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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Bush Set to Unveil New Iraq Strategy; Interview With House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer

Aired January 10, 2007 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up to our viewers in the United States and around the world, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Standing by: CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

ZAHN: Happening right now: President Bush about to order thousands more Americans into a war zone. He will argue that that's the way to end a war that's gone wrong. But can he convince a weary and skeptical public and Congress?

BLITZER: Not an easy assignment, by any means.

As reinforcements get ready to deploy, troops already in Iraq have their hands full. We will take you to the scene of a bitter all- out battle right in the heart of Baghdad.

ZAHN: And then: On Capitol Hill, Democrats are voicing serious doubts over what they see as an escalation of the war in Iraq. What are they going to do about that, or that perception? We're going to ask the new House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, coming up.

I'm Paula Zahn.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, the clock is ticking down to what may be the make-or-break speech of George W. Bush's presidency. Shortly, the president will tell the country that we need to send at least 21,000 more U.S. troops into Iraq, and spend almost seven billion more dollars on the war effort.

CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has seen parts of the president's address, and she is about to share some of those with us right now -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, this is going to be a tough sell for the president.

Really, the strategy is to try to bring the American people to back his Iraq policy. But, Paula, Wolf, the people I talk to in this administration are deeply divided over this strategy, whether or not it makes sense, whether or not it is adequate. So, one of the things you're going to hear in the president's speech is that he is going to admit past failures. He's going to acknowledge that the previous plan just wasn't working.

One of the excerpts from the speech, he is going to say: "Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons. There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report this plan can work. And Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated."

Now, there are a lot of people here, particularly those from the Pentagon, who don't have a lot of faith in Maliki. The president, the last time he spoke with Maliki was on Thursday. There was a video teleconference.

And the way one official put it is that they spent time, just the two of them and their translators, for 50 minutes. And, somehow, in that discussion, President Bush walked away with what he needed to hear from Maliki.

And he said what he had to say to Maliki to be convinced that he is ultimately going to follow through in this last chance, what the administration considers a last chance, to reconcile those warring factions inside of his country, and to move forward -- Wolf, Paula.

BLITZER: Suzanne, what they do say at the White House when you ask -- and I know you and your colleagues have asked -- well, what happens if it doesn't work? Is there a plan B?

MALVEAUX: We have been asking that all day. And they don't have an answer to that. There is not a plan B at this time.

They are looking at Maliki, really depending on Maliki for this plan to work. One of the parts of it, however, is that, if he does not succeed politically, can he actually build some sort of a coalition, if you will, of moderates, moderate Shiite, Sunni and Kurd, so that, if his regime fails, if he falls, perhaps there are other people who he can work with who are stronger, and move forward.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you. We are going to see you later this hour -- Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

Military planners have been working overtime to put the buildup of the U.S. forces into motion. And the orders sending more troops to the war zone are waiting to be signed.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are reports tonight of a small number of advance troops trickling into Baghdad. But Pentagon officials say, the deployments that President Bush will order tonight have not yet begun. In fact, those deployment orders are sitting on the desk of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is expected to sign them immediately following the president's announcement tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

First in, say Pentagon sources, will be a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, already on standby in Kuwait. Next will be the 4th Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division based in Fort Riley, Kansas. Additional brigades will follow from Fort Lewis, Washington; and Fort Stewart and Fort Benning, Georgia.

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

President Bush is ordering the troop increase, over the reservations of some senior commanders, including some members of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, who warn, unless the Iraqis suddenly do more, the plan could just make things worse.

COLONEL DOUG MACGREGOR (RET.), U.S. ARMY: The notion that we're going to distribute small numbers of light infantrymen into neighborhoods, winning over the goodwill of the population, is delusional. What we really risk is the loss of substantial American life with that particular tactic.

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

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: In the short term, the Pentagon says it can provide the reinforcements without putting too much strain on the U.S. military.

But, if the need for additional troops goes much beyond August, Pentagon sources say the Army will have to look very seriously at the option of eliminating the 24-month limit on the deployment of Guard and Reserve troops, thus sending back to the war zone some troops who have already spent two years there in the past -- Wolf, Paula.

BLITZER: A lot of nervous -- a lot of nervous National Guard and Reserve units, families out there waiting to see what happens.

Paula, this is -- this is a big deal.

ZAHN: It is.

And, as we await the president's address, let's get a closeup look at what U.S. and Iraqi troops will be facing as they battle for Baghdad.

Just yesterday, in a joint operation, they took on well-trained Sunni militia fighters in a 10-hour battle for Haifa Street, which is just outside the secure Green Zone occupied by the U.S. Embassy and Iraq government headquarters.

CNN's Arwa Damon was embedded with the troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right there, right there!

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This soldier is trying to positively identify the gunmen whom they believe are shooting at them from the mosque located just 600 yards beyond this window.

They have received rocket-propelled grenade, machine gun and small-arms fire from that location. This battle has been going on for seven hours now, and, as the day progresses, is only getting more chaotic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Arwa filed that exclusive report on yesterday's urban warfare in Baghdad. She joins us now live with an update.

