Bush: More time needed to devise U.S. strategy in Iraq

? President Bush worked nearly three hours at his Texas ranch on Thursday to design a new U.S. policy in Iraq, then emerged to say that he and his advisers need more time to craft the plan he’ll announce in the new year.

Burdened by low approval ratings on his handling of the war, the president is under mounting pressure to come up with a new blueprint for U.S. involvement in Iraq where the execution of Saddam Hussein could incite further violence.

“We’ve got more consultation to do until I talk to the country about the plan,” Bush said, appearing outside an office building at his ranch.

“Obviously, we’ll continue to work with the Iraqi government. The key to success in Iraq is to have a government that’s willing to deal with the elements there that are trying to prevent this young democracy from succeeding.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stood by Bush as he made his three-minute statement on a dirt road lined with cactus, then turned away, ignoring a reporter’s question about the pending execution.

He thanked U.S. troops for their service, yet offered no hint that he was poised to send more of them to war.

“As I think about this plan, I always have our troops in mind,” Bush said.

The president is considering the so-called surge option: increasing the number of troops in Iraq and embedding more U.S. advisers in Iraqi units in hopes of quelling violence to provide a window of opportunity for political reconciliation and rebuilding.

Initially, White House advisers said Bush would announce a plan before Christmas. Then, they said it was more likely after the first of the year. His speech now is to occur in the early weeks of January.

Some military experts support a surge in troop levels beyond the 140,000 already on the ground in Iraq. They contend this will provide a window of opportunity for rebuilding and a political reconciliation between the Sunni and Shiite factions.

Democrats and others in the military community say sending more troops only increases the Iraqis’ dependence on U.S. forces and allows them to delay making the painful political compromises needed to end the violence.

Democrats are calling on Bush to end America’s open-ended commitment in Iraq and some want to see Congress put restrictions on funding any large increases in U.S. troops there.

The president’s unexpected remarks last week that he backs future expansion of the overall size of the Army and Marine Corps to lessen strain on ground forces was viewed as a possible hint that he plans to send in more troops.

In an action that might also foreshadow an increase in troops, the Pentagon on Wednesday announced that the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., will deploy to Kuwait to serve as the reserve force early next year.

Along a road leading to the ranch, about 20 anti-war protesters, including one wearing a pink wig, shouted “War Criminals!” and waved signs that read “Out of Iraq Now!” and “Bush Lied Troops Died.”

Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and four other protesters were arrested for lying in the road, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. They were charged with obstructing a highway, a misdemeanor.