President To Critics: Wait Till September

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007

CLEVELAND, July 10 -- President Bush pushed back Tuesday against demands from Republican lawmakers to outline a new war strategy, urging them to hold their fire until Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, delivers a progress report in September.

Bush told a friendly audience here that the additional troops he ordered to Iraq have only recently arrived to join the fight. "I believe that it's in this nation's interests to give the commander a chance to fully implement his operations. And I believe Congress ought to wait for General Petraeus to come back and give us an assessment of the strategy that he's putting in place before they make any decisions," Bush said at a town hall appearance.

His comments appeared aimed at quieting the growing clamor among GOP allies on Capitol Hill for significant changes to the U.S. military mission in Iraq. White House officials fear that if left unchecked, the rebellion could result in widespread GOP defections on upcoming votes that could put even more pressure on the president to begin withdrawing troops.

Bush offered little in the way of a new vision for a smaller U.S. presence in Iraq down the road, something his aides have been suggesting he might do in the days ahead to help ease GOP concerns. But the president did say he would be glad to discuss "different options" come September, and he suggested that the United States could change its mission "in a while," with troops focused on protecting borders, fighting al-Qaeda and training Iraqi forces.

Key GOP senators have said in recent days that they cannot wait until September for a new approach, fueling speculation that the administration might change course. But the president insisted Tuesday that they must wait, offering little discussion of a new policy and repeating his familiar prognosis of the consequences of withdrawal and how it will be greeted by insurgents in Iraq.

"They know we're kindhearted, decent people who value human life, and they understand that Americans will recoil from the violence on our TV screens," the president said in response to a question. "And I know, or I strongly believe, that if we recoil and leave the region with precipitous withdrawals or withdrawals not based upon conditions on the ground, it's going to get worse, not better."

In his speech, Bush once again conflated two organizations, al-Qaeda in Iraq and the international network led by Osama bin Laden, saying that the same group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, is responsible for much of the violence in Iraq. While the Iraq militants are inspired by bin Laden, intelligence analysts say the Iraqi group is composed overwhelmingly of Iraqis and does not take direction from bin Laden.

Bush was in Cleveland for a day of events aimed at reinforcing his message to Congress on a variety of issues, largely domestic. He visited a company involved in manufacturing components for hydrogen fuel cells to tout his energy plan and then stopped by the Cleveland Clinic to talk about his health-care agenda. In between, he had lunch with community leaders. The president concluded the day at a town hall meeting of about 400 Cleveland area business officials.

At the meeting, Fareed Siddiq, a Pakistani American, asked Bush what can be done to improve the nation's image among Muslims.

The president urged, among other things, personal diplomacy. "You're more credible than I am amongst your -- amongst your pals there," he noted. "You can say, 'You're not going to believe America. You're not going to believe the country, where people from all different backgrounds, all walks of life can live in freedom.' "

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