Bush Defends Strategy In Iraq, Pledges to 'Complete the Mission'

President Bush takes reporters' questions with European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
President Bush takes reporters' questions with European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 21, 2005

President Bush said yesterday that "cold-blooded" killers will fail in their attempt to drive the United States out of Iraq prematurely, as he defended the administration's war strategy and its policies for secretly detaining hundreds of alleged terrorists around the world.

After meeting with two leaders of the European Union at the White House, Bush told reporters he regrets the mounting loss of life in Iraq but has no plans to change the U.S. policy for securing Iraq, training a new Iraqi military and staying as long as necessary to prevail. A growing number of lawmakers and military experts are predicting it will be at least two years before Bush can significantly reduce the number of U.S. troops, currently about 140,000. Some lawmakers, including Republicans who supported the war, have proposed setting a timetable to begin pulling out by this fall.

With public support for the war sagging in polls as casualties rise, Bush said those who have lost family in the war need to remember two things: "One, we're not going to leave them -- not going to allow their mission to go in vain. And two, we will complete the mission, and the world will be better off for it."

The president's short-term solution to ease the public anxiety is to spend more time talking about the mission and his vision for victory, aides say. Bush did not answer when asked whether he agreed with Vice President Cheney's assessment that the Iraq insurgency, which has killed more than 100 U.S. soldiers since the beginning of last month, is in its "last throes."

"The report from the field is that while it's tough, more and more Iraqis are becoming battle-hardened and trained to defend themselves," Bush said. "And that's exactly the strategy that's going to work."

Bush met for several hours with Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who holds the rotating European Union presidency, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, to discuss the constitutional crisis facing the 25 countries that make up the European Union, as well as other foreign policy and economic issues. The E.U., an effort to integrate much of Europe into an economic and possible military force, has suffered a string of setbacks in recent weeks, as voters in France and the Netherlands have rejected a new E.U. constitution.

The leaders proclaimed agreement between the United States and Europe on efforts to prevail in Iraq, combat terrorism and provide assistance to Third World nations. "The E.U. is not at its knees," Juncker said. Europe is "playing the role that it has on the international scheme," he added.

Barroso, in a plea the administration hears from many European leaders, said the world needs to do more to feed the hungry, calling current international efforts "a shame of our generation."

Bush is under pressure to provide more assistance to Africa in particular, where AIDS and famine are ravaging millions. Humanitarian issues are expected to dominate discussions at next month's meeting of the world's economic superpowers, known as the Group of Eight.

Bush, according to aides, is planning to announce additional assistance to Africa at that meeting and to send first lady Laura Bush to the continent as a sign of his commitment to solving problems there. Laura Bush will visit Africa after she attends part of the G-8 conference in Gleneagles, Scotland, the second week of July, aides said.

Still, the president's agenda overseas is often overshadowed by controversy over his war policies. Pressed by a European reporter, Bush showed no signs of backing away from his policy of detaining alleged terrorists at a U.S. military installation in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at secret facilities in other countries. "The fundamental question facing our government is, what do you do with these people?" he said. Bush, who recently raised the possibility of shutting down the prison in Cuba, shifted gears somewhat yesterday when he staunchly defended the detention center and repeatedly urged reporters to view conditions there firsthand.

"We want to learn as much as we can in this new kind of war about the intention, and about the methods, and about how these people operate," Bush said. "And they're dangerous, and they're still around, and they'll kill in a moment's notice."

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