Arwa, those are the kinds of images that have reinforced the public opposition to this war and the idea of sending additional troops into Iraq now that the president will address tonight.

Give us a sense of how that kind of violence compared to the other cycles that you have witnessed while you have been on duty there.

DAMON: Well, Paula, what we saw yesterday pretty much, especially for the troops that are operating here on the ground in Iraq, underscores just how important the U.S. military presence is right now to training those Iraqi forces.

By all accounts, yesterday's gun battle was not just another 10- hour firefight. It was a mentoring and coaching mission for the Iraqi army soldiers. Now, if we look back, Haifa Street is controlled by the Iraqi army. But, after fierce fighting over the weekend, the Iraqi army troops asked for U.S. help to be able to go in and clear that area once and for all. And the U.S. role there was crucial. The Iraqi soldiers could not have fought that type of a fight on their own. They needed not only the American firepower and air support, but they also needed the American guidance, especially in fighting this type of an insurgency.

In fact, speaking with military commanders following that gun battle, they said that the Iraqis learnt a very important lesson from it. In this case, in the case of yesterday's gun battle, the lesson that the Americans were able to teach the Iraqis was the importance of trying to strategically position yourself to be able to control the battlefield.

In the case of Haifa Street, it was to gain control of the high- rise buildings, so that they could maintain overwatch on the roads below.

And, in fact, today, according to the U.S. military, there was very little activity on Haifa Street, a few clashes with the Iraqi army soldiers that have taken up positions there, but nothing that the Iraqi army couldn't handle on its own.

And, in fact, speaking with many of the troops here, they feel that any sort of increase in U.S. soldiers should involve the U.S. troops being even more involved in training up the Iraqis here -- Paula.

ZAHN: Can you give us a sense, then, among these Iraqi troops and American troops whether they think the president's address will have the answers in it, because it's -- it's not too clear to us right now exactly what the mission of those troops is going to be.

DAMON: Well, Paula, it's not really clear for the troops here on the ground, neither the Americans, nor the Iraqis.

And, in fact, all that they really know is that some sort of troop increase is going to be taking place. Now, speaking with the Iraqi army soldiers, they actually, for the most part, welcome this. Again, they feel more confident when they have the American firepower on their side.

Speaking with the U.S. military, there are a number of different schools of thought. For the most part, many of the soldiers here believe that, should any sort of troop increase take place, it should, again, be a close partnership with the Iraqi security forces, that they should have more U.S. military embedded with the Iraqis.

They also feel that an increase in troops will allow them to have more control, more eyes on, if you will, at different Baghdad neighborhoods -- Paula.

ZAHN: Arwa Damon, thanks so much.

Not clear how many of those details we are going to get tonight, but, certainly, in the days to come, we will have a much better understanding of exactly what these additional troops might be doing. BLITZER: Starting tomorrow, Secretary of State Rice will testify before the Foreign Relations Committee. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will start testifying before the Armed Services Committee.

Some more of the Bush administration's new strategy will be released, obviously, in 20 minutes, when the president delivers his address, in 20 minutes. That's the -- the length of the president's expected address tonight. You can't release everything. So, they're going to be testifying at length on this tomorrow.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush is putting, more or less, all of his eggs in one basket when it comes to his legacy. And it all comes down to Iraq.

As Senator Lindsey Graham put it -- quoting here -- "He," President Bush, "understands, the safety of the nation and his legacy are all on the line here."

Mr. Bush will go in front of the nation in about 48 minutes with talk of escalating the war in Iraq, more troops, more money, more time. In the meantime, he has paid little or no attention to the problems that are crying out for a solution here at home.

We have seen no national leadership on national health care, Medicare, border security. The country is overrun with millions of illegal aliens. And we are in debt up to our eyeballs. But all we ever hear President Bush talk about is war, war, war.

Last spring, when President Bush gave the commencement speech at West Point, he compared himself to President Harry Truman and the war against Islamic radicals to the Cold War.

Tonight's call for sending more troops to Iraq could play a large role in how people remember his presidency.

So, here's the question: Will the Iraq war alone determine President Bush's legacy? You can e-mail us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com, or you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf, Paula.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jack, for that.

ZAHN: And still coming up right here, more on those opposed to a troop increase -- we're going to hear from one of the top House Democrats, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and what, if anything, his party can do.

BLITZER: Also, how is the idea of a troop increase playing out on the international stage? We will get world reaction from our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

ZAHN: And can the increase make a real difference on the ground? We're going to talk about that with our military analysts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we are standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM for the president's address to the nation that gets under way just about 44.3 minutes from now, for those of you with a digital clock.

BLITZER: If -- if you want to be specific.

At the top of the hour, we will hear from the president.

The new Democratic leadership in Congress -- in Congress -- we're hearing from them all the time. They're not waiting for the president's address to come out swinging against a troop increase.

