President Bush, facing increasing opposition to the war in Iraq, went on the offensive today, releasing a detailed plan for fighting the war and then delivering a major speech in an attempt to show the country that the administration has a clear vision for victory in Iraq.
In a 45-minute speech before a receptive audience at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Bush again rejected a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying conditions on the ground rather than "artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington" would dictate when American forces could return home.
He recounted improvements made by Iraqi security forces that he said would eventually lead to a U.S. withdrawal, although he warned that it would take "time and patience." Bush said the U.S. goal is for Iraqi forces to take the lead without "major foreign assistance," and he chronicled how Iraqi forces were fighting better and gaining more control of their embattled country. He said mistakes had been made in the training of Iraqi forces that have now been righted.
The speech, the first in a series the president will deliver in the run-up to the Dec. 15 elections in Iraq, broke no new ground in the increasingly impatient and vocal debate about U.S. strategy there.
"America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am commander in chief," Bush said to the audience of uniformed Navy midshipmen. "America will not abandon Iraq."
The White House offensive comes as continued deadly violence in Iraq and the deaths of more than 2,000 U.S. troops and the wounding of 16,000 others chip away at Bush's popularity, now at its lowest level since he became president.
In an oft-repeated message, Bush said that setting an artificial deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal sends a statement that "America is weak and an unreliable ally" and vindicates "terrorist tactics of beheadings, suicide bombings and mass murder," inviting new terrorist attacks on the United States.
Even before Bush was finished speaking, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) issued a statement saying the president had "recycled his tired rhetoric of 'stay the course' and once again missed an opportunity to lay out a real strategy for success in Iraq that will bring our troops safely home."
Reading from a letter written by a U.S. soldier on his lap-top computer before his death, an emotional Bush said America owes those who have died in Iraq to "take up their mantle, carry on the fight and complete their mission."
Just hours before the speech, the White House released a detailed 35-page "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/30/AR2005113000376.html" outlining the American political, security and economic strategies in the war.
The report, the first such report issued by the White House on the war, maintains that U.S. strategy is working in Iraq, but victory will take time and many challenges remain. It also outlined how the United States defines victory in Iraq, why it is vital to U.S. interests, who the enemy is and how the strategy is being implemented.
"No war has ever been won on a timetable and neither will this one," said the document. "But lack of a timetable does not mean our posture in Iraq (both military and civilian) will remain static over time."
The administration expects the number of U.S. forces in Iraq -- currently about 160,000 -- will decrease over the next year as the "political process advances and Iraqi security forces grow and gain experience," according to the document. While the U.S. military presence "may become less visible, it will remain lethal and decisive, able to confront the enemy wherever it may organize."
The plan says increasing numbers of Iraqi troops have been equipped and trained, a democratic government is taking shape and Iraq's economy is being rebuilt. It says the United States is pursuing victory on political, security and economic fronts.
"Failure is not an option," the document said, citing three principal reasons: Iraq would become a safe haven for terrorists, Middle East reformers would never trust U.S. resolve again, and the ensuing tribal and sectarian chaos in Iraq would have major consequences for U.S. interests in the region.
"It is not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy, able to defeat its enemies and peacefully reconcile generational grievances, to be in place less than three years after Saddam was finally removed from power," the report said.
The White House document identified the "enemy" in Iraq as "diffuse and sophisticated," a combination of Iraqis who reject democratic reforms, Saddam Hussein loyalists and al-Qaeda inspired terrorists.
The Bush administration's political strategy in Iraq, the report says, involves isolating enemy elements, engaging those outside the political process and building stable national institutions.
The report repeats the administration's claim that Iraq is the "central front in the global war on terror." It said "failure in Iraq will embolden terrorists and expand their reach; success in Iraq will deal them a decisive and crippling blow."
According to the report, the administration defines victory in Iraq in three stages -- short term, medium term and longer term. In the short term, it said, "Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces."
"Our mission in Iraq is to win the war," the document said. "Our troops will return home when that mission is complete."