only planning to bring these 30,000 troops home, they are working on contingencies to do another 30 or 40,000 next year. They are contingencies.

The president can say no if the conditions on the ground turn more sour, but they do have the plans in place. The question is can you get a bipartisan agreement in Congress to settle for incremental withdrawal. If so, some believe we could be down about 100,000 by the time the president leaves office.

BLITZER: Which is a significant reduction, but it is still a whole lot more than almost all of the Democrats would like to see.

KING: That's one of the biggest problems. The Democrats running for president say more, more, and more, so they are the face of the party. It makes it harder for the other Democrats to compromise.

BLITZER: Don't leave. Stand by because we have got lots more to talk about. Even as the president prepares to deliver his important message on Iraq, insurgents had a devastating message of their own today. The White House says it believes al Qaeda in Iraq is to blame for the assassination of a prominent Sunni sheik, who supported the fight against al Qaeda.

It calls the death of Sheik Abdul Sattir Abu Risha an unfortunate and outrageous act. He was targeted in a bombing in Anbar Province 10 days after he took part in a meeting there with President Bush. CNN's Michael Ware has been on the ground in Iraq since the beginning of this war.

All along, he's brought all of us the most direct, the clearest picture of what is really happening on the ground. He is joining us tonight from Baghdad. Michael, let's talk a little bit first of all about the assassination of this sheik. This is a significant development and it does send a powerful message to everyone.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does. I mean this is -- you know let me say from the outset, Wolf, there has been no claim of responsibility. We can't rule out this is interfactional or intertribal fighting, however, right now the hallmarks do bear the signature of al Qaeda in Iraq. They have been assassinating any sheik, any insurgent leader who is prepared to work with the occupation, the U.S. forces. Sheik Sattir has been the public face of that.

Many people believe this was only an unfortunate matter of time, his tragic assassination. He was killed this afternoon by a bomb planted right outside his house. Now what we see is that he is the cosmetic face. He is what America has plucked from obscurity about a year ago and put forward as this movement, to bring in the Sunni, Baath insurgency.

And that has succeeded, not just against al Qaeda, but with the Iraqi government and against Iran. But his death is not going to change anything as sad and as tragic it is. It's a symbolic strike. Yes, it's a real statement, 10 days after shaking hands with President Bush, but I really don't think it's going to arrest the momentum that is being built up behind the Sunni insurgency now aligning with the U.S. forces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: When we listen to you, Michael, as we have over these past four years since this war started, we went through today some of your assessments over these years, your conversations with me in here THE SITUATION ROOM. I want to play a few clips of what you said during this period. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARE: There was much talk early on in the mission about achieving set numbers for the Iraqi security force, expecting trained and equipped 300-plus thousand would be able to handle the situation. Well, we're now within a whisper of achieving that number, and the situation remains a disaster.

While we see an influx or as the administration calls it a surge of American troops into Baghdad, that's going to change the nature of the battle in the capital. Will it destroy the enemy? No. It may displace the enemy or force them to adapt and change their tactics.

General Petraeus is going to have a big mix of conflicting data. He is not going to deliver a miracle. The best he can say is we see signs that could work. Give us more time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Tonight, the president will say that by next summer, 30,000 U.S. troops will be back home, bringing it down from 160's down to the 130's. What will that do to the insurgency, Michael?

WARE: Not a great deal at all, Wolf. I mean, we're returning to status quo. Let's face facts. I mean, President Bush's address tonight is all about formality, isn't it? I mean we have heard from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. President Bush is going to endorse their recommendations. Simply this is a return to a situation that any pragmatist before the surge pretty much knew we were going to end up with.

You know I've said it before, I've said it again. Even if America wants to leave Iraq, I'm sorry folks, it cannot. There actually are consequences to invading this country and upsetting the power balance here in the Middle East and you're now going to have to pay for them. And that's going to involve a significant American presence in this country for the foreseeable future, no matter which way you break it down.

So what we're now hearing is the president endorsing a policy that essentially says OK we started with 130,000-odd troops. We surged with 30,000. Let's face facts. The surge wasn't the success it was planned to be. But it did turn out to be a success, a success in areas that were not expected.

They're now cashing in those chips, capitalizing on that success, and the means that even though they don't have the money or the troops to support the surge anyway, they can at least let it peter out. And return to what we had before. The same before that wasn't containing al Qaeda, that wasn't blocking Iran, and wasn't bringing this country to any kind of stability nor was it stabilizing the region. I don't think that that's going to change, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Michael, stand by. You're going to be with us as we continue to go toward the president's address to the nation tonight -- Michael Ware reporting, as he always does, from Baghdad.

And as we talk about this war, it's important to remember those who have giving their lives for it -- 3,776 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. The most recent died Sunday in Baghdad. Almost 28,000 troops have been wounded in action. And in terms of Iraqi civilians, a recent report from the United Nations Base Group (ph) says almost 34,000 Iraqis have died and nearly 37,000 have been injured this year alone, this year alone.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He is in New York. He's watching all of this with us. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: For what, you know, for what?

This week, Wolf, has been all about Iraq, of course, almost. We've also been hearing some more about Iran. General Petraeus warned Congress that the U.S. is already fighting what he called a proxy war with Iran. The U.S. ambassador in Iraq says his diplomatic opening to Iran has gone nowhere, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Iran a very troublesome neighbor, adding that if the U.S. leaves Iraq, quote, "Iran is prepared to fill the vacuum."

See a pattern here? It is also expected President Bush will point to the potential Iranian threat during his speech tonight. The administration insists that it wants a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Iran, despite rumors that continue to float about preparations for a U.S. military strike. It's believed that the White House will soon blacklist a unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, branding it a terrorist organization.

The U.S. is also going to push for tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran next week. That may not go so far. Reuters is reporting Germany doesn't want to rush into a third round of sanctions against Teheran. German officials point out Russia and China are also opposed to any further sanctions, which in effect would narrow the options, wouldn't it?

The question is this. What are the Bush administration's intentions when it comes to Iran? E-mail your thoughts on that to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack. Thank you.

Coming up, U.S. troops who fought in the war and also fought the president's policy at the same time. Tonight, we pay tribute to two men who died on the battlefield.

Plus, the so-called mastermind of 9/11, his voice and his defiance captured on audiotape. Tonight you're going to hear for the first time what he has to say and what the Pentagon cut out.

And after the bridge collapse in Minnesota, a nation vows to make repairs, so why is a brand new transportation bill in the Senate simply jam-packed with what critics are calling totally wasteful spending? We'll tell you.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's your money. Now many are wondering if the Senate is spending it wisely. The deadly bridge collapse in Minnesota highlights the need to spend more money to keep all of us safe on the nation's roads, bridges and other key infrastructure; yet, the U.S. Senate has just approved overwhelmingly money for what critics are charging is totally wasteful projects.

Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta. He is in New York watching this story for us. Jim, update our viewers. Tell us what's going on with these so-called earmarks.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well they're at it again despite the howls of protest over wasteful government spending. We all heard in the aftermath of the Minnesota bridge collapse, critics of congressional pet projects are saying there they go again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Government watch dogs say members of Congress are bellying up to the taxpayer trough at near record levels. Consider the just passed Senate transportation and housing bill that critics insist is stuffed with $2 billion in pork. The so-called earmarks include $450,000 for the International Peace Garden in North Dakota and another half million for a new baseball stadium in Billings, Montana. The bill comes less than two months after the Minnesota bridge collapse.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: We have got the largest number of deficit and out of compliance bridges in our history, and yet, we're going to make a choice to spend money on this rather than the higher priorities.

ACOSTA: A recent report from the Transportation Department's Inspector General discovered more than $8 billion in pet projects last fiscal year. The study concludes many earmark projects considered low priority are being funded over higher priority non-earmarked projects.

STEVE ELLIS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: The more that we continue down the road of earmarking, the more at risk we're putting our infrastructure and our people.

ACOSTA: Over in the House, a new transportation bill that calls for a 5 cent hike in the gas tax for bridge repairs also includes $250,000 for a new bike path located in the Minnesota district of the Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, a cycling enthusiast.

Oberstar, who is on vacation, told CNN over the phone, it's an extremely worthy project. But taxpayer advocates say lawmakers are getting more sophisticated in shielding their pet projects, replacing the word earmark with a less threatening phrase, congressional directed spending.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Members of Congress are hooked on this junk. They're addicted to earmarks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And that Senate transportation bill passed by a huge 88- 7 vote margin. The House approved a similar measure earlier this summer, both in defiance of an expected presidential veto -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks for bringing that information to us, Jim Acosta reporting from New York.

Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign team is returning $850,000 in contributions linked to a fugitive fundraiser. That would be Norman Hsu, but now more money is being returned by another candidate and this time there is an Iraq connection.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He is watching this story for us. What is the situation this time, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, with all of the candidates and all the money pouring it, it might have been inevitable, but tonight, another campaign is dealing with fall-out because of connections to a shady donor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Texas oil man Oscar Wyatt charged by the government with illegally paying Saddam Hussein for oil during the U.N.'s oil for food program. At trial, a tape is played. During a 1990 meeting the late Iraqi dictator speaks to Wyatt and former Texas Governor John Connally.

VOICE OF SADDAM HUSSEIN: I am pleased to see you come to Baghdad, Governor Connally and Mr. Wyatt. You, as you know, are our friend.

TODD: Now, records show Democrat Bill Richardson, who dealt with the oil for food program as Bill Clinton's energy secretary and U.N. ambassador, got thousands of dollars for his presidential campaign from Oscar Wyatt and his wife this year well after Wyatt's indictment. Richardson's now giving that money to charity. An aide tells CNN Richardson didn't know Wyatt had been federally charged until very recently.

MASSIE RITSCH, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: I'm not surprised that he and -- he or anyone of these other candidates doesn't know everything about their donors, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be doing more back grounding.

TODD: A Richardson aide tells us they do extensive criminal background checks on major fundraisers and event hosts, but not on individual donors like Wyatt. The aide says they'll consider doing that.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to find ways to have public financing of campaigns.

TODD: Records show Democratic Senators Frank Lautenberg and Jay Rockefeller and Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn also got money from the Wyatts after Oscar Wyatt's indictment. Lautenberg is given the money back. Aides to Rockefeller, Hutchison and Cornyn say they will if Wyatt is convicted.

Watch dog groups say Wyatt's contributions are not illegal, but are a political liability, coming right after Hillary Clinton's return of hundreds of thousands of dollars from fugitive fundraiser Norman Hsu, who appeared in court today.

RITSCH: Suddenly, you'll have campaign ads saying Hillary Clinton takes money from fugitives. Bill Richardson takes money from people cozy with Saddam Hussein. That is not what is going to help a presidential campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, records show that Hillary Clinton also got money from the Wyatts, as did John McCain, but that was for their Senate campaigns years ago, well before Oscar Wyatt was indicted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks, Brian, for that.

A mastermind of 9/11 now caught on tape. You're going to hear for the first time what he told his interrogators and why they say he has no regrets.

And two soldiers who dared to criticize the war in Iraq publicly now killed in Iraq -- their story. That's all-coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: For the first time, we're now able to hear words from the mastermind, so-called, that is, of the September 11th attacks. They come in newly released audio from the Pentagon, but what we don't hear is almost as compelling as what we do hear.

Let's go to our justice correspondent Kelli Arena for details -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Pentagon apparently thought that the impact of hearing directly from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could be so damaging that it censored most of the new audiotape.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

ARENA (voice-over): It's the voice of a self-proclaimed mass murderer, calm, lucid, convincing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything in English.

ARENA: After months of debate the Pentagon released a heavily censored audiotape featuring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the so-called mastermind of the September 11th attacks. He was speaking at a military hearing to determine whether he could be called an enemy- combatant, a label Mohammed does not dispute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will not regret when I say I'm enemy combatant.

ARENA: But he also argues that other detainees should not be at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to be fair with people. There are many, many people which they have never been part of the Taliban.

ARENA: Through a representative, you hear Mohammed's confession to some of the most horrific acts committed by al Qaeda, the murder of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl, bombings in Bali, and of course, September 11th. What you don't hear is Mohammed himself admitting what he did or his justification for doing it.

That's because the Pentagon cut those parts out, even though they appear in a previously released transcript. The Pentagon says that it censored the tape so it can't be used to recruit or encourage future terrorists. But Mohammed also alleges he was mistreated in custody. Details on that were cut out as well, both on the new audiotape and the transcript. JOANNE MARINER, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: What we're afraid of is that in this case the CIA and the military are hiding information that is simply embarrassing, that is simply, would reveal illegal conduct.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA: That's a long running complaint, that the administration is more concerned with protecting itself than national security, but it is not one that human rights groups are likely to win. In other words, what you hear is all you're likely to get -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena reporting for us -- Kelli, thanks.

Two soldiers in Iraq, they criticized the war in "The New York Times" just a little while ago. They gave their lives for this war. They were bitterly critical of what was going on. We're going to tell their story.

Also, we're going to hear from two U.S. veterans of the war in Iraq who have very different perspectives. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from the president's address to the nation, his primetime address to the nation, that's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But first, their heroic voices are now silent. Right now many people are devastated by the deaths of two U.S. troops killed in Iraq, yet they're also making headlines for a bold move they made that caught the attention of many top officials here in Washington.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us. They had some very critical words to say before they died, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They did, Wolf. They raised serious doubts about the U.S. military mission in Iraq and called the political debate in Washington surreal. Less than a month ago, the soldiers noted their responsibility to speak up and give their views from the ground in Iraq, but now their lives have been cut short.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): The grieving family of 28-year-old Sergeant Omar Mora remembers the man they call a hero, killed Monday near Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was coming home in November.

SNOW: Twenty-six-year-old Staff Sergeant Yance Gray was also killed. The Pentagon says they were in a truck that rolled over. The two soldiers had shared a bought (ph), both were critical of the war, and signed their names to an editorial published in August in "The New York Times". A total of seven soldiers authored "The War as We Saw It", and the editorial gained international attention. They called the prospects of U.S. success in Iraq farfetched, writing "We are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day."

The soldiers' words reached the U.S. Senate. Senator Chuck Hagel used their accounts to challenge General Petraeus' assessment this week of U.S. military progress in Iraq.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Are we going to dismiss those seven NCOs? Are they ignorant? They laid out a pretty different scenario, General, Ambassador, from what you're laying out today.

SNOW: The general pointed out that the seven sergeants were in an area with continued sectarian violence, but says progress has been made in other places in Iraq because of fundamental change.

Before signing off on their editorial, the soldiers reiterated their loyalty to the Army, stating: "As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through." Christa Mora, the wife of Sergeant Mora, says she doesn't want people to think her husband was unpatriotic, saying he just wanted people to know about his experiences. The couple has a 5-year-old daughter.

Staff Sergeant Gray also leaves behind a young daughter. His wife Jessica says her husband had strong opinions and convictions and was not afraid to speak up for the good of his men and their mission.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Another soldier who signed the editorial was shot in the head one week before the article was published. He survived -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story, a terrible, terrible, horrible story. Thank you, Mary, for that. Mary Snow reporting.

Opinions about the war on Iraq are as diverse among the people who fight as they are among those who don't. Joining us now, two veterans of the war in Iraq, Geoff Millard is president of the D.C. chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War; and David Bellavia wrote about his Iraq War experience in the book entitled "House to House."

Thanks to both of you for coming in. Jeff, let me start with you. You bitterly oppose this war now. You hear about these two troops who wrote that article in The New York Times and are now dead. What goes through your mind?

GEOFF MILLARD, IRAQ VETERANS AGAINST THE WAR: Well, it really breaks my heart, Wolf, every time that I see a U.S. service member that is killed in Iraq, knowing that it's a futile occupation that should never have happened and needs to end immediately. It is really painful to know that that family is going to go through the worst and darkest days off their time, and it didn't have to happen. BLITZER: David, when we spoke the last time, you lamented the thought that buckets of blood could be for naught, for nothing, and you expressed hope that was not the case. What goes through your mind when you hear about these two soldiers who were killed?

DAVID BELLAVIA, AUTHOR, "HOUSE TO HOUSE": Well, first of all, let me reiterate what my peer just said. It's devastating any time we lose an American serviceman overseas period. There's no need to bring politics into this. There is no need to criticize someone's different point of view. We lost two American heroes regardless of their political outlook.

You know, I got 336 pages in my book, "House to House," that talks about Democrats and Republicans, people from all parts of our country, from all economical groups that are fighting this war. And politics doesn't enter the front line when you're in the trenches getting shot at by these bad guys. So they are patriots, period.

BLITZER: Geoff, you want to respond to that?

MILLARD: Well, I couldn't agree more. But I do think that politics does enter into it. I mean, when I was in Iraq, over the 13 months that I was there, my unit talked about politics all the time. But the fact of the matter is, is you watch your buddy's back when the time comes and he watches yours when the time comes. And that's the way that the military works.

