At Army Base, Bush Boosts Iraq War

President Bush Bush urges soldiers graduating from basic Army training to
President Bush Bush urges soldiers graduating from basic Army training to "stay on the offense" and "keep pressure on the enemy." (By Anne Mcquary -- Bloomberg News)
By Josh White and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 3, 2007

FORT JACKSON, S.C., Nov. 2 -- President Bush, invoking the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as he has many times before, contended Friday that Iraq is the central front in the struggle against extremism, telling a supportive military crowd at this Army post that it is imperative to continue fighting the increasingly unpopular war.

Bush praised the 1,300 newly minted soldiers graduating from Basic Combat Training here for volunteering to defend the country, urging them to "stay on the offense" and "keep pressure on the enemy."

Army officials said about 30 percent of those graduating soldiers will be in Iraq or Afghanistan in the coming months. All of them chose to join a volunteer force engaged in lengthy wars. In asserting that they must stay committed to the fight, Bush was speaking to perhaps one of the most loyal audiences he could have found.

Bush hailed recent statistics that show progress in Iraq and called his strategy of increasing troop levels a success over the past four months. He said the number of improvised-bomb attacks has been cut in half, deaths among U.S. troops in October were at their lowest level in more than a year and a half, and neighborhoods have been cleansed of terrorist "thugs."

Bush said Iraqis "are increasingly taking more responsibility for their own security," and in a rare accounting of enemy deaths, he said more than 1,500 enemy fighters have been killed or captured every month since January.

"By taking the fight to the enemy in Iraq, we will defeat the terrorists there so we do not have to face them in the United States," Bush said.

In an appearance before the World Affairs Council of Dallas-Fort Worth about the same time that Bush was speaking in South Carolina, Vice President Cheney said that the U.S. strategy in Iraq "is working," with the American casualty rate declining "even though we have more troops carrying out more perilous missions."

Cheney warned of the consequences of "walking away from Iraq," saying that moderates there "would be crushed" as extremist groups pushed the country toward chaos. He also warned that al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed groups could unleash "an all-out war" that would destabilize the Middle East, threaten friendly governments in the region, and provide "a potential safe haven for terrorists" in Iraq.

"A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would validate al-Qaeda's belief that we lack the stomach for the fight," Cheney said.

Asked about the influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Ch¿vez, a harsh critic of the Bush administration, Cheney said that Ch¿vez "spends a great deal of his time worrying about us and criticizing the United States" and that "my own personal view is that he does not represent the future of Latin America."

Apparently forgetting that Ch¿vez is from Venezuela, Cheney added: "The people of Peru, I think, deserve better in their leadership. But that's obviously a matter they've got to resolve for themselves."

A spokeswoman for Cheney, Lea Anne McBride, said later that Cheney's reference to Peru was "a simple slip of the tongue." Referring to Peruvian leader Alan Garc¿a, she said by e-mail: "Both the president and vice president hold President Garc¿a and the people of Peru in high regard."

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