And, tonight, even some Republicans are breaking ranks with the White House.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, the images of today really help tell the story of how dramatic things -- dramatically things have changed politically for the president.

You just look at what happened at the White House today -- top Democrats saying that the president is wrong. They -- not only saying it, but saying it right in the president's driveway, outside the West Wing, after they had a meeting with Mr. Bush.

They made clear that they were not satisfied with that meeting, because, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, the president was already practicing his speech. He said that that's not exactly what he calls consultation.

But it's not just the Democrats. What may be the most telling is what we saw from Republicans here today -- three Republican senators scrambling to get out ahead of the president's speech and make clear that they are -- are opposed to his idea of sending more troops to Iraq.

One of those senators, Norm Coleman from Minnesota, did that on the Senate floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: A troop surge in Baghdad would put more American troops at risk to address a problem that is not a military problem. It will put more American soldiers in the crosshairs of sectarian violence, create more targets. I just don't believe this makes sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, for the Democrats to send the kind of message they say they are going to try to send in the next couple of weeks, which is a bipartisan vote, they hope that will send -- it will show the president that there is strong opposition to his plan here. They are going to need more senators, more lawmakers like Republican Norm Coleman to come on to their side. That is something that Democrats certainly are banking on. Talked to some Republicans. They say, at least in the Senate, there could be a dozen who simply oppose the president.

But, you know, the -- the leadership of the Republican Party, they are still making clear that they are standing by the president, Wolf. They say that the plan that he is going to announce tonight is, in the words of one Senate Republican leader, the best way towards victory at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we will be -- and we will be watching all those hearings that will start tomorrow in the House and the Senate, with administration witnesses appearing.

Dana, thanks very much for that.

Still to come tonight, right here in our special expanded version of THE SITUATION ROOM, as we await the president's address to the nation, we will get the international reaction. Friends and foes of the U.S. are weighing in on the president's decision to send more troops to Iraq.

ZAHN: We weren't just reading minds, because we know some of the Democratic lawmakers weren't too happy when the president told them about his plans a little bit ago.

Coming up, we will be joined live by the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, and hear his take on what he thinks will come out of the address tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

The White House says, the president's address on Iraq will chart a new course in the war.

ZAHN: And our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, has been talking with her sources. She's actually read parts of the speech. And she is here to tell us more of what she has learned -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, one of the things the president is going to highlight is, he is going to call for the Iraqi people to step up and take responsibility, more responsibility.

He is also going to say that the commitment from the United States is not open-ended. And he will talk about certain benchmarks, familiar benchmarks we have heard before that the Iraqi leadership has to follow through with.

Now, officially, Bush administration officials say there is no timeline that they're following here. But, if you listen closely to what the president is saying, the benchmarks, and also a goal that he is going to outline, the fact that he wants Iraqis to be in charge of their own security by November of this year -- there was a senior administration official earlier today who said, look, we will get a pretty good sense of whether or not the Iraqis are stepping up.

That's because they will be adding three brigades in the beginning of February. So, they're going to get a good sense of whether or not they are serious about fulfilling their commitments -- Wolf, Paula.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House -- Suzanne, thanks very much.

We're going to back to Suzanne. She's getting more information all the time.

ZAHN: And, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition, the number of troops supplied by other countries has steadily dwindled.

But the rest of the world is watching very closely tonight.

BLITZER: Our -- our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, is in London now. She's getting some reaction, finding out what America's friends and foes are thinking.

First of all, the allies, Christiane, what are you hearing about their preliminary reaction to what we all expect to hear from the president in a little while?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, really people overseas, and especially the allies, are extremely concerned. And that would be an understatement.

They really are seeing now a nightmare scenario which they are really afraid of. Now, the fiction that there is no civil war in Iraq itself has been blasted wide open. It does exist. But what they're really worried about is that it spreads into the neighboring countries -- the Sunni allies, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and America's allies on that side of the equation very, very concerned that this spills over into their countries and into their region and further destabilizes it.

They are also very concerned about the rise of Iran and the so- called Shiite arc. And, so, they're very worried about an eventual clash between Sunnis and Shiites. So, this is an exceptionally precarious time. And they're just watching this next play in this ongoing drama to see whether -- nobody is talking about victory, and nobody is talking about solving it, but whether they can at least staunch the worst-case scenario.

ZAHN: Christiane, you have made it very clear what the allies' concerns are. What is it that they would need to hear tonight that would allay some of those?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think the bottom line, Paula, is most definitely that the United States is there to stay.

Of course, in the United States itself, people want the troops to come home. And they want an -- an exit and an end to this. But, in the rest of the world, at least in the region, they want American troops to stay, because they believe that only that stands between Iraq and the whole thing spreading into other countries.

BLITZER: What about the anti-U.S. groups and countries out there? What are they saying?

AMANPOUR: Well, as you can imagine, those who oppose the American presence in Iraq continue to do so, and say that it simply continues to make things worse. They call it an occupation. And they say that the Americans must leave.