And I think that we should -- I just wish that every U.S. service member who was killed in Iraq got the kind of attention that these two brave young soldiers have gotten in their passing. I think that it would send a huge message to the American people if every U.S. service member's name, photo and life story was told on television the way that these two brave young men have seen their lives.

BLITZER: They wrote in that article, David, that this war was not going the way the politicians here in Washington who support the war are suggesting. What do you want to hear, David, from the president tonight? What would reassure you?

BELLAVIA: Well, you know, I mean, the historical perspective is always great when you're looking at this war. Wars are won and wars are lost, in "House to House," I talk about the worst part of the fighting. This is in Falluja, a close quarters battle. We're talking about multiple gunshot wounds from the enemy are on a par with bite marks and broken noses and eye gouges. We are talking about horrible, horrible fighting.

But we won in Falluja. And the blood we spilt in Falluja is the reason why Anbar is safer now. And if we can look at Iraq as being a war that we can win, we have a strategy on the ground right now...

BLITZER: So you believe it's winnable?

BELLAVIA: Absolutely. Any war is winnable. We're the United States of America. Any fight we're in, we're going to win. And you know, look, the American people are against this war, all I would have to say is that, you know what, the American people aren't fighting this war, sir. We're having one half of one percent of America today is in conflict right now.

BLITZER: All right. Geoff, what do you want to hear from the president tonight?

MILLARD: Well, I, of course, would like to hear him say that all U.S. forces, not just merely the ones that are being forced to leave because they don't have replacements at the end of the so-called surge, to be coming home. But that's not going to happen. As his political appointee, General Petraeus said when in front of the Congress, that he couldn't even say that this war was making us safer.

It's not making us safer. It's hurting the military. It's hurting us here at home. It's not protecting America.

BLITZER: But let me challenge you, Geoff. Political appointee, this is a four-star general, he is a career professional who spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Army. Risked his life on many occasions not only in Iraq, but in Bosnia and elsewhere. Why would you call him a political appointee and take a slap at him like that?

MILLARD: Well, I'm not taking a slap at him, I don't think that his service was at all dishonorable, but let's face it, he was put into the position that he's in as a political appointee of the Bush administration. He was put there as a political appointee to continue the occupation of Iraq.

And that's really what we're talking about here too, is an occupation. Not a war like we saw in World War II, where as if we defeated a country. It's an occupation. Saddam has been out of power now for quite some time, and we're occupying a foreign country.

BLITZER: You know, the -- when I spoke to General Joulwan, he is going to be joining us, the former NATO supreme allied commander, the other day, he did make the point, David, that the U.S. military headquarters very often are in these palaces of Saddam Hussein. And to a lot of Iraqis, they see these U.S. generals sitting in Saddam's palaces, they say, this is U.S. military occupation. These guys are not here to liberate Iraq. They're here to occupy Iraq.

I assume when you were there in Falluja and elsewhere, you had a sense of some of the anger from Iraqis themselves.

BELLAVIA: You know what, I never had time to really sense the anger from the Iraqis that weren't actively engaging us with bullets and rockets. I can tell you there are individuals that are sleeping in palaces. And I think that is part of the transition that General Petraeus was talking about in 2008.

We need to leave those areas. Those palaces were built on the backs and on the blood of the Iraqi money that was pretty much stolen from the people. They need to be given back to the people. So I would agree that it is definitely negative for us to be staying any more than we need to be in those palaces. BLITZER: I want to thank both of you for your service to the United States. Jeff Millard, David Bellavia, you disagree strongly on this war, but we can all agree that you and all of the other United States men and women who are fighting over there have our total support. Thanks very much to both of you.

MILLARD: Thank you.

BELLAVIA: Thank you.

BLITZER: When President Bush goes before the American people tonight, he'll deliver an Iraq message that has changed over time. We're going to take a closer look at how that message has evolved in its newest incarnation.

And whoever wins the '08 presidential race stands to inherit at least some version of the Iraq War. We're going to take a look at the special challenges that the war poses to the candidates. That's coming up in our next hour, in our special SITUATION ROOM. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, a familiar drill for President Bush, now preparing for yet another speech about Iraq after four-and-a-half years of war. His optimism has been a constant, but his words changing over time as the fighting has worn on and his approval numbers have faded. CNN's Joe Johns is here. He's watching this for us.

Joe, how has the president's message over these years evolved?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president's public statements on what the military is doing in Iraq have shifted over time. And this is as good a time as any to take a look at some of it. We all know about his "mission accomplished" moment on the aircraft carrier, but that's really just the start of it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): This is what President Bush said just days after the war began.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All I know is we have got a game plan, a strategy to free the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein and rid this country of weapons of mass destruction, and we're on plan.

JOHNS: Then two years later, it was 2005. The war was dragging on, and no weapons of mass destruction had been found. The word for the president was still victory.

BUSH: We will never accept anything less than complete victory.

JOHNS: The president remained on message, the same victory message, until last year. BUSH: Our mission is to help the elected government in Iraq defeat common enemies, to bring peace and stability to Iraq, and make our nation more secure. Our goals are unchanging. We are flexible in our methods to achieving those goals.

JOHNS: But by this year, the message had started to morph. That unchanging goal, victory and democracy, replaced by a reduction of sectarian violence.

BUSH: Either we'll succeed or we won't succeed. And the definition of success, as I described, is sectarian violence down.

JOHNS: And then less than two months later, that was replaced by yet another way to view what the U.S. is doing in Iraq.

BUSH: It's a new mission. And David Petraeus is in Iraq carrying it out. Its goal is to help the Iraqis make progress toward reconciliation, to build a free nation that respects the rights of its people, upholds the rule of law, and is an ally against the extremists in this war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Obviously, there are a lot of reasons for the way the president's statements have changed over time, and one of the biggest reasons of all is that the situation on the ground has changed, from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the insurgency, to the civil war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns reporting for us. Thanks, Joe, very much.

Over at the White House tonight, President Bush will further hone his Iraq message, adding new words such as "return on success." The deputy White House press secretary, Dana Perino, is joining us now live to share some thoughts.

Dana, thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's talk a little bit about the last time the president spoke in announcing the surge. That was back at the White House on January 10th of this year. And the outlined five goals for the Iraqi government to achieve -- and he was very specific.

One of the goals, to establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. This is now September. It hasn't happened yet. Do you think it will happen by November?

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I think you have to look at what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker said, and General Jim Jones, in his report, which is that increasingly they are able to take over their security. They might not be able to take over all of them, but they have done -- certainly made some progress on that.

And the more time we have had because of the extra forces we have had there, we have been able to train them and make them a more professional force. And they're improving every day in that regard.

The one thing we have to do is really work towards helping the national police be able to reach that professionalism that the Iraqi security forces have.

BLITZER: Well, they haven't done it yet. Another thing he said, he said to give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. That hasn't happened yet either.

PERINO: Yes, but, Wolf, while the law hasn't passed yet, they have been sharing revenues with the provinces. And that money is coming from oil revenues. And they have passed a budget. So they need to pass a law, we believe they need to pass a law, but they are actually doing some of that work right now.

BLITZER: The president said: "To show that it's committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs." Have they lived up to that?

PERINO: Yes, they have committed that money and they're -- the money that they're getting is from oil, and they're spending that money. They are in the fight as well.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people have suggested that $10 billion, they may have promised it, but they have not delivered.

PERINO: I have not heard that, Wolf. I believe that they have been able to deliver on that. And I know that they're delivering money to the provinces.

BLITZER: Here is another thing that the president said in announcing the surge back in January. "To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year." But no sign of the elections yet. Do you think they'll happen by the end of this year?

PERINO: I can't predict whether those will happen, but what I can tell you is one of the things that we didn't anticipate that would take hold as much, but we're pleased to see it, is that local politicians are working together to press the federal government, just like we have here in our own system. And so that progress bottom-up progress is starting to succeed.

BLITZER: And finally, the president said: "To allow more Iraqis to reenter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws and establish fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution. So far the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has failed on that front as well.

PERINO: But, Wolf, I think that one of the things that you have to do is, if you look at this in such black and white terms, you're going to come up with a pop quiz like you have given me tonight. But what I can tell you is that the past -- a draft de-Baathification law, but more importantly, in practice, people that used to work in the Saddam Hussein government, for example, are now getting their pensions that they weren't before.

So Prime Minister Maliki has tried to make good on some of these promises. He is working with that Presidency Council. And it's imperative to American security that we continue to help them succeed.

BLITZER: This isn't a pop quiz. These are what the president outlined, these five goals that he said in announcing the surge. He said this is what he's hoping for. And I'm just looking back, wondering, you know, these things have not yet happened. There is some progress on some of them. But clearly the five specific things he wanted the Iraqi government to do, they have so far failed to do.

