Stephen Hadley also said Sunday that while Mr. Bush recognizes that something different needs to be done, he won't use the recommendations due this week from the Iraq Study Group as political cover for bringing troops home.
In fact, sources tell CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante that the president will wait until the end of the year before announcing what he's decided about how to change course in Iraq.
The White House was preparing for an important week: Mr. Bush planned to meet Monday with Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the Shiite leader of the largest bloc in Iraq's parliament, and the recommendations from the bipartisan commission are to be released Wednesday. On Thursday, Mr. Bush is scheduled to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his closest ally in the U.S.-led war.
"We have not failed in Iraq," Hadley said as he made the talk show rounds. "We will fail in Iraq if we pull out our troops before we're in a position to help the Iraqis succeed."
He added: "The president understands that we need to have a way forward in Iraq that is more successful."
But, with the leak of another insider's secret memo, the second in a week, the administration found itself on the defensive.
The latest, first reported in Sunday's New York Times, showed that Donald H. Rumsfeld called for a "major adjustment" in U.S. tactics on Nov. 6 — the day before an election that cost Republicans the Congress and Rumsfeld his job as defense secretary.
It's remarkable," Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute told CBS Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "The chief Iraq strategist says the strategy is not working. It's pretty blunt, especially when you put together the language that Rumsfeld begins with saying things clearly aren't going well and fast enough and some of the proposals he has below are radical in nature and would amount to a complete change, everything from accelerated withdrawal to only defending Baghdad, to embarking on FDR-style jobs creation programs in Iraq.
"The list of new options is so extensive and so fundamental that it points out Rumsfeld really thinks we are starting to lose," O'Hanlon said.
Hadley played down the memo as a laundry list of ideas rather than a call for a new course of action.
He said that Mr. Bush — just before a pivotal election — was not portraying a different sense of the war to the public than his own defense secretary was giving him in private.
"The president made clear he wanted to open the aperture, really," Hadley told CBS's Face The Nation anchor Bob Schieffer. "And Secretary Rumsfeld, basically, was giving a list for consideration."
"The president has said things are not going well enough in Iraq, not going fast enough in Iraq – that is what is in the Rumsfeld memo," Hadley said. "And he has indicated that he is open to and wants to look at a full range of options for changing what we do and how we do it."
Democrats did not buy that.
"The Rumsfeld memo makes it quite clear that one of the greatest concerns is the political fallout from changing course here in the United States," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The bottom line is there is no one, including the former secretary, who thought the policy the president continues to pursue makes any sense."
Mr. Bush has nominated Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld. His confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is on Tuesday.
As pressure builds for a new strategy, the report from the Iraq Study Group increasingly is viewed as perhaps clearing the way for a U.S. exit strategy in Iraq. Hadley, though, said the review will be just one factor the White House considers.
After a meeting last week in Jordan, Mr. Bush expressed confidence that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government can lead the country toward peace with support from the United States.
Yet Hadley found himself defending his own memo that called that very point into question.
Written on Nov. 8 but disclosed just before Mr. Bush's meeting with the Iraqi leader, the memo described al-Maliki as "either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."
Hadley said Sunday about the memo: "I made an assessment, raised a number of questions, hard questions that should have been raised. But if you look at that memo and if you look at what the president said in the press conference after the meeting with Prime Minister Maliki, it is clear that this government shares our objective for Iraq and has the will and desire to take responsibility."
As for Mr. Bush's meeting Monday with Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, it is "certain to give Washington a different view of Iraq," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk, "and he (al-Hakim) is likely to support the view that the Administration needs to engage Iran in the negotiations about a political settlement and Iraq's future."