They're also not very serious anymore about American military might. Many people, for instance, Iran, other countries, are looking at this terrible state of affairs in Iraq, and -- and -- and basically thinking that the American military, the American political situation, the reconstruction, the entire operation, is simply weakened.

Inside Iraq itself, you have the obvious Sunni insurgency groups. And they, themselves, have also come out with a statement. The main one, the Association of Muslim Scholars, has basically, in a nutshell, said that 140,000 American troops have not been able to change the situation. What is another 20 or so thousand going to be able to do?

And that, of course, is the question on everybody's minds, not least the Iraqi people themselves.

ZAHN: So, Christiane, we have been told by our correspondents, who have great contacts at the White House, what we will hear tonight isn't necessarily all new. Some of the objectives will have been laid out before, objectives that the Iraqis didn't live up to.

So, what is it that the Iraqis would stand to gain this time around on things that they weren't able to deliver before?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think that is exactly the question.

The burden, as you have heard over and over again from our correspondents -- you just heard Suzanne talk about the burden on -- the burden of proof on the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Well, he hasn't been able to do it yet. How is he going to now be able to do it, suddenly? Is there a magic solution that is going to enable him to do what he has to do? And that is to confront the Shiite militias, at the very least, the Shiite death squads, the -- the -- that side of the equation, because those are the people who are supporting him.

How does he confront Muqtada al-Sadr? How does he exert authority and influence, since he hasn't been able to do so yet?

And, on the other side of the equation, how do they fight the Sunni insurgents? Everybody, from the U.S. military on down, says that this is a formidable force. These are people, the insurgents, who adapt and readapt to every -- everything so far that the U.S. has been able to put in front of them. So, it's a very challenging situation on the ground.

ZAHN: Christiane Amanpour, thank you so much. Appreciate your input.

Just ahead, as we await the president's address, congressional Democrats are broadly opposed to sending more troops to Iraq. But their hands are largely tied. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will join us with reaction from his party to the president's new plan.

BLITZER: And is it a sound military strategy? We're going to ask our military analysts, and show you how it might play out on the ground.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

ZAHN: Happening right now: We are standing by for what is considered one of the most important speeches of Mr. Bush's presidency, which may also be his last chance to fix Iraq. Moments from now, the president will lay out a multipart plan that includes more Iraqis stepping up to fight for their country.

BLITZER: It will also, Paula, include an order for at least -- at least -- 21,000 more American troops to go to Iraq, some leaving within the next week. It's not what many people certainly want to hear, but it's apparently what the president sees as the best chance to try to end the chaos in Iraq.

ZAHN: So, the question is, how will what happens tonight and in the time ahead affect this president's legacy? We will ask the best political team on TV and our reporters and analysts who are standing by.

I'm Paula Zahn.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight: The president's new plan for Iraq will not only test his credibility. It will present the new Democratic leadership in the Congress with a test of their power and how much of it they're willing to use.

In just a few moments, we will speak live with the number-two Democrat in the House of Democrats, the new majority leader, Steny Hoyer.

First, though, let's turn to CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She is watching all of this unfold -- Candy. CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president wants to send more troops. Most in Congress don't want him to. Who gets the last word here?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Congress could stop him if it wants to.

GENE HEALY, CATO INSTITUTE: As Jefferson put it, this is the way you chain the dog of war, through the power of the purse.

CROWLEY: At least read, Articles I and II of the Constitution seem like a road map to collision. Laid out in Article 1 Congress's duties: "... provide for the common Defense...", "To raise and support Armies...", "To provide and maintain a Navy..."

Article II: "The President shall be Commander in Chief..." which is to say the lawmakers authorize paying for the war, he conducts it.

SUSAN BLOCH, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW: The idea that the framers had in mind in splitting the powers was to make the two entities, the president and Congress, work together.

CROWLEY: It has not precisely worked out that way this time.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) MAJORITY LEADER: Consultation to me means consultation. You sit down and talk with people you're trying to work something out with, not after you've already written the speech.

CROWLEY: Congress used purse power to reign in the military adventures of other presidents, cutting off funding in Somalia, Angola and, most notably, in Vietnam.

HEALY: It got President Nixon to back off the sort of Captain Ahab mode in Vietnam and it may be the only way to get this president to start to change course.

CROWLEY: This Congress is mostly reluctant to talk purse strings. Instead, it's headed for a political statement with no force of law.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: Next week the plan is to draft a very simple resolution asking the members of the Senate if they support or do not support this surge.

CROWLEY: By the time they get around to voting, additional droops may already be in Iraq. For now, despite opposition to a troop increase from nearly all Democrats and a growing number of Republicans, Capitol Hill's constitutional right to pull the plug will go unused. Democrats fear they will look anti-military. Republicans worry it is.

SEN. GORDON SMITH, (R) OREGON: Is it right, is it honorable to defund the troops when they're ordered to stay in place and we then budget away their bullets? That to me seems dangerous and deadly to our troops. And that is the crossroads that we're at. And it's a real dilemma.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (on camera): Having given the president the power to wage war four years ago, Capitol Hill finds it far tougher to get out of it now --Paula.

