Bush vows he’s ‘not giving up’ in Iraq
President Bush promised the Iraqi prime minister on Friday that he was “not giving up on the mission” in Iraq despite rising pressure from Congress and the public to describe a strategy for gradual American withdrawal. And he shrugged off suggestions that the military and members of his administration fundamentally disagree on the strength of the insurgency.
Standing in the East Room beside Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Mr. Bush once again promised that he would not set a schedule for moving troops out.
“There are not going to be any timetables,” he said. “Why would you say to the enemy, you know, ‘Here’s a timetable; just go ahead and wait us out?’ ”
Dr. Jaafari, who spoke mostly in Arabic, opened his comments by speaking in English to emphasize his agreement with Mr. Bush. “This is not the time to fall back,” he said.
He echoed White House efforts to argue that good news in Iraq is being drowned out by the steady string of bombings, casualties and roadside attacks. “I see from up close what’s happening in Iraq, and I know we are making steady and substantial progress,” he said.
With polls showing that Americans’ support for the war in Iraq is declining, Mr. Bush’s insistence that he will stay the course sets up a delicate political task for Tuesday night, when the president has asked the major networks to broadcast a prime-time address from Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C. The speech is timed to mark the first anniversary of the end of the American occupation and the transfer of power to the Iraqis.
Spokesmen for the networks said Friday that they had not decided whether to carry Mr. Bush’s remarks live.
In conversations on Friday, several senior American officials conceded that the president’s speech would have to walk a tightrope. “We have to explain, convincingly, why we think the situation will swing our way,” one official remarked, saying that he was prohibited from speaking on the record and that the speech was still being drafted.
The message from Mr. Bush has been essentially unchanged from what he has been saying for a year, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, indicated that the president would offer more details of his strategy, but not a change of course.
With American casualties showing no signs of tapering off, Mr. Bush is having an increasingly difficult time convincing even members of his own party that his strategy is working.
The White House is having to contend with televised images each day that reinforce an image of constant carnage, along with public remarks from military leaders reporting an increase in the flow of foreign fighters and no letup in the pace of attacks on American forces. And military commanders in Iraq have acknowledged that the training of Iraqi forces is progressing with painful slowness.
Mr. Bush seemed to preview the speech a bit on Friday when he said the development of political institutions in Iraq gave him optimism about the future. But he was vehement on the question of not giving in to the insurgents, and he seemed to tie a rise in attacks to the polls showing growing American sentiment to find an exit.
“They figure if they can shake our will and affect public opinion, then politicians will give up on the mission,” he said. “I’m not giving up on the mission. We’re doing the right thing, which is to set the foundation for peace and freedom.”
He declined to answer directly when asked about apparent disagreements – or at least notable differences in language – between Vice President Dick Cheney and Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander of United States forces in the Middle East. Mr. Cheney on Thursday reiterated his view that the insurgency in Iraq was in its “last throes.” But General Abizaid told a Senate committee the same day that the insurgency’s “overall strength is about the same” as six months ago and that the number of foreign fighters going into Iraq was increasing.
“The very same commanders that say that these folks are terrible killers are also reminding us that we’re making good progress,” Mr. Bush said, noting he had just emerged from a briefing with Mr. Cheney, General Abizaid and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. He did not offer details.
He acknowledged the political fragility of the moment when he was asked by a reporter whether he was “in something of a second term slump,” and he shot back with “a quagmire, perhaps.” The line drew laughter, but the perception that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated to that Vietnam-era description is exactly what the White House is responding to, especially in Congress.
Mr. Bush went on to say that he was not driven by the polls, repeating a favorite line of his: “Following the polls is like a dog chasing his tail.”
“I’m not sure how that translates,” he said, looking at Dr. Jaafari. “But my job is to set an agenda and to lead toward that agenda. And we’re laying the foundation for peace around the world.”
Mr. Bush’s cause in Congress was hardly aided when his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, told the Conservative Party of New York State this week that after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, liberals wanted to “prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.” That statement has stirred angry Democratic complaints. The president was not asked about the statement at the news conference, but his senior aides defended Mr. Rove’s comment.
“It’s just puzzling why Democratic leaders are trying to defend the views of people like Michael Moore and organizations like moveon.org that took a very different view after the attacks of Sept. 11, after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon here in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. McClellan said. “And you can go back and look at some of the comments that they made.”
But Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman and a member of the Sept. 11 commission, said: “Both liberals and conservatives died on 9/11. We should be working on plugging the security holes on our borders and catching bin Laden rather than concentrating on casting aspersions on Democrats, Republicans, conservatives or liberals.”
With Iraq strategy a subject of such hot debate, Dr. Jaafari seemed a bit taken aback at the pressures of news coverage in Washington, racing from television interview to speeches to visits with wounded American soldiers, whom he thanked.
Still, at the White House, Dr. Jaafari urged Mr. Bush to “redo a Marshall plan,” a reference to the American rebuilding of Europe after World War II, suggesting that he call it “the Bush Plan, to help Iraq, to help the Iraqi people.”
The president, who invoked the Marshall Plan two years ago when he called for the rebuilding of Afghanistan, said nothing more and ended the news conference. Autor: David E. Sanger