PERINO: The president has said that -- and he presses Prime Minister Maliki every time he sees him that they need to do more. But one thing that we should look at is what the president said in January is one of the reasons we're going to put more forces in there is so that we can hasten the day when some of our troops can start coming home.

And that is exactly what the president is going to announce tonight, 5,700 troops home by this Christmas. And then by July we will have gone down from 20 brigades to 15. And then General Petraeus says there could be further reductions from there if we continue to have success on the ground.

In large part, we have to give credit to our military for all of the hard work they have done over the past seven months. And look to Ambassador Crocker and David Petraeus for their recommendations on how we move forward. And that is what the president will do tonight.

BLITZER: Dana Perino will take over tomorrow as the new White House press secretary. Thanks very much, Dana, for coming in. Good luck on the new job.

PERINO: Thank you.

BLITZER: The long-awaited hearings on Iraq this week, they weren't always easy to hear. Just ahead, the rare silence that fell on the war debate.

And later, presidential candidates at war over Iraq. Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani leading the pack and trying to walk a fine line. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've finally learned what caused that snafu that temporarily derailed the testimony of General David Petraeus earlier this week. And you can bet White House technicians, congressional technicians, they are all checking things twice to make sure it doesn't happen to the president tonight.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maybe you heard about the hearings you couldn't hear.

REP. IKE SKELTON (D-MO), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: General David Petraeus, the floor is yours.

MOOS: The general may command an army of troops in Iraq, but couldn't order his microphone to work. And neither could the committee chairman.

SKELTON: Would somebody please fix the microphone?

MOOS: Easier said than done.

SKELTON: Is it working again? Is it fixed? How is the microphone?

MOOS: Maybe all those medals on the general's chest caused some sort of electrical surge. No amount of head-shaking helped, no amount of button-pressing. The general tried moving to another mike, but his mouth still moved silently.

SKELTON: Is there any way to trade microphones from the front row to the podium?

MOOS: The silence was deafening.

SKELTON: Are they fixed yet?

MOOS: Deafening silence all the way to "The Daily Show."

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Well, while we're waiting, is the mike working yet? Can we check on that? Is there -- I see they're still working out some technical problems. Still waiting.

MOOS: And though you couldn't hear the general...

SKELTON: How are we doing on the microphone?

MOOS: You could hear the protesters.

PROTESTOR: Swear him in! Why do you (INAUDIBLE) people?

SKELTON: Out they go.

MOOS: Funny how the chairman's mike picked up what he didn't want heard, talking under his breath about the protest.

SKELTON: That really (expletive deleted) me off.

MOOS: Technicians crawled under the generals table, to no avail.

(on camera): Personally I blame it on the skinny mikes, I mean, look how skinny they're making microphones these days. How are you supposed to get any sound through this thing?

(voice-over): Sound always seems to work fine when those old fat mikes are around. LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Watch.

MOOS: Even if they are only props, something for Letterman to fondle, or antiques to dress up the set.

GLENN BECK, HOST, "GLENN BECK": You pieces of garbage.

MOOS: No language like that back at the hearing.

SKELTON: I'm told they'll take five minutes to fix the microphone. We'll take a five-minute break.

MOOS: During the break, there was plenty of testing. And some freaky feedback. Finally, they discovered a disconnected cord. No technicians lost their jobs on account of the snafu. The most likely culprit, the feet of the press swarming around the general to take his picture.

Hey, a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words, or at least eight.

SKELTON: General, does it work?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR., MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: It does, Mr. Chairman.

MOOS: But can you say that about the surge?

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne. Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York. We make our livings, Jack, with those microphones, we would be in a rough place if we didn't have them.

CAFFERTY: Yes. This little item here is considerably more serious. The question we asked is, what are the Bush administration's intentions when it comes to Iran?

Santiago in Port Orchard, Washington: "I think Bush will attack Iran at the very end of his regime and leave the mess to the person that follows him. If Ron Paul is that new guy, the mess will probably be cleaned up. If we get just another hack for president, well..."

Chris in Sandwich, Massachusetts: "Plan? I am absolutely positive they have some cocky, brash plan to show them American might. The problem is, it probably contains the same level of planning that the Iraq War originally had."

Will in Columbus, Ohio: "We are hopefully going to execute this three-day nuclear aerial strike and wipe out their facilities. Even France sees the reality of this situation. Ahmadinejad is on an apocalyptic mission from Allah. What else can you do with an enemy like this?" Lois in California: "In two words or less: fear mongering. Bush's hope is that this will distract us from the mess in Iraq, wrong! Everyone, including Iran knows we don't have the ability to force our will on Iran. We haven't been able to do it in Iraq, despite killing thousands. It is all a lot of big words and voodoo rattle-shaking from the coward who hid in the playboy's Air Guard unit in Texas during Vietnam."

And Steve writes from Dallas: "Whatever he ends up doing with Iran, if anything, I seriously hope that he studies up on his 'strategery' first."

We invite you to join us next Wednesday when we will continue this high level discussion. We're on at 8:00 Eastern time. Going to do a one-hour special of "The Cafferty File," talking about just how ugly it's getting out there. And I'm delighted to tell you tonight that we just firmed this up a few minutes ago. Whoopi Goldberg is going to be a guest on this program. She is a terrific lady, one of the new hosts of "The View." You can go to cnn/caffertyfile where you can send us your I-Reports. And you can e-mail us at jack@cnn.com.

Wolf, I'm anxious to talk to Whoopi. I interviewed her years ago doing local news here in New York when she came in from the West Coast and was just getting started doing a one-woman show on Broadway. She has some great political views on stuff, and she's very funny.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty and Whoopi Goldberg, I can't wait. Next Wednesday night, 8:00 p.m. Don't leave yet, Jack. We have a lot more coming up here. We're counting down as the president prepares to address the nation. Tonight, you're going to find out how many troops he'll bring home from Iraq and when he'll be doing that.

Plus, we're going to a reality check on the ground.

And also, a look at the fight brewing between '08 hopefuls. Clinton and Giuliani, they're fighting it out right now. We're only minutes away from the start of our special coverage. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture right now, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where President Bush will try once again tonight to cut through Americans' anger and pessimism about the war in Iraq. It's a challenge more daunting than ever after four-and-a-half years of warfare with members of his own party in revolt, and with Democrats angling to win back the White House next year.

Thanks very for joining us for our special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. About an hour from now, President Bush plans to lay out what he calls his "new guiding principle on Iraq." The more successful the war, the more American troops can come home. But he also will reinforce his long-term commitment to stability and security in Iraq. And that is sure to be targeted in the Democratic Party's response. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is set to flatly declare that an endless military presence in Iraq, in his words, is not an option. CNN's John Roberts and our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, are here.

Why did the president decide to speak tonight? We heard from General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker. So, what is the point that the president is going to make tonight?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure, Wolf.

It really is pride and legacy, because President Bush, he always says, he's insisting that he's listening to his commanders on the ground. But he certainly is not deferring to them. He wants the American people to be sure that he's the decider, he's the commander in chief, and that we have heard him time and time again assert his executive power.

And so he's not going to be usurped by the power of Congress, nor the military. And he wants to make that very clear tonight.

BLITZER: But, based on what I hear -- and, John, correct me if I'm wrong -- he's accepted what his commander, General Petraeus, has recommended.

JOHN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": He's absolutely accepted just about everything that General Petraeus recommended.

But, according to senior administration officials -- we had lunch with the president today -- senior administration officials say, he didn't have to accept this, that he didn't just sort of blindly follow what General Petraeus was saying. He could have chosen to do something else.

And we were discussing the idea of, well, do something else. Could he have kept the surge going if he wanted to keep it going past this date? Senior administration officials say, yes, if they needed to have the troops, they would find them somewhere, call up the Guard, call up the Reserves. They would keep that troop level high.

So the president really tonight, as Suzanne was saying, trying to portray that as his idea. Everyone is talking about this as the Petraeus plan. President Bush is going to try to make it Bush plan tonight, and say, I took the best advice that I could get. The idea is that if you don't accept General Petraeus' advise, whose advise do you accept? He's one of the most respected commanders that this military has. I took that advise. I made my own decision. This is my decision.

BLITZER: John Roberts, the co-anchor of "AMERICAN MORNING," thanks very much for coming in. Don't leave yet. You're both going to be back.

Suzanne Malveaux, thanks to you as well.

As President Bush prepares to speak to the nation, his job approval rating stands at 36 percent in our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. That's Mr. Bush's lowest approval rating ever heading into a prime-time address on the war in Iraq, but it's unchanged from our survey last month.

