By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
President Bush asked skeptical Americans for additional patience as the Iraq war entered its fifth year yesterday, saying that the United States can be victorious, but "only if we have the courage and resolve to see it through."
In a brief address to the nation four years after he ordered U.S. forces to invade Iraq, Bush also warned the Democratic-led Congress not to pass a measure scheduled for a vote in the House this week that would require troops to withdraw from the conflict.
"It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home," Bush said in an eight-minute speech from the Roosevelt Room in the White House. "That may be satisfying in the short run, but I believe the consequences for American security would be devastating."
Having cost the lives of 3,210 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than $300 billion, the war has exacted a larger toll than the White House ever predicted. The conflict has grown more unpopular as it has continued, dragging down Bush's domestic approval rating, which now hovers below 40 percent, according to several polls. Meanwhile, more than six in 10 Iraqis now say their lives are going badly, and about half say that sending additional U.S. forces to Iraq would only worsen the security situation there, according to an ABC News poll released yesterday.
A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll also showed that a narrow majority of Americans now favor setting a deadline for troop withdrawals -- a move the Bush administration has consistently opposed. House Democrats are planning to vote this week on a war spending bill that would effectively require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008. The White House has spoken out against the measure, with press secretary Tony Snow telling reporters that if the initiative prevails in Congress, it will "provide victory for the enemy."
Peering sternly into the cameras during his remarks, Bush said Congress has a responsibility "to ensure that this bill provides the funds and the flexibility that our troops need to accomplish their mission." Snow later underscored the president's words. "What he's saying is that if they attach strings, he will veto it," Snow said.
Despite the growing public sentiment for disengaging from Iraq, Bush administration officials have been marking the fourth anniversary of the invasion by making the case for continued U.S. involvement in the war. Appearing on three morning news shows yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended going to war in Iraq, although she said that more troops should have been deployed earlier and that the fight is proving to be tougher than anticipated.
"Nothing of value is ever won unless there is sacrifice," she said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Rather than withdraw forces, Bush hopes that his plan to send in nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops to help secure Baghdad and violence-torn Anbar province -- coupled with new pressure on the Iraqi government to do the tough political and security work needed to heal sectarian divisions -- will help turn the tide in the war. He said that the new Iraq strategy is showing some early signs of success, although he emphasized that any progress "will take months, not days or weeks."
According to the poll of Iraqis, about half of those surveyed -- 49 percent -- said that bringing more U.S. forces into Baghdad and Anbar province would worsen security in the country. Twenty-nine percent said the troop increase would improve conditions, while 22 percent said it would have no impact.
Meanwhile, 69 percent of Iraqis said the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq makes overall security worse, but only 35 percent said the United States should "leave now." The poll of 2,200 Iraqis was released yesterday by ABC News and other media organizations.
Before his remarks, Bush met with members of the National Security Council for a briefing on progress in Iraq. He also held a videoconference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who he said is optimistic about the new strategy for securing Iraq. Bush and Maliki talked about implementation of the Baghdad security plan and key legislative issues that the United States hopes Iraq will enact to narrow the sectarian divide, a State Department official said. The prime minister pledged to implement the plan in "an evenhanded" way, the official said, a reference to accusations that Iraq's new security forces are contributing to sectarian tensions.
Maliki also underscored his commitment to advancing national reconciliation and working on the new hydrocarbon law and de-Baathification "so all Iraqis committed to peace would benefit," the State Department official said.
In his address, Bush said: "I want to stress that this operation is still in the early stages, it's still in the beginning stages. Fewer than half of the troop reinforcements we are sending have arrived in Baghdad. The new strategy will need more time to take effect."
While Bush used the war's anniversary to defend his strategy, several leading Democrats marked the milestone by again calling on the president to change course. "With the blessing of Senate Republicans, he's committing more U.S. troops to an open-ended civil war," said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.). "It's a flawed policy, proven wrong by events on the ground. To succeed in Iraq, we must have a new direction."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), meanwhile, promised to continue resisting Bush's new war strategy. "The American people have lost confidence in President Bush's plan for a war without end in Iraq," she said. "That failed approach has been rejected by the voters in our nation, and it will be rejected by the Congress."
Staff writer Robin Wright contributed to this report.