ZAHN: So let's talk about the tricky position Democrats are in because they don't want to take any action that makes them perceived like they're not supporting the American troops, but they are talking about having this non-binding resolution, a yes/no vote on what the president announces tonight. Does that mean nothing at all?

CROWLEY: That's a political statement. And what they'd love to do is get Republicans on the record with that resolution.

But, now, because if you look back over history, particularly in Vietnam, a lot of people are looking at this and saying, "Give it a little time." You know, the resolution maybe is a first step. And then is there's public opinion -- you know, that's what happened in Vietnam. Gradually you had amendments that began to kind of squeeze the president's options and then eventually they moved to a full cut- off of the war. But it took time. It took a couple of years, as a matter of fact.

But a lot of people look at a resolution as a first step, not a last one.

ZAHN: This American public doesn't seem to show that it has much patience as you look at poll after poll.

Candy, thanks.

President explained his plan to congressional leaders this afternoon. Democratic law makers seemed to be stone-faced and quite unhappy when they came out of the White House briefing, at least that's what our cameras captured. Can they change anything at all? (INAUDIBLE) what Candy was just addressing?

BLITZER: One of those there, the House Majority Leader, Democrat representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland. He was there. He saw the president at the White House.

Congressman Hoyer is joining us no from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

So you're going to pass a non-binding sense of the House resolution. Is that what you want to do?

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: I think we will, at some point in time, in the near future, pass a resolution asking members whether they support or oppose the president's escalation. We think that's the first step that ought to be taken.

As you know, Wolf and Paula, we have many hearings scheduled this month, and asking Secretary Gates and others to come up and say, what is this new policy? Frankly, today at the White House, I didn't hear a new policy. I heard more of the same.

And I told the president, as did others, that we are very, very skeptical that more of the same, which hasn't worked to date, is going to work somehow in the future.

BLITZER: When do you think you'll want to introduce that resolution and get it passed?

HOYER: Well, I think that resolution will be done this month.

ZAHN: And you have heard the administration and many Republicans saying that all the Democrats seem to be effective at doing right now is hammering anything that has to do with the president's plan. Do the Democrats have a plan that you could offer that would win this war?

HOYER: Well, we have offered -- the leadership has sent a letter to the president today reiterating much of what the commission said, the task force said, the Baker-Hamilton task force.

We think that there needs to be a shifting of the responsibility. The president says tonight he's doing that. It remains to be seen, because that has been stated as a policy of the administration over the last two years, to shift responsibility.

We have also suggested that additional diplomatic efforts be taken, as did the Hamilton-Baker Commission, and we've suggested redeployment. We're not going to hear anything about redeployment at this point in time, getting our people out of harm's way.

I made it clear to the president that while I had supported the policy in the past, I was not supportive of this build-up. General Casey, General Abizaid and others who have been on the ground, been engaged, don't believe this build-up, this escalation is going to make a difference and we're going to put more of our people in harm's way.

ZAHN: All right, but Representative Hoyer, even if all those things you said that the Democrats are pushing for and striving were attainable, would you be willing to say tonight that victory is still a possibility?

HOYER: Very doubtful. Victory -- it depends on how you define victory, Paula. Dick Durbin brought that up today. How do you define victory? After all, our objective was, initially, to remove Saddam Hussein who was, we thought, harboring weapons of mass destruction. We removed Saddam Hussein. We defeated his army. And then the mission greatly expanded to nation building, something which the president had been very critical of in the 2000 election.

So it's difficult to know exactly what the president is saying victory will be. If victory is going to be a stable, successful Iraq at some time in the future, then we have no end in sight given the sectarian violence, given the political lack of will that we have seen, given the failure to adopt a constitution which will protect the rights of minorities in that country.

We're going to see continuing civil war, so that we're not very optimistic that the president's objectives are either well stated or attainable.

BLITZER: You heard yesterday Senator Kennedy, on the Senate side, suggest that the Congress should start using the power of the purse and not authorize, appropriate additional funds for this expanded U.S. military involvement in Iraq. Are you at the same place where Senator Kennedy is right now?

HOYER: No, Wolf, I'm not at this point in time. I think, as Speaker Pelosi has said and others have said and I've repeatedly said, we're not going to defund the troops at this point in time. We want to make sure the troops are safe. They're in harm's way, and we're not going to do anything to undermine them at this point in time.

But that does not mean that we're going to seek vigorously a change in policy, nor does it mean that at some time in the relatively near future, we will not take greater action beyond simply a resolution, as you point out, which states opposition or support, depending upon how one votes for the president's policy.

BLITZER: So you would still want U.S. troops to start withdrawing within the next four to six months, combat forces?

HOYER: We think that unless that happens the Iraqis are never going to come to grips with taking responsibility for their own security, their own defense, are never going to move forward on reconciliation, on recognizing the rights of the various different factions including the Kurds, the Sunnis, as well as the Shias, the sharing of oil revenues. We don't think that's going to happen unless they see the U.S. disengage.