President Bush has often used prime-time television to report progress or make promises on the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: In some cases, the early performance of Iraqi forces fell short. Some refused orders to engage the enemy. We have learned from these failures and we have taken steps to correct them.

In all three aspects of our strategy, security, democracy, and reconstruction, we have learned from our experiences and fixed what has not worked.

Our enemies in Iraq are tough and they're committed. But so are Iraqi and coalition forces. We're adapting to stay ahead of the enemy, and we're carrying out a clear plan to insure that a democratic Iraq succeeds.

America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced. To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: CNN's Michael Ware has been on the ground in Iraq since the beginning of the war. All along, he's brought us a direct and clear picture of what is really happening on the ground.

He's joining us once again from Baghdad.

Give us your reaction. When you hear the president making those statements over these past four years, and you have been in Iraq all of this time, what goes through your mind, Michael?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a tough question, Wolf.

The first thing that goes through my mind is that I just know this war is not going anywhere. And this administration has either been fooling itself or it's been fooling the American public, or perhaps a mix of both, from the beginning. The horror is going to continue.

And America has committed itself by the invasion and the astronomical blunders of the first years of the war to a course of action from which, I'm sorry, it can't shy away. This is an al Qaeda blooding ground and training ground, whether you like it or not. It was not before. They might be under pressure, but this is an organization that lives for pressure.

This is now territory of expanded Iranian influence. And this, as Ambassador Crocker and the prime minister of this country himself both accept, is a failed state. You have, according to American intelligence, proxy wars being fought here. And now people want to just walk away? I'm sorry. It doesn't work like that.

And nothing that the president is saying comes as a surprise to me, and all that adds up to me is that the horror will continue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You have met with these insurgents who are fighting U.S. troops, the Iraqi troops. How are they going to react when they hear that 30,000 American troops will be out by next summer, bringing the number from 160,000-odd down to 130,000-odd number of U.S. troops in Iraq? What will the insurgents do in reaction?

WARE: Wolf, I don't think they will blink an eye. To be honest, like you and I have discussed before, this is really a return to the status quo. The insurgents know this territory. They know what it's like to have only 130,000 U.S. troops here. They know what it's like to have a crippled, sectarian, corrupt, killing, failing Iraqi security force.

They know what it's like to have a dismal state. They know what it's like to have foreign backers. They know what it's like to be countering Iran, or, if they're Shia militias, working with Iran, against U.S. interests.

This is something they will be most comfortable with, most ready for. And as we have seen time and time and time again, this conflict, like all others, simply transforms, mutates, redefines itself, and the insurgents will just continue doing that until this is over -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Ware, don't leave. We're going to be watching this speech together, and you're going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us.

Michael Ware is our man in Baghdad.

President Bush announced the so-called troop surge only eight months ago. How does what he said then square with what is happening now? Rick Sanchez standing by to join us. That's coming up.

Also, the '08 fight over the Iraq war. Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton in a war of words. Tonight, you're going to find out who is accusing whom of character assassination.

And two soldiers who publicly criticized U.S. policy in Iraq become two of the war's latest victims. The impact on their families and on Congress -- lots more of our special coverage, as we count down to the president's speech on Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is joining us once again from New York, as he always does.

I want to talk to you a little bit tonight, Jack, about your thoughts. What would you like to hear the president say tonight in about 51 minutes?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I don't know, maybe something approaching the truth.

I don't think we have heard much of the truth about Iraq for four--and-a-half years now. You played that sound bite of him earlier this year saying that the Iraq government would be held to these benchmarks. There were 18 benchmarks. The GAO reports they have met exactly three of them.

We were told the surge would last for six months. The surge is going to last for probably 18 months. And this announcement that he's making tonight is pure spin. Unless they extend deployments or further dig into our Reserves and National Guard here at home, they have got to begin rotating those troops outs of Iraq in the spring, because they're out of soldiers.

There will be 130,000 of them left. The Iraqi government has not stood up, so we could stand down. There is no outside to this, no -- how are we going to know when this thing wins? What are we getting for $600 billion, almost 4,000 lost American lives, 28,000 wounded Americans, 34,000 dead Iraqis, no oil-sharing agreement, a dysfunctional government, no Iraqi military that is worth anything, no Iraqi security forces that are worth anything?

This thing isn't working on any level. And, yet, we keep going. They asked General Petraeus in those hearings earlier this week, are we any safer because of the war in Iraq? Because that has been the government line since this started. The general looked right at the guy asking the question and said, I don't know.

I mean, come on.

BLITZER: He's got his -- his purview is the war in Iraq, not necessarily the whole world.

But, in your new book, "It's Getting Ugly Out There," which is now a bestseller, you write something provocative. You acknowledge that, early on, after 9/11, you were a hawk on a lot of these issues. Explain how you have evolved.

CAFFERTY: Well, I think the whole country was a hawk.

When we were told that there were weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein was busy trying to get a nuclear weapon that he could possibly detonate in an American city, this was coming right after 9/11. This country was afraid. We were angry.

Bush stood on that pile of rubble at ground zero with that megaphone in his hand, arguably the best moment of his presidency, and said the people who knocked down these buildings are going to hear from all of you very soon. I was ready to go reenlist. And so were an awful lot of people in this country.

But the invasion of Iraq was predicated on lies. And, as things went along, and it became obvious there was no postwar planning, we saw our people getting bogged down in this quagmire, the sectarian violence erupting, it became a breeding ground for al Qaeda.

As Michael Ware just reported, they weren't there before. Saddam had no time for al Qaeda. And, gradually, it's like, well, OK, I guess I was wrong. And you begin to understand that you have been jerked around. And I think we have been jerked around. And yet nothing gets done about it, Wolf. That's the real mystery.

The Democrats were handed control of the House and Senate in the midterm election last year with the understanding, at least, that there was a bellyful of this war in the American public's mind and they wanted something done about it. Nothing has been done about it, except this. President Bush continues to stay the course. And he will up until the last day he's in office and all of this will be left for somebody else to worry about.

BLITZER: Jack, don't leave. We are going to continue this conversation.

Jack Cafferty is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And, as you listen to the president, what, in about 48 minutes or so, there are some things you should keep in mind, specifically his own words.

CNN's Rick Sanchez has been watching all of this for us. Rick is joining us from New York.

All right, explain what is going on, Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here is what we did, Wolf.

We went back and looked at some of the president's old speeches. Let's do this for you. Let's compare what the president said eight months ago when he announced the so-called surge with actual results on the ground.

We have got some graphics I want to show you.

Let's go over -- Jeff, let's go over to the big wall. All right, let's start in Anbar Province, good place to start. The president identified Anbar as a place infested with al Qaeda. So, he sent in more troops. The result, success, enough to have the president fly in there last week. And General Petraeus says that al Qaeda's presence there is way down.

Let's go over to number two. This is Baghdad, obviously. Mr. Bush said that sectarian violence would go down. The result, civilian killings down 70 percent. That's if you compare December 2006 with August 2007. And we know there have been some arguments about how the counting is being done now.

Finally, let's go over to reconstruction. The president said he would double the reconstruction teams, he would appoint reconstruction coordinator. Both have been achieved, but with mixed results. For example, electricity, most Iraqis have it for like 13 of 24 hours. Jeff, come back with me.

You know what we want to do now? We want to talk a little bit about some of the negatives in this case. What did the president say, for example, about Iran?

Here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria, the president's words back in January.

How is that going? We got an answer yesterday.

General Petraeus?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDING GENERAL OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: We have no question whatsoever about Iranian weapons being used to kill our soldiers, to kill Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Translation: Not so good.

Now go to Iraq. This is interesting. President Bush put his confidence in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said he would bring the coalition government together.

Not only did he not bring it together. Most of the politicians bailed on him. They were gone, gone, the entire month of August, vacation.

Now let's talk about the Iraqi army. We have got another good- looking graph to show you on that one as well. As far as the Iraqi army, the president had strong some words. Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: By November.

Tony Snow yesterday in an interview said, no, this is not going to happen by November 1, his words, quote, stop quote. Now let's talk about benchmarks, because this is really important as well. And this caught our eye when we were going through the speech, something that hadn't been talked about very much.

But listen, listen, Wolf, to what the president says here about benchmarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Will hold.

So, what we're talking about here is something very important. Now, we're talking about GAO, and the GAO says three of the 18 have been met, three of 18. The president says he will hold them accountable, and, Wolf, this from an administration that has made accountability one of its core values. That's why it's important -- back to you.

BLITZER: Good report, Rick Sanchez doing it for us. Thanks very much -- Rick Sanchez in New York.

