Wars past and present follow Bush on his Asian trip

Tuesday, November 21st 2006, 6:32 am
By: News On 6

HONOLULU, Hawaii (AP) _ President Bush is shadowed by wars past and present at every turn on an eight-day journey to reassure Asia of America's commitment to the region.

Bush's trip to Vietnam inspired a fresh debate about whether today's increasingly difficult war in Iraq has dangerous parallels to the failed American war in Southeast Asia three decades ago. Now, the president is ending his Asian tour with an overnight stop in Hawaii, where the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor launched the United States' entry into World War II.

The Iraq situation was complicated Monday when Iranian leaders invited the presidents of Iraq and Syria to a weekend summit in Tehran to discuss the violence in Iraq. The move, viewed as an apparent attempt by Iran to counter U.S. influence in the region, was received with skepticism at the State Department in Washington.

``While there have been positive statements from the Iranian government about wishing to play a positive role in Iraq, those statements haven't been backed up by actions,'' State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.

He offered a similar assessment of Syria, saying the problem ``is not what they say; the problem is what they do. ... What we would like to see the Syrians do is take actions to, among other things, prevent foreign fighters from coming across the border into Iraq.''

There has been strong speculation that the independent Baker-Hamilton advisory commission on Iraq, which is due to report to Bush soon, was considering recommendations that could include a broader role in the region by Syria and Iran.

The Iraqi government said diplomatic relations between the two countries _ severed nearly a quarter-century ago _ would be restored by Tuesday.

Bush was having breakfast Tuesday with U.S. troops at Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu. Afterward, he was getting a briefing at the U.S. Pacific Command, whose territory spreads from the West Coast to the Indian Ocean.

White House briefing papers noted Bush was meeting there in an a room named after two men who played crucial roles in America's place in the Asia-Pacific region: Adm. Chester Nimitz, who commanded U.S. forces in the Pacific during World War II, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who headed the U.S. occupation of Japan afterward.

The president arrived in Hawaii on Monday night and had dinner with Adm. William Fallon, the command's chief. He was to be back at the White House by late Tuesday night.

Bush returns to a capital where a postelection debate over Iraq is intensifying.

Democrats who won control of Congress in voting that took place a week before Bush began his trip to Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia are demanding major changes in the president's approach to the Iraq war.

Bush, trying to head off their proposals for a timeline for troop withdrawals, says he is awaiting the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., even as the Pentagon and other agencies conduct an internal review of possible strategy shifts.

Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also is at work on a thorough review of options for Iraq,

Appearing with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday, Bush refused to tip his hand on what direction he might go, even declining to think aloud about whether adding troops in Iraq has downsides.

He was asked about a proposal by some members of Congress, including 2008 presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to send more troops to help the roughly 140,000 already there stabilize the country and curb rising sectarian violence.

``I haven't made any decisions about troop increases or troop decreases, and won't until I hear from a variety of sources, including our own United States military,'' the president said. ``So there's no need to comment on something that may not happen.''

The Indonesian leader, a close ally in Bush's war on terror, called for other nations to participate in easing conflict in Iraq. ``The global community must be also responsible for solving the problems in Iraq,'' not just the United States, Yudhoyono said.

But despite the deep dislike of the war in Indonesia and other Muslim countries, Yudhoyono declined to directly criticize it or call for an immediate end to the U.S. presence in Iraq. He advocated only ``a proper timetable'' for ``the disengagement of U.S. military forces and other coalition forces from Iraq.''

Now in its fourth year, the war is becoming increasingly unpopular with the American public as well, and the drubbing by Bush's Republican Party in the Nov. 7 elections was seen as an expression of that dissatisfaction.