BLITZER: Steny Hoyer is the majority leader in the House of Representatives. Mr. Leader, thanks very much for coming in.

HOYER: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And still ahead tonight, the reality on the ground as the troop increase is expected to be announced by the president momentarily. We'll talk about the nuts and bolts of all of this with our military analysts and show you how it might play out.

ZAHN: And Jack Cafferty wants to know, will the Iraq war alone determine President Bush's legacy? Jack is standing by with "The Cafferty File" and some of your thoughts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're only minutes away from the president's address to the nation to outline his new strategy for Iraq. At least 21,000 more American forces may soon be on the way. ZAHN: And we're getting more and more information as the night goes on. Let's go back to White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux with more details about what she's learning about the president's plan. Suzanne, what do you got?

MALVEAUX: Well Paula, Wolf, this is a president who once drew a blank when he asked if he recalled any mistakes he had made. Well, you are going to hear the president take responsibility for this failed Iraq policy, I think in a way that we have never heard before.

The president is also going to acknowledge the kind of feelings Americans and Iraqis have had, the skepticism about the mission. He is going to talk about it being no silver bullet, of course. But he's also going to use the words victory and success. He's going to talk about how he believes this new strategy will ultimately work and he's also going to warn the American people, however, that he believes that this is not going to end the violence, at least in the short-term, that it may increase. Paula, Wolf?

ZAHN: Suzanne, thanks.

BLITZER: You know, this speech that the president is going to deliver not only is going to affect the political situation here, but a lot of military forces on the ground, Paula, in Iraq and their families.

ZAHN: And there are a lot of different ideas of what -- or how these troops should be used. And we're going to turn to some of our experts right now to get a better sense of all that. Joining me now, Tom Foreman and two of our military analysts, Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks and Major General Don Sheppard. So we don't have all the details yet. We're going to learn more from the president.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But we do know what the battle field is. Let's take a look at that, here we go. We move in a little bit. There's Iraq right in the middle. We have Libya over here, we've got Syria over here, we've got Iran over here, Saudi Arabia down here, Turkey up north.

Let's move in a little bit closer to this battles field. All right, let's start it this way. You've got the country and in this country, you've got largely the Kurds up in the north part up here. Over here you've got more or less the Sunnis over here. And down here, you have the Shia down here. What do you do? You have 140,000 people in here for quite some time. Now you're getting 20,000 more. What do you do with them?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPARD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: First of all, we don't do it, the Iraqis do. You have got to get the Iraqis ready to take over their country, take over security of the country, Tom.

ZAHN: Haven't we been doing that for a long time, General?

SHEPPARD: We have been doing it for a long time, 21,000 are going to help. It will help us train them sooner. But there's two keys in Iraq right now. One is the insurgency in the west, the other is Baghdad and security there and that's tied to the militias themselves. Both of those are key, and 21,000 troops will help if its done in the right way, Paula.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, but let's look at it if we can, very specifically. What we think the increase in U.S. forces will achieve is they will, with Iraqi forces, try to cover down or try to control the 23 mixed communities that are in Baghdad, which are mostly on this side of the Tigris.

FOREMAN: The U.S. has this, the U.S. has this squared away. They've got some squared away up here. The areas you're talking about are here, here, here, right in downtown with the Tigris, right here as you said.

MARKS: Which is where the fighting took place today.

FOREMAN: And then Sadr City over here.

MARKS: So clearly what we're trying to do Tom -- the intent is if you can achieve success in these areas right in here and up here along the Tigris and leave this area over here in Sadr City to Maliki and Iraqi forces, you're going to achieve some success.

Now in the effort to control, you're going to have some spill- over in Shias from these mixed communities certainly will begin to appear here. Those are not indigenous to Sadr City. That's good intelligence and that allows the Iraqis to start to do something about that and to earmark those guys.

ZAHN: But General Sheppard, can you really solve this militarily or does there have to be a political solution? And do you think that is more important than the military solution?

SHEPPARD: There has to be both, Paula. The solution is political, not military. And let me point out the complexity of it, as Spider just talked about. In these areas that we've been working on right here, we saw a big air strike right in downtown Baghdad, right in this area last week.

That is a Sunni area. The key to peace in Iraq is the Sunnis joining the government. They're out west. You have to defeat the insurgency out there. But you cannot become the enemy of the Sunnis right here and take on only the Sunnis without dealing with al-Sadr's Mehdi army over here. It's a very complicated situation and a tall order.

BLITZER: Do you really think, Spider Marks, that the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki, has the guts to go in and start killing members of Muqtada al-Sadr's Shia militia?

MARKS: He better. What you have to do is you have to be in a position to protect the good guys and you have to be prepared with good intelligence to earmark the bad guys and get rid of them.

BLITZER: Because that army has about 20,000 guys who are ready to die.