Presidential hopefuls fighting it out over Iraq. You're going to find out why Rudy Giuliani is accusing Hillary Clinton of character assassination.

And, as we're counting down to the president's address to the nation, I will speak with a former supreme allied commander of NATO about the prospect for a long haul, a very long haul, in Iraq -- all that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're about 41 minutes away from the president's address to the nation. When that happens, listen to what President Bush says he's going to be doing as far as a bottom-up progress report in Iraq, as we stand by for his remarks. That's coming up.

We also expect some talk of setbacks by the president, but even more talk of success.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's joining us from the White House.

You have got some excerpts of what the president is planning on telling the nation, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

These excerpts obviously put out by the White House before the speech, trying to shape some of the pregame coverage. And the word we're going to hear over and over, as you noted, is success -- the president anticipating -- you have Democrats charging that any progress from the surge is too little, too late.

Mr. Bush is going to say that he wants to build on the success he's already seen. But, of course, we have heard upbeat assessments from this president before.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice over): One theme guaranteed to be in the president's eighth prime-time speech on Iraq since the invasion is the thread that's run through the previous seven -- relentless optimism.

BUSH: And I assure you this will not be a campaign of half- measures and we will accept no outcome but victory.

HENRY: Optimism came easy when the U.S. appeared to be winning.

BUSH: Our coalition will stay until our work is done. And then we will leave. And we will leave behind a free Iraq.

HENRY: But the optimism continued. Even as fortunes turned.

BUSH: There are difficult days ahead. And the way forward may sometimes appear chaotic. Yet our coalition is strong. Our efforts are focused and unrelenting. And no power of the enemy will stop Iraq's progress.

HENRY: Author Robert Draper, who had unprecedented access to the president, says Mr. Bush knows his legacy is linked to Iraq.

ROBERT DRAPER, AUTHOR, "DEAD CERTAIN": I think he's determined to see the glass is half-full. I think we can predict that at no point will the president ever say, you know, things are just not working.

HENRY: So promises of progress have continued. Even as the insurgency gained.

BUSH: This proves that the war is difficult. It doesn't mean that we are losing. Behind the images of chaos that terrorists create for the cameras, we are making steady gains with a clear objective and view.

HENRY: The president feels pessimism will embolden the enemy.

BUSH: We can and we will prevail.

HENRY: Though he does acknowledge the endless confidence can hurt his credibility.

DRAPER: He has this kind of compulsive optimism to him, and he realizes that it's created conditions for a credibility gap. He told me, Right now David Petraeus is going to have to sell people on this war and on the surge because people don't believe me and they don't listen to me anymore.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HENRY: And that's one reason we have General Petraeus so front and center in that Capitol Hill testimony, all these media interviews.

And, tonight, we're expecting the president to do something he hasn't done before, which is embrace at least the beginnings of a timeline for withdrawing some U.S. troops, 5,700 by Christmas, up to 30,000 by next summer. Of course, that's now going to open him to Democratic charges that this is an open-ended commitment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is watching this for us at the White House.

Ed, thanks.

Heading into the president's speech tonight, there's been a modest increase in support for the Iraq war. Our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 29 percent of Americans now want all U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq. That's down from 39 percent in June.

And Americans are divided on whether Congress should set a troop withdrawal deadline. Forty-eight percent say yes. Fifty percent say no.

So, what happens if America stays in Iraq for the long haul? I will talk about that prospect, the U.S. staying in Iraq for many years to come, with the former supreme allied commander of NATO, General George Joulwan. He's standing by live.

Also, campaigns aren't pretty, but the war of words is getting mean on the campaign trail, the accusations. Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton, they're slinging some tough words out there.

We will tell you what's going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're about 34 minutes away from the start of the president's address to the nation on the war in Iraq.

U.S. troop levels in Iraq have fluctuated because of rotations and other factors; 90,000 began back in 2003. From there, it's gone up and down, averaging more than 130,000 troops the first four years of the war. The level went up to 159,000 troops at the start of 2005. Early this year, before President Bush ordered reinforcements, the so- called surge, there were almost 140,000 troops in Iraq.

As we have said tonight, the president will announce he's going to start to draw down some of those extra troops. His plan would take the number back to about the pre-build-up level, somewhere between 130,000 and 140,000.

We expect the president to begin preparing the country for a long-term commitment to Iraq in his address tonight as well. Let's talk about that with the retired NATO Supreme allied commander, General George Joulwan. He was a key member of the commission that reviewed what is happening in Iraq with retired Marine Corps Commandant General James Jones and a former NATO supreme allied commander as well.

What are we talking about, a U.S. military little commitment in Iraq? One year, five years, 10 years? Look down the road for us.

RETIRED GENERAL GEORGE JOULWAN, U.S. ARMY: As I have said before on this program, I think, initially, we should have looked at a 10- year program. That's how long it's going to take when you get into one of these actions.

It's not going to be done in one or two years. What you do in the first several years in setting the foundation is extremely important. We did not do that in those first several years of creating a secure environment in Iraq.

We're starting to see some tactical success now. But it's going to be a long-term effort. And it doesn't have to be at the high levels of military forces. It's going to take more interagency work. The rule of law, the economy, energy, water, all of those things need to happen. And it's just not troops.

BLITZER: The troops can get the job done, but, if the Iraqi government isn't willing to bite the bullet and do what they say they want to do, but so far have not done, it doesn't make any difference.

JOULWAN: But, Wolf, what has to happen is capacity-building within the Iraqi institutions that do all of those things that make reconciliation, the reconstitution of their economy and their infrastructure. All of that needs to take place, not just the troops. It's just not what the troops do. It's what -- we need a political surge, not just a military surge.

BLITZER: So, what you're saying is, no matter what the president says tonight, no matter who is elected president next year, this is going to be a long-term commitment to Iraq?

JOULWAN: I think we better start preparing for -- but not just troops. I mean, that is what I'm trying to get at here. It has to encompass much more than that. My experience shows that in order to win the peace, it takes more than just the military.

BLITZER: A lot of Iraqi's, and you document this in your report, the so-called Jones Report, you say that they just see the U.S. military there as occupiers and you blame the U.S. military in part for that perception.

JOULWAN: We have been too much in that occupying role, in my opinion. That has to shift. We have to start building an Iraqi lead into all of this. And as we say -- by the way, I oppose the way this war was planned and how it was initially conducted. But we saw some signs of success on the ground, tactical success, how do you build on that? The Iraqi army, for example, has 10 divisions and will be going to 13 divisions next year. Seventy-five percent of those divisions are Shia and there is intercooperation between all of the factions. We can build on that. We have far military sales that the Iraqis have put $2 million in U.S. banks to buy equipment that we can't get to them. I mean, it's those sort of things that need to be clear.

BLITZER: But, you want the U.S. military brass out of those palaces that Saddam Hussein built, because that sends a horrible message.

JOULWAN: Wrong signal, but as we evolve here, as we get more of an Iraqi lead, the Americans go into what we call a strategic overwatch. That we can move out of some of these hotly contested area. Let that, the security forces with the military and the police, and have us in a strategical (ph) watch to help and also thicken the border.

BLITZER: Very quickly, you know the argument that the president said 30,000 troops will be out, but a lot of experts say, you know what, given the strain on the Army, the Marine Corps, they had to be out by next summer, no matter what.

JOULWAN: Wolf, I will tell you this, if we can concentrate on what we can do between now and July to increase the effectiveness of the Iraqi military, to take actions to reform and reorganize the national police, if we could concentrate on building that up. I tell you, in my opinion, you can draw down more than 30,000. If we start concentrating on what can be done. And I hope that we do that and hope the president will say something about it tonight.

BLITZER: General Joulwan, thanks for coming in.

JOULWAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: One of them will inherit the trouble in Iraq. Coming up, the president's speech and how it could help the candidates on the trail.

Plus, the clock is ticking. We're waiting to hear from the president now in less than a half an hour, stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Only about 26 minutes away from the president's address to the nation on the war in Iraq. But whatever he says tonight, you can bet it will become red meat for the candidates hoping to replace him in the White House. The war of words already intense. Listen to Republican Rudy Giuliani going after Democrat Hillary Clinton and the "New York Times" over the Moveon.org ad slamming the U.S. commander in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I don't think should happen in political discourse is the kind of character assassination that Moveon.org participated in, in calling him General Betray Us, that the "New York Times" gave them discount to do, and that Hillary Clinton followed up on with these attacks on his integrity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley and CNN's Joe Johns, they're here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Candy, we'll start with you. It's getting intense out there. The political fall-out from the president's address tonight, will only add to that.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Lots of good campaign fodder. We need to say that the "New York Times" says that what Giuliani just said is not true that they -- there are lots of things that go into the rate of an ad, that they give the rate before they know the content of the ad and that about $65,000 would be sort of standard for a black and white full-page ad. The "New York Times" saying no discount there for this politically content ad. So, but as you say and as you saw, this really gives a huge amounts of conversation for both sides, Republican and Democrat, the Republicans behind Petraeus, the Democrats saying not far enough.

