Bush: Rough year ‘for our troops and the Iraqi peo­ple’

Warns of en­dur­ing con­flict be­tween ‘com­pet­ing ide­olo­gies’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Joseph Curl

Pres­i­dent Bush on Dec. 20 con­ceded that U.S. forces were in­ad­e­quately pre­pared to han­dle sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence that broke out in Iraq af­ter the fall of Bagh­dad, but said any in­crease in Amer­i­can troops to es­tab­lish se­cu­rity there must be tied to a spe­cific mis­sion “that can be ac­com­plished.”

The pres­i­dent also ac­knowl­edged that 2006 “was a dif­fi­cult year for our troops and the Iraqi peo­ple” and that “the en­e­mies of lib­erty [. . . ] car­ried out a de­lib­er­ate strat­egy to fo­ment sec- tar­ian vi­o­lence.”

Dur­ing an hour­long press con­fer­ence in which Mr. Bush was both re­flec­tive and, at times, gloomy, the pres­i­dent called the war in Iraq “the be­gin­ning of a con­flict be­tween com­pet­ing ide­olo­gies” and urged Congress to put aside par­ti­san­ship for the longterm pro­tec­tion of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

“I be­lieve the next pres­i­dent, whoever the per­son is, will have the same charge, the same obli­ga­tions to deal with ter­ror­ists so they don’t hurt us and to help young democ­ra­cies sur­vive the

threats of rad­i­cal­ism and ex­trem­ism,” the pres­i­dent said in the In­dian Treaty Room of the Eisen­hower Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice Build­ing.

Mr. Bush’s year-end press con­fer­ence came as De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates made his first visit toIraqs­ince­be­ingsworn­inDec.18. The pres­i­dent has asked his new Pen­tagon chief to re­port to him as quickly as pos­si­ble on long-term planstoen­largeth­e­size­oftheArmy andMarineCorps,anideaMr.Bush said he sup­ports.

Mean­while on Dec. 20, the Pen­tagon planned to ask the White House for $99.7 bil­lion to fund the warsinIraqandAfghanistan,which would push the to­tal cost to tax­pay­ers to more than $500 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice.

Al­though Mr. Bush said he sup­ports in­creas­ing the Army and Marines, he said he has not de­cided whether to add U.S. troops in Iraq in hopes of con­trol­ling sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence that has made this year one of the most deadly of the nearly fouryear war.

“We’re look­ing at all op­tions, and one of those op­tions, of course, is in- creas­ing more troops. But in or­der to­doso,there­must­bea­speci­ficmis­sion that can be ac­com­plished with more troops,” he said.

Democrats wasted lit­tle time in con­demn­ing the pres­i­dent’s com­ments.

“Thep­res­i­dent­gavenoindi­ca­tion in­his­press­con­fer­ence­to­daythathe is will­ing to make the changes need­ed­tore­ver­sethedis­as­trous­si­t­u­a­tion­inIraq,”HouseS­peaker-elect Nancy Pelosi said. “Un­less there is a fun­da­men­tal change in pol­icy and in the mis­sion of our troops in sup­port of that pol­icy, events in Iraq are un­likely to im­prove.”

Said in­com­ing Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Lead­erHar­ryReid:“Un­for­tu­nately, it is trou­bling to see that he still does not un­der­stand the need for ur­gent changeinIraq.[...]Democrat­sand the bi­par­ti­san Iraq Study Group have both laid down a road map for the pres­i­dent to be­gin the with­drawalofAmer­i­cantroops­fromthe civil war in Iraq. It is now up to the pres­i­dent to fol­low that course.”

Mr. Bush said he is still mulling his op­tions as he pre­pares to an­nounce early next month a change in strat­egy for the war in Iraq and is com­pil­in­grec­om­men­da­tions­froma slew of sources, in­clud­ing the bi­par­ti­san panel led by for­mer Sec­re­tary of State James A. Baker III and for­mer Demo­cratic Rep. Lee H. Hamil­ton of In­di­ana, which called for with­drawal of com­bat troops by early 2008.

Mr. Bush again ex­pressed op­ti­mism that the United States can “win” in Iraq.

“Vic­tory in Iraq is achiev­able. It hasn’thap­pened­nearlyasquicklyas Iho­pe­d­it­would­have.[...]ButIalso don’t be­lieve most Amer­i­cans want us just to get out now. A lot of Amer­i­can­sun­der­standthe­con­se­quences of re­treat,” he said.

But the pres­i­dent was somber whenasked­abouthisle­gacy,break­ing from his nor­mal as­ser­tion that his­tory will judge him well.

“It’s go­ing to take awhile for peo­pleto[...]de­ter­minewhetherornot thede­ci­sion­s­mad­e­dur­ingth­eeight years I was pres­i­dent have af­fected his­tory in a pos­i­tive way,” he said.

Mr.Bushal­solookeda­head­tothe long-termneed­soft­hemil­i­tary,say­ing that al­though he still sup­ports a light, agile Army, “that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily pre­clude in­creas­ing end strength for the Army and the Marines.”

“The rea­son why I’m in­clined to be­lieve this is a good idea is be­cause I un­der­stand that we’re go­ing to be in a long strug­gle against rad­i­cals and ex­trem­ists, and we must make sure that our mil­i­tary has the ca­pa­bil­ity to stay in the fight for a long pe­riod of time,” he said.

That­moveisabreak­with­former De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld’s push to build a lighter, more agile mil­i­tary. Mr. Rums­feld took of­fice un­der or­ders from Mr. Bush to trans­form the mil­i­tary for 21st-cen­tury threats, and the for­mer sec­re­tary first moved to cut two di­vi­sions, from 10 to eight, a plan shelved af­ter the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks.

As the war on ter­ror­ism ground on, crit­ics emerged again to say the Army had grown too small to fight twowarsand­keepother­glob­al­com­mit­ments.Mr.Rums­fel­dresponded byau­tho­riz­ing30,000moresol­diers, but re­fused to rec­om­mend it be put into law as “end strength.”

Heal­so­moved­tomaketheArmy more­ag­ile­by­break­ing­down­the­di­vi­sion or­ga­ni­za­tion into com­bat brigade teams, which trained and de­ployed with their own sup­port groups in­stead of join­ing up with them be­fore de­ploy­ment.

Astrid Riecken/The Wash­ing­ton Times

Pres­i­dent Bush pre­dicted a long-term strug­gle against global ter­ror­ism at a press con­fer­ence at the Eisen­hower Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice Build­ing.

As­so­ci­ated Press

De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates met with troops Dec. 20 in Bagh­dad.

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