MARKS: Sure. Let's give them that opportunity.

FOREMAN: How do you know when you put pressure all in here that we don't have happen exactly what's happened all along? You pressure here, and all the bad guys go here and here and here and here and they just wait to come back in.

MARKS: Tom, what you've just described will occur. That's a given. The key is, what do you have with a surge? What does a surge mean? It's not a military term. I don't know what a surge means. That doesn't give me any task, it doesn't give me purpose. It's not a mission statement.

But if you're going to achieve that where you want to squeeze those guys out, you want to earmark them, you want to have intelligence, you want them to move, so you can see them. You've got to be able to hold and that's part of the objective.

If you're going to clear and hold, it takes more to hold. That's the purpose of this increase. But you've got to hold for a period of time so you can achieve in states that don't allow these guys to come back. Recidivous behavior will occur, old criminal behavior. They'll come rushing right back in if you give them an opportunity.

BLITZER: There are nine districts. They've broken up Baghdad. This is a city of about six, 6.5 million people. You're going to send a lot of American troops into an urban setting like this where the potential for improvised explosive devices, all sorts of suicide bombing activities is enormous. The casualty rate could increase in the coming months.

SHEPPARD: Wolf, the stakes in this are really high for the president, for the Iraqis and for the American public. When you send in more troops...

MARKS: ... and for the soldiers and the marines on the ground.

SHEPPARD: When you send in more troops, you're going to have more American casualties. Now the idea basically is to make the Iraqis strong enough to take the lead in these areas and have the Americans participate with them and also back them up and support them. So ideally the Iraqis will do it themselves and be on the front line with our support. It will mean less casualties for us, but we're going to have more casualties with more troops in. We have to be ready for it.

ZAHN: But are you saying that's the only mission that will work? You don't want these American troops in front line positions. You want them constantly training the Iraqi troops so they can stand on their own.

SHEPPARD: What I'm saying Paula is 21,000 Americans will not bring security to Iraq, 21,000 Americans will not bring security to Baghdad. The Iraqis have to do it. We can help, 21,000 will help, but it won't do the job. It's up to the Iraqis. FOREMAN: Six months from now, are we going to look at this area right here where most of them are going to go and say we're better off or worse off?

MARKS: We need to say we're better off.

ZAHN: We need to, but will we?

MARKS: There are ways to achieve that. And it's not mutually exclusive. It's not a political solution better than a military solution. All of these are essential ingredients to a solution. So it's not a military strategy.

ZAHN: Generals, thank you. Tom Foreman, thank you. I don't have to thank you, beacuse you're coming back with me.

Up ahead, we're very close to the president's address. Also, Jack Cafferty wants to know will the Iraq war alone determine President Bush's legacy.

BLITZER: We're standing by, as Paula says, for Jack and "The Cafferty File." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're standing by for the president's address to the nation. That's coming up.

First though, let's check back Jack Cafferty. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, we wanted to know if you think the Iraq war alone will determine President Bush's legacy.

Michael in Lynchburg, Virginia: "Of course not. President Bush will be remembered for the many other disasters he has helped cause. His war on the environment, the record trade deficits, record budget deficits, a continued loss of manufacturing jobs, the loss of an entire American city, all the stupid stuff he says, the incompetent people hires, his general disregard for the state of the country and aloofness."

Joe in Milton, Delaware: "Iraq will certainly be the largest piece of Bush's legacy. He'll also be remembered for persistent attacks on our rights under the guise of fighting terrorism. And finally, he'll be remembered for failure to control the borders and allowing a massive flow of drugs and illegal aliens."

Rob in Ontario: "Jack, George W. Bush has nothing else upon which to pin his legacy. It's the Iraq war, or what? No Child Left Behind?"

Russell in Clinton, Connecticut: "Even if somehow President Bush were to succeed in Iraq, there is nothing to show domestically for his years in office other than death and special interest legislation. No amount of time will revise the disastrous results of his presidency at home and abroad. International isolation and ridicule following in stagnant earnings for the majority of Americans."

Dan, who says he's a Republican in hiding: "No, I don't believe it will be the war. I am certain it will be his eventual impeachment."

And Jim in Los Angeles: "Will the Iraq war alone determine President Bush's legacy? Don't be foolish, he always has his record on Hurricane Katrina to fall back on."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and read more of these online.

ZAHN: I guess I'm going to have to go there. I didn't see mine tonight, Jack. You never read mine.

CAFFERTY: Well, I didn't see yours either, Paula, but we'll try to do better next time.

ZAHN: Good. That's the Jack Cafferty I know. Thanks.

We're just a few minutes away from the president as he's about to address the nation and unveil his new strategy for Iraq, which some folks are saying is not so new.

BLITZER: It's enough time, Paula, for us to bring in the best political team on television to get some additional analysis: our chief national correspondent John King, our CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux and our congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

John, you're out there in the Heartland right now outside of Cincinnati. Give us a little perspective on what people are saying to you in the Midwest.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're asking many of the questions that are being asked in Washington. They just use a different language. The key question for the president tonight is: can he begin to rebuild his credibility with the American people?

