Bush: Rough year ‘for our troops and the Iraqi people’
Warns of enduring conflict between ‘competing ideologies’
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.
President Bush predicted a long-term struggle against global terrorism at a press conference at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met with troops Dec. 20 in Baghdad.