President Bush today warned Americans to "be prepared for more violence" in Iraq as insurgents seek to disrupt an upcoming referendum on a new constitution, and he declared that there is "no middle ground" in the U.S. war on terrorism.
Speaking to reporters after receiving a briefing at the Pentagon on the U.S. war effort, Bush also ruled out any concession to the demands of U.S. peace groups for a pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq. With the violence in Iraq escalating and the U.S. death toll there now over 1,900, peace groups are planning what organizers say will be a massive march and rally in Washington Saturday to demand an immediate withdrawal.
"Some Americans want us to withdraw our troops so that we can escape the violence," said Bush, who was flanked by Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top officials. "I recognize their good intentions, but their position is wrong. Withdrawing our troops would make the world more dangerous and make America less safe. To leave Iraq now would be to repeat the costly mistakes of the past that led to the attacks of September the 11th, 2001."
Bush said terrorists "saw our response" to the hostage crisis in Iran under the Carter administration, the bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon during the Reagan administration and a series of attacks during the Clinton presidency and "concluded that we lacked the courage and character to defend ourselves.
"Now the terrorists are testing our will and resolve in Iraq," Bush said. "If we fail that test, the consequences for the safety and security of the American people would be enormous. Our withdrawal from Iraq would allow the terrorists to claim an historic victory over the United States." It would also embolden enemies such as Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi to launch more attacks, he said.
"The battle lines are drawn, and there is no middle ground," Bush said. "Either we defeat the terrorists and help the Iraqis build a working democracy, or the terrorists will impose their dark ideology on the Iraqi people and make that country a source of terror and instability to come for decades."
Bush said, "The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon the mission. For the security of the American people, that's not going to happen on my watch."
This morning, Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, briefed Bush in a videoconference hookup about what the president called a "comprehensive strategy to achieve victory in Iraq." Bush said Casey told him that U.S. forces would deny insurgents safe haven, train more Iraqi forces to conduct security operations and "focus on hunting down high-value targets like the terrorist Zarqawi."
Bush said U.S. commanders made it clear that insurgent attacks have increased as part of a campaign to stop the referendum, which is scheduled for Oct. 15.
"As Iraqis prepare to vote on their constitution in October and elect a permanent government in December, we must be prepared for more violence," he said.
Bush said training efforts are making progress, with Iraqi forces "now in control of more parts of Iraq than at any time in the past two years." He added, "Significant areas of Baghdad and Mosul, once violent and volatile, are now more stable because Iraqi forces are helping to keep the peace."
Later, after a meeting in the White House with King Abdullah of Jordan, Bush said he had asked the 43-year-old monarch to help advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He said Abdullah "graciously agreed" to his request to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"I want to thank you, sir, for taking a leadership role," Bush told the king during a photo opportunity in the Oval Office. "It will be very helpful to have your voice of reason there to talk to both leaders."