BLITZER: And they're all the presidential candidates, the Democrats and the Republicans, they have to walk a pretty fine line right now, in order to strengthen their respective positions.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly do, because you open yourself up to all sorts of attacks. Senator Hillary Clinton, of course, talking and asking Petraeus questions in this last committee hearing, essentially made some statement that made it sound though she was questioning the veracity of General Petraeus, and she immediately was really hit from all sides, certainly from the Republicans.

Obama has made certain statements as well, suggesting he wants to bring the troops back to the United States starting something like March of next year. Well, the people who are to the left of him are attacking Obama. So, it's a real double-edged sword, what you say about the president, what you say about bringing the troops home, and how you say it.

BLITZER: What the Democratic candidates have to worry about, Candy -- and we've been through this over the years on many occasions -- it's one thing to appeal to the Democratic base, but then you have to appeal to the country as a whole after you get the nomination. And then if you become president, you have a whole set of other worries that could come back to haunt you based on so many earlier statements.

CROWLEY: Well, and add another worry to that, particularly for those in the Senate: Biden, Dodd, Clinton, Obama. They've got to come and both -- and both Obama and Clinton have made a practice of talking about coming together, about needing Republicans and Democrats to come another. So, if there's some sort of compromise amendment up there about Iraq that Republicans can go for, does Hillary Clinton, does Barack Obama vote for that, or do they hold the hard line and say it's not hard enough? So there's lots of audiences to play to.

BLITZER: General Petraeus may have gotten the president some more time, but Republicans, I've spoken to some Republican strategists who say, you know what, be careful what you wish for because as this war continues, that could come back to haunt the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, as well as a lot of Republican candidates seeking election in the House and Senate.

JOHNS: For sure, a lot of people plan this a lot of different ways. Of course, John McCain out there saying all along, I've been pushing for us to stay the course. And there's some suggestion, of course, that if you do that, if you hold out and things get better as well, the other side of it, you never know, the Republicans might come out smelling like a rose at the end of this thing though it's hard to see how that would happen by November of next year.

BLITZER: That's a big if. Joe Johns, Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

Still ahead here, in the minutes before the president's address, he's going to lay out the blueprint for the war as it's going forward right now. Will it also be a blueprint for his legacy? Phil Bronstein and Gloria Borger, they're standing by right here in THE SITUATION ROOM for more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're only about 19 minutes away from the president's address to the nation on his new plans for the war in Iraq. Join us now, the newest member of the best political team on television, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Welcome, Gloria, to CNN.

Also joining us, Phil Bronstein, the editor of the "San Francisco Chronicle."

So, thanks to you as well.

Gloria, let me start with you. For the Republicans listening to the president tonight could put some of them in an awkward moment.

GLORIA BORGER, SR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, they really did not want the president to give an address to the nation this evening. A lot of the Republicans I spoke with today, both in the presidential campaigns and on Capitol Hill said, look, we thought General Petraeus did very well. He has more credibility than the president does when it comes to managing the war in Iraq. Why didn't the president leave it alone? And they said he's doing it because this is his moment, he wants to take credit for drawing down the troops.

BLITZER: Because the argument, Phil, is the president's credibility, shall we say, on the war in Iraq may not necessarily be as strong as the general's.

PHIL BRONSTEIN, EDITOR, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLES": Well, you know, you're talking to somebody who lives on the West Coast where George Bush got 44 percent of the vote in the last election, fifteen percent in San Francisco. But you know, Wolf, you got to keep in mind one thing, I was at a dinner where George Shultz was always attending, and he was saying, in his experience, there were two presidents that had a clear vision of what they wanted to do and stuck to it.

One was Ronald Reagan, of course, where we served as secretary of state and the other was George Bush. Because, although the country is against President Bush 2-1, the one is very solid, people like George Schultz. And the two is pretty fragmented. You know, we're the home of Code Pink, those are the people that disrupted or attempted to disrupt the Petraeus hearings. But you know, there's support around here and I suspect if there is support for George Bush still in the Bay area, it's solid and the other side is still pretty fragmented.

BLITZER: The Democratic leadership in the House and Senate contrast to what they use to do, they're now reaching out of moderate Republicans. They're going to see, Gloria, some common ground can be fought. But that's irritating the base of the Democratic Party.

BORGER: It is irritating the base. You know, the Democrats are in a very, very tough position because they know they can't win. They don't have the votes, Wolf, right now to win and to beat this president on the war because he does have that veto. So, they're reaching out to moderate Republicans. Whether they're going to be able to come up with some kind of a deal, some kind of a change in the definition of the mission from combat to training Iraqi forces. Something like that is what they're really looking for. But you know, they've a problem, as you were pointing out, with their base, who elected them, gave them control of the Congress to get the country out of Iraq, and that's not happening.

BLITZER: And that base, Phil, is really getting angry, I suspect, in San Francisco, especially where you are, they want action, and they're not seeing it.

BRONSTEIN: Well, you got to keep in mind the House leadership is from here. Nancy Pelosi is our representative. And so I think Nancy is probably hearing a lot of unhappiness when she comes back home for the weekends about some of the positions that people view her as taking. You know, that reaching out to the moderates, that not being hardline enough. And I think, you know, people while she's still our member of Congress, as is George Miller, Nancy Boxer -- Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer in the Senate, you know, these are our folks, but I think to the extent that they're not taking a hard line on the war, that they're not going to be popular on that situation.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

BORGER: You know, when you win control of the Congress, be careful of what you wish for. Now people believe that the Democrats are in charge of had Congress and they should have been able to get us out of Iraq. But the truth is, Wolf, that they can't do that unless they have that kind of super majority and it's a very difficult thing for them to explain to the base of their party. So, they're getting the base of the party angry with them and now polls show that only 20 percent or so of the American public believes that Congress is going to do the right thing in Iraq. So it's a problem.

BLITZER: We're paying a great deal of attention, Phil, here in Washington, inside the Beltway, as they say. What about out on the West Coast? How big of a deal would you say the president's speech tonight, the testimony this week from General Petraeus, how's that playing out there?

BRONSTEIN: Well, as I said, the folks from Code Pink are from here, and I think people paid some attention to that. This is the home of protest and right now, that protest is aimed at the war in Iraq. But, I mean, I think the president's speech is not going to change any minds here, as the other guests on your show have said. Not going to change any minds. No one's going to have a different view of the war. But again, you know, you've got that 2-1. The two is against the war and probably -- and certainly against the president and his position on it. But it's a fragmented two. And Nancy, I think your point about Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic voters out here is well taken.

BLITZER: You know, the president has a new team, Gloria, around him now, without some of the stars, if you will, the Karl Roves, who brought him to this party, shall we say. As you look at this team surrounding the president, do they have it? Do they have what it takes to get the job done in the remaining months of this administration?

BORGER: Way to put me on the spot, Wolf. I think there is a good team around the president, Ed Gillespie used to be chairman of the party, for example. He's really running the entire communication strategy on this. When you talk to people at the White House, they'll say, oh, we had a pretty good month of August because we let people know that the surge is working, but this really isn't a matter of public relations anymore, Wolf. I think that people have already made up their minds ability the war in this country, but they haven't made up their minds completely about the legacy of George W. Bush. And that's what this is about.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk about that, Phil, the legacy of George W. Bush. A chunk of that could be written tonight.

BRONSTEIN: Well, I think I go back to George Shultz's comment. I mean, you know, he's looking at George Bush in the context of legacy, in the context of Ronald Reagan, for instance, who's now viewed somewhat differently a few years later than when he was viewed when he was president. So I think, you know, history is going to tell us, but unfortunately, that history is ahead of us. It's not tonight.

But, I do think that this speech is going to be important in the short term in the sense that, you know, is he going to move any of those people who have a view about how we should pull out, which when we should pull out, and how much?

BLITZER: Phil Bronstein is the editor of the "San Francisco Chronicle." Gloria Borger, CNN senior political analyst. Gloria, once again, welcome to CNN. Our viewers are going to be seeing a lot of you in the coming months and years. BORGER: Thanks a lot, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still ahead, you're looking at a live picture over at the White House where the president is in the last moments before he addressed the nation in his plan for Iraq and the U.S. troops there. When he begins, we're going to of course, have live coverage. His speech, that's coming up after this break. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Then what? Larry King is also part of tonight's special coverage here on CNN, as he always is. You're going to see him right after the president's address with the Democratic response. Larry's standing by live.

