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Originally published January 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 15, 2007 at 12:23 AM

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Congress can't stop buildup, Bush says

As Congress and the administration gird for conflict over troop levels in Iraq, President Bush says he has the power to send more U.S. forces, regardless of what lawmakers...

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — As Congress and the administration gird for conflict over troop levels in Iraq, President Bush says he has the power to send more U.S. forces, regardless of what lawmakers want.

"I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it," Bush said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes."

When asked whether he thought he had the authority to send additional troops in the face of opposition from the Democratic majority in Congress, Bush said: "In this situation, I do, yeah."

The president's comments were part of an administration effort to quell the growing criticism about its Iraq strategy, as congressional Democrats plan nonbinding resolutions opposing the troop increase and some Republicans echo their resistance to the plan.

Bush admitted that some administration steps contributed to Iraq's instability and said any mistakes should be laid at his feet.

"If people want a scapegoat, they got one right here in me 'cause it's my decisions," the president said.

"No question, decisions have made things unstable," he added. "But the question is: Can we succeed?"

On Wednesday, Bush unveiled a plan to subdue the growing violence in Baghdad and in nearby Anbar province by adding 21,500 soldiers and Marines to the 132,000 troops in the country.

The decision ran counter to a recommendation by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that the U.S. draw down troops, and it brought denunciations from Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

In the "60 Minutes" interview, taped last week, Bush said he wasn't bothered by his low approval ratings and called himself the "educator in chief," arguing that sharing his views would help to overcome public and congressional resistance.

"I'm going to have to keep explaining," he said.

He said he was discouraged by the handling of Saddam Hussein's execution, which he saw on an Internet video. He said he stopped watching before the trap door opened under the former Iraqi leader.

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"I didn't want to watch the whole thing," he said.

He also expressed pride in the U.S. achievements in Iraq to date: "I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude," Bush said.

Asked if he owed the Iraqi people an apology for failing to provide adequate security after the 2003 invasion, he said: "Not at all."

Vice President Dick Cheney, on "Fox News Sunday," said complaints from Congress would not stop the administration, which "cannot run a war by committee."

He disagreed with the suggestion that the administration had overruled military commanders who argued against increasing troops, and he sidestepped a question about Americans' unhappiness about the war.

"I don't think any president worth his salt can afford to make decisions of this magnitude according to the polls," Cheney said when asked about midterm-election exit polls showing only 17 percent of voters supported an increase in troops.

Withdrawing forces, Cheney said, would "revalidate the strategy that Osama bin Laden has been following from Day 1: that if you kill enough Americans you can force them to quit, that we don't have the stomach for the fight."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the author of a bill that would require the president to obtain authorization from Congress before raising troop levels in Iraq, said Bush was ignoring his generals, the Iraq Study Group and the public, as well as Congress.

"The stubbornness of this administration means repeating the same colossal mistakes over and over," he said Sunday.

Administration officials said the additional U.S. troops would help the Iraqi military to confront the sectarian violence that has cleaved Baghdad.

They added that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would no longer place restrictions on confronting the 60,000-strong militia of leading Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a strong source of support for al-Maliki's government.

"There will be no safe havens, including Sadr City," national-security adviser Stephen Hadley told ABC's "This Week," referring to the cleric's stronghold in Baghdad.

Hadley said he expected Congress to fall into line with the administration's plan. "We will be able to persuade the Congress that this is the only option for success in Iraq."

Republicans who appeared on the Sunday talk shows decried what they described as Democratic obstruction and warned of the stakes.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading presidential contender who has long called for a troop increase, said on "Face the Nation" that failure in Iraq would be a "catastrophe in the form of increased Iranian influence," regional instability and increased bloodletting.

He dismissed the Democratic plan for a resolution condemning the troop increase as a political ploy.

"The opponents of doing this are obligated, in my view, to tell the American people what the option is if we do leave. What is the option?" he said.

Democrats said the looming catastrophe Republicans were warning of had already arrived. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who may vie for his party's presidential nomination, followed McCain on CBS and cited increased bloodshed and growing Iranian influence in Iraq.

Obama, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, laid out an alternative plan similar to the Iraq Study Group's. He advocated a phased pullout, along with improved reconstruction efforts and increased diplomacy that includes Syria and Iran.

"We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war," Obama said.

"I think it's important to understand that the options are not either total withdrawal or a 'stay-the-course-plus,' which is essentially what the administration is proposing, but rather the kind of thoughtful bipartisan strategy that's been suggested by not just Democrats but also Republicans, not just civilians but also by the military."

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