By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 5, 2007
FORT IRWIN, Calif., April 4 -- President Bush brought his confrontation with Congress over funding of the war in Iraq to the huge armed forces training facility here in the Mojave Desert on Wednesday, telling troops that to withdraw before "the job is done" would be tantamount to accepting defeat.
Bush, trying to ratchet up pressure on House and Senate Democrats, shared lunch with troops before telling them that congressional efforts to force a withdrawal would undercut the already difficult war effort. Speaking in subdued tones, Bush repeated his warning that Iraq will descend deeper into chaos if Democrats succeed in setting a deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq. Meanwhile, he said, "the clock is ticking for our military" as long as his war funding bill is delayed in the increasingly rancorous debate over a withdrawal deadline.
"Without approval of the supplemental funds in April, we will be forced to take increasingly draconian measures, which will impact Army readiness and impose hardship on our soldiers and their families," he said.
Despite the continued carnage in Iraq, Bush said that the troop increase that he ordered in January is showing some success. But that progress will be undercut, he argued, if a withdrawal deadline is put in place. Vice President Cheney, who said that the congressional efforts to set a withdrawal deadline infringe on the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief, echoed Bush's message.
"The president is the commander in chief," Cheney said in an interview with ABC Radio. "He's the one who makes the decisions about the use of military force, how they're deployed, when they're deployed, what purposes they're deployed for."
Bush has promised to veto any Iraq spending bill that sets a withdrawal deadline, and he has criticized Democrats for passing a bill that they know will be vetoed. Before meeting with troops, Bush was given a demonstration of how soldiers deal with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. Soldiers have trained in the high desert here in recent years before deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq.
With polls showing that a clear majority of Americans oppose the war, Democrats are showing no signs of backing off their desire to impose timelines for troop withdrawals. In a statement after Bush's remarks, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said it is Bush -- not Congress -- who is blocking funding.
"The Democrats in Congress have passed a bill that fully funds our troops, provides the resources they need on the battlefield and the care they deserve when they return home," Dean said. ". . . Our troops, their families and the American people can no longer afford an open-ended commitment to keep our troops in the middle of a civil war."