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Bush goes double or nothing on Iraq

NBC  News’ Washington bureau chief and host of "Meet the Press" discusses President George W. Bush's new Iraq strategy and reaction to it.
/ Source: NBC News

MSNBC:  Tim, how much does President Bush have riding on his new plan to win in Iraq?

RUSSERT:  It’s really remarkable.

You know, four years ago – the night the United States went into Iraq – I turned to NBC’s Tom Brokaw and said, “You know, the president has bet his presidency on the outcome of this war.”  And someone in the White House called me and said, “That’s a little hard, isn’t it.”  I said, “Well.  Let’s see how it plays out.”

I think the other night the president went double or nothing.

Unfortunately, this is not a poker game.  This is real life or death.  And the president now is relying on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of Iraq to perform obligations and duties that he has so far resisted – going after Sunni and Shiite death squads and applying the law fairly to all Iraqis.

That is not helpful.

MSNBC: Especially with what’s going on in Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, where Maliki has been very reluctant to get involved.

RUSSERT:  Mr. Sadr has an army of about 60,000 men – which is probably stronger and better equipped than large segments of the Iraqi army.  And Prime Minister Maliki relies on Sadr’s voters in parliament to retain his prime minister position.

But Maliki has told President Bush he will go after Sadr – he will not let him run the country.

We’ll see.  It’s a big question mark because you can not stabilize or secure the city of Baghdad without neutralizing Mr. Sadr.

MSNBC:  Here at home, in Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were up on the Hill before members of congress.  There seemed to be a lot of animosity – and it was personal.

RUSSERT:  It was a very, very intense day on Capitol Hill.  Why?

The Democrats, who had voted for the war, were treating it almost as a revival meeting – they were seeking redemption from their Democratic base.  90% of Democrats oppose the war in Iraq.  And these Democratic senators – many of whom want to run for president – realize they have to “get right” with that constituency on this war.  So they were very aggressive in their questioning.

The big surprise was the Republicans.  Here’s the reason.

There are 21 Republican senators up for re-election in 2008.  They are very fearful of the consequences of the Iraq war on the electorate.

Four of those 21, Thursday, broke with a president from their own party and came out against a troop ‘surge’.

MSNBC:  Who’s on Meet the Press this Sunday?

Russert:  We’re going to talk to Stephen Hadley, the president’s National Security Adviser, who had a primary role in drawing up this plan and who had a secret memo leaked, back in November, which was very critical of Prime Minister Maliki.

Then, we’ll have four United State senators:  Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who’s against the surge; Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who’s for the surge, Republican John Kyl of Arizona, who’s for the surge and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska who’s against the surge.

We’re going to have a pretty robust debate - all Sunday, on Meet the Press.