It was across this river in Cincinnati in late 2002 that the president gave a speech that talked with such certainty about the "Iraqi threat," he called it. He said it was a grave threat. He said Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was working on a nuclear program. Almost everything the president said in that speech has turned out to be not the case in the three and a half years since in Iraq. And that is the president's challenge tonight.

You were present at the White House today. You were privy to that National Security Council slideshow. And there's a number of admissions in that slide presentation under key assumptions where the administration just admits it got so much wrong. It thought talking to the insurgents might reduce the violence. It didn't. It thought the Sunni Arab neighbors of Iraq would pitch in and help. They haven't.

So the president has a steep credibility hill that he has to address, not only to Washington but the American people.

ZAHN: The president, with so many challenges to address tonight, Dana, and one of the newer one he faces is all the -- are all the defections in his own party. Give us a sense today of some of those generally reliable Republicans who sort of stepped off the president's team.

BASH: Paula, that has really been to me one of the most remarkable differences in terms of the atmospherics here on Capitol Hill. You know, even the Republicans who -- many of them who I talked to who are going to support the president are doing so a little bit reluctantly.

For example, I talked to one conservative senator today just a short while ago and I said, "Are you going to support the president?" And he literally winced and kind of rolled his eyes and sighed and said, "Yes." And I think that sort of sums up the feeling even among the president's supporters who remain.

Now on the other side we are seeing, as you said, some Republicans who have long been staunch allies of the president, especially on the war, who are kind of peeling off. For example, Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas. He is somebody who has presidential aspirations. He sent a press release out from a trip he's taking overseas saying he opposes the president.

Senator Norm Coleman, another senator who has been supportive of the president. He is up for reelection in the next cycle in a very tough state of Minnesota. He didn't wait for the president. It's something that really is unthinkable when you go back just a couple of years for Republicans to defect against the president, especially before the president even gets to speak.

ZAHN: Suzanne...

BLITZER: We're only a few minutes away from the president's speech. But a quick question to you, Suzanne, before we let you listen like the rest of us will be to the president's speech.

When I was at the White House earlier today, a senior administration official quoted the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki as having said to the president in a phone conversation, "I swear to God, Muqtada al Sadr is not going to run the country." A reference to that 29 year-old Shiite cleric who runs the Mehdi Army, if you will. The president has a lot riding on what this Iraqi prime minister is or is not going to do.

MALVEAUX: Well, absolutely, Wolf. And a lot of people are scratching their heads. Why does he have faith in Nouri al-Maliki here?

He has failed before. He's got a very mixed record when it comes to results. One person I spoke with who's familiar with the president's thinking said, "Look, he decided that if we offer Maliki some sort of package, a military component, an economic component to show we are very serious, committed to Iraq's success and that -- really try to convince him this is his last chance to grab hold of that, if you will, that opportunity."

The second thing, of course, is although Maliki is a Shiite, he is also an Iraqi patriot, so they do believe that perhaps he'll put the interests of his country over these warring sects inside the country -- Wolf.

ZAHN: And, finally, John, let's talk a little bit about last chances. We have heard that bandied about quite a bit today. Do you really think this administration views the strategy it's laying out tonight as the last, best chance to get the country under control?

KING: Well, I don't think, Paula, that they quite think that way. I mean, Dana has laid out over the past few days the starkly different political environment on Capitol Hill. They're well aware of that at the White House.

I think more than a last chance, the president views this as a chance to go before the American people and say, "I think I'm right. I'm going to pursue this course. I know many of you disagree with me, but I'm asking you to listen to me tonight. And I'm asking you for one more chance."

They don't expect a big bounce in the polls. They're already saying they're not going to get a big, warm embrace, not even from the Republicans in Congress, let alone the Democrats.

I think more than a last chance what you have tonight is a president who is determined that he is right and he may view that is his -- he has no other option. He can't just pull out of Iraq. He believes it would collapse and the Middle East would get worse.

So this is a president saying, "I've made a lot of mistakes, a lot of things have gone wrong. But fundamentally, leaving is not the answer. So I'm going to stay, even though you disagree with me."

BLITZER: All right. John King reporting for us, Suzanne Malveaux, Dana Bash, all part of the best political team on television. Excellent reporters all of them.

And, Paula, we're only a few minutes away now from the president's address.

I want to thank Paula for joining us here in the SITUATION ROOM. It's always a pleasure working with you. Thank you very much.

ZAHN: I love being here. Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's check in with Larry King. He's going to give us a preview of what's coming up on a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE RIGHT" after the president's address -- Larry.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Thanks, Wolf.

Right after the address we'll come up with immediate reaction to the speech with Senators Barack Obama and John McCain and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, plus Senators Dianne Feinstein, John Warner and Lindsey Graham. And we'll close it out, of course, with CNN correspondents at the White House and in Baghdad, all right after the speech -- Wolf. cy TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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