Larry, tell us who your guests are tonight.

LARRY KING, LARRY KING LIVE: Not too bad, Wolf. Right after the speech and the Democratic response, we'll have one-on-ones. We'll meet four of the candidates, running -- people who want to succeed George w. Bush in the Oval office. We'll get reaction from Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani, John Edwards, and John McCain in that order.

Plus two veterans of the war in Iraq with very different views about what U.S. policy ought to be. That's right after the president and the response, Wolf, at the top of the hour.

BLITZER: Excellent, Larry, thanks very much.

Larry will be coming up right after the president and the Democratic response. A new White House report on Iraq will show improved progress on only one of the 18 political and security goals. That according to the "Associated Press." Let's bring in Suzanne Malveaux. She's been working this story, first of all, for us.

So, this sounds very gloomy. Only one of those 18 so-call benchmarks, the White House, itself will acknowledge is showing progress.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I talked to Dana Perino, who, as you know, is going to be the spokesperson, the press secretary officially tomorrow and she said that they're not going to comment on what the "A.P." is reporting at this time. She did say that the president is going to release this report tomorrow. That people should not expect dramatic changes within 58 days after that initial report.

So also went on to say that Ambassador Crocker said that all of these benchmarks are trending upwards, but that the trend line is not steep enough. She also went on to say that they may not have passed the debaathification law, but they are receiving some pensions. I have learned from other sources outside of the White House who are familiar with the president's report. Here's how they break it down. They say nine satisfactory, he will say. Five satisfactory, will be two unsatisfactory but with some progress, and then two that they just it's simply too early to assess.

BLITZER: All right, we'll be watching that. Standby Suzanne. Also here in THE SITUATION ROOM, John Roberts, is here, John King is here, Anderson Cooper is with us in Iraq.

Anderson, let me go to you first. How is this playing over there, the fact that the president tonight is going to endorse the recommendations from General Petraeus? That's no great surprise there. Well, what are people there in Iraq saying?

ANDERSON COOPER, AC-360 HOST: Well, I think that are lot of people here focus on the fact that the president portrays this very often as a battle between the United States and al Qaeda in Iraq. In reality, there are many different actors here involved in the insurgency, involved in fighting against U.S. troops, as well as opposing the government here.

There's also been, you know, a lot of focus in Washington on the military benchmarks. Here, just the sheer lack of political progress here is something you can't avoid seeing. The fact that the Maliki government is so divided along sectarian lines, so supported by and depended upon militias, the fact that there has been very little political progress here, is something which we don't hear very much from this president.

BLITZER: Anderson, you've been reporting from there all week. We've been AC-360 watching 360 from Iraq. Has there been one nugget that sort of jumped out at you since you got there compared to your earlier visits to Iraq where things have changed for the better or the worse?

COOPER: You know, you certainly see fewer U.S. troops on the streets manning checkpoints than I had in previous trips. You see more Iraqi security forces. But just, you know, the complex nature of the situation here is something which every time you come here, you are reminded of it's very easy for politicians to kind of simplify it and paint it as a battle between one or two forces. The picture here is extraordinarily complex and it's certainly a mixed bag to say the least.

BLITZER: John Roberts, you've had some high-level briefings today. Talk a little about any surprises. The viewer out there who has really paid close attention to this debate, will he or she hear something that will stun them tonight from the president?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I don't know if there's anything stunning, but something I found intriguing today was this idea that the president is going to be leaning toward the idea tonight that the Iraq -- the military engagement in Iraq is not going to end with his presidency, that this is going to be left for other presidents to figure out.

But, he's couched it in a rather diplomatically crafted paragraph where he says basically, that U.S. troops are going to be in Iraq for years if not decades to come. Where he says that the Iraqis wanted long-term strategic relationship with the United States. His aides say and senior administration officials say that he's been thinking about this idea of maybe how it looks in South Korea where we've had tens of thousands of troops there since 1953. And does that mean that we could have troops in Iraq for the next 50 years? Maybe yes, maybe no.

But that's kind of the way he's leaning is thinking about this idea of a peacekeeping force, stabilization force within Iraq to try to keep Iran at bay, try to give some room to the Iraqis to develop their political infrastructure, and to calm the unease of the Sunni nations that surround Iraq by having this force in there. He said, they say that there would be in far fewer numbers than it is now, but they're not saying what few numbers would be.

BLITZER: You know, John, a lot of people would say, you know, that's fine. The United States could have a long-term military presence in Iraq along the lines of Germany or South Korea or elsewhere as long as they're not being killed on a day-to-day basis and it's not causing this enormous anguish. But I'm not sure the American public is ready to accept a long-term commitment like that for years and years if the war, the death, the destruction, the enormous financial cost continues.

ROBERTS: And Wolf, I think that is why what we're going to hear from the president is so significant, even though the Democrats are saying no, it isn't. It's the same old story. Listen to what Suzanne just said, this is a failing report card. If these were your grades in school, you would be kept back and if they were that back, you might even get sent back a grade. The president has always said we will not leave until we succeed. He's stopped saying "winning," but he said "until we succeed." That's not success and yet, the president is going to say for the first time, I'm going to bring some troops home because we are succeeding. From this night forward, the debate will be about how many and how fast. Not about whether to bring the troops home, but how many and how fast?

BLITZER: And Suzanne, as you take a look at the political fallout, forget about the president because he can't seek re-election at this point, but a lot of Republicans are real nervous about what he's going to say tonight.

MALVEAUX: Oh, absolutely. And there really is this line here. I mean, do they stick with the president for the remaining 16 months or even, you know, much sooner than that to determine who's going to ultimately take the fall for this? A lot of people want to see a lot more progress here, at the very least here, as you know, what's playing out in Congress is whether or not they can get those 60 votes to end the filibuster or the 67 to override the veto. So far, the White House believes that they have enough Republicans who are sticking with them for now, for now, but that's far from certain.

BLITZER: You know, you interviewed, Anderson, the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki. We watched that interview; he seemed to be saying all the right things. He does that. When I've interviewed him, he says all the right things. The question is, why doesn't he deliver. Did you walk away with an answer to that question? ANDERSON: No. I mean, you're absolutely right. I mean, what he says is one thing. What he actually does seems to be completely different. And the question is can he deliver on the things he says, and certainly, if the past is any indication, he cannot. He has not been able to. He rejects any calls for stepping down. He says he's never even considered resignation.

I mean, he admits in the interviews that his government has been dysfunctional. He says there's been some successes, but he's thinking of reformulating the cabinet. You know, nearly half his cabinet is either boycotting meetings or has flat-out resigned. So, to say it's dysfunctional is certainly accurate. The question is, what are you going do about it? And he doesn't have any answers.

BLITZER: Anderson Cooper, stand by for a moment.

To our viewers in the United States and around the world, we're awaiting the start of the president's address to the nation. Just over a minute of so from now. The president will speak about his new plans for the war in Iraq and as we await the start of the president's address, let's bring back John King who's watching all of this.

You've seen a lot of these presidential addresses. They rehearse them. They prepare them. They go through multiple drafts. In the end, though, it's up to the president to deliver it.

KING: It is up to the president and this is not his favorite setting. He likes interactive settings where he has an audience. Here, he will be sitting at his desk in the Oval Office. That is not this president's favorite thing. But he does understand the moment. And, again, Wolf, politically, the climate is changing tonight. This is the first time George W. Bush will say it is time to bring troops home from Iraq.

The Democrats will say not enough, not fast enough. But that changes the political dynamic right there. When the commander-in-chief says we can bring some home, the debate will begin again from there.

BLITZER: The president is going to be speaking.

There you see those color bars up on the wall behind us.

Less -- well less than a minute as we await the president's remarks.

He doesn't really like to do these kinds of canned speeches. He's much -- he's much more comfortable, John, off the cuff, don't you think?

ROBERTS: Well, as John was saying, he likes to be in the one-on- one situation. And people who meet him one-on-one remark that -- that he seems to be much more comfortable than he is -- you know, we've both covered him on the campaign trail and when he gets out there in front of a lot of people and he can walk back and forth on the stage, he's a much different sort of communicator than he is when he sits behind a desk. We've seen time and time again when he makes these solo speeches, Bush -- Wolf -- that he looks a little wooden at times.

BLITZER: The president only a few seconds away.

We now see the picture coming from the White House.

The president of the United States speaking to the nation now.

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