Bush Presents Plan to Win Iraq War

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2005

President Bush laid out his administration's vision yesterday for winning the war in Iraq, acknowledging that the U.S. military has suffered "setbacks" but asserting that it is making unmistakable progress in training Iraqi security forces -- a mission he vowed will not be cut short by political pressures on the homefront.

"As the Iraqi forces gain experience and the political process advances, we will be able to decrease our troop levels in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists," Bush told an audience of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. "These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders -- not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington."

While Bush appealed for patience, the House minority leader announced hers was at an end. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) became the first congressional leader to endorse a call to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, following the path laid out two weeks ago by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.).

Pelosi said she was offering her own view, not speaking for the Democratic caucus, but added that her conversations with colleagues suggest that "clearly a majority of the caucus supports Mr. Murtha" and his plan to immediately bring home the 160,000 U.S. forces in Iraq.

In a speech aimed at countering such opposition and bolstering what polls show is flagging enthusiasm for the war among the public, Bush described what he called a record of growing proficiency by Iraqi military and police forces, which he said will allow U.S. troops to reduce their role in day-to-day combat operations. His voice choked with emotion at times, he said an immediate withdrawal or a precise schedule for doing so would vindicate terrorists.

"To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander in chief," Bush said.

The president's speech coincided with the release of a 35-page document outlining his administration's strategy for winning the war. Administration officials said the report was compiled from declassified portions of long-standing war plans. The "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" says that the administration is working toward winning the war on three fronts: by training Iraqi security forces, by helping the nation establish a democracy, and by targeting economic development and rebuilding efforts in areas of the country cleared of insurgents.

The speech and release of the strategy document come as Bush's approval ratings have dropped to new lows and several polls show a majority of the public now regards the war as a mistake, even if most people believe the United States should secure Iraq before leaving. It was this latter group, administration officials said, that Bush especially wanted to reach, to try to convince them that there is an end in sight even if the date is uncertain.

White House aides have said that before Iraqis elect a permanent government on Dec. 15, Bush will deliver several more speeches detailing his administration's vision for winning the war. Bush warned that U.S. involvement in the war probably will not end in complete triumph. Instead, he said, U.S. troops will leave when Iraqis are prepared to assume the fight.

Several leading congressional Democrats dismissed the speech and the strategy document as warmed-over versions of Bush's rhetoric on Iraq.

"After nearly 1,000 days of war in Iraq, our troops, their families and the American people deserve more than just a Bush-Cheney public relations campaign," said Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). "They deserve a clear strategy with military, economic and political measures to be met in order to successfully complete our mission."

Pelosi's move was the most notable. She had considered endorsing Murtha's withdrawal resolution immediately after he presented it last month. But she decided to hold back for fear that a proposal drafted by Murtha, a defense hawk from the Democratic Party's moderate wing, would quickly be tarred as the product of her more liberal wing.

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