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President Bush Vows to Continue in Iraq in Year-end Speech

December 20, 2006 at 11:31 AM EDT

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: This war on terror is the calling of a new generation. We have an obligation to ensure our military is capable of sustaining this war over the long haul and performing the many tasks that we ask of them.

I’m inclined to believe that we need to increase in the permanent size of both the United States Army and the United States Marines. I’ve asked Secretary Gates to determine how such an increase could take place and report back to me as quickly as possible.

I know many members of Congress are interested in this issue, and I appreciate their input. As we develop the specifics of the proposals over the coming weeks, I will not only listen to their views; we will work with them to see that this becomes a reality.

We enter this new year clear-eyed about the challenges in Iraq and equally clear about our purpose. Our goal remains a free and democratic Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, and is an ally in this war on terror.

I’m not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq, except that it’s going to require difficult choices and additional sacrifices, because the enemy is merciless and violent. I’m going to make you this promise: My administration will work with Republicans and Democrats to fashion a new way forward that can succeed in Iraq.

Winning or losing in Iraq

JOURNALIST: Mr. President, less than two months ago, at the end of one of the bloodiest months in the war, you said, "Absolutely we're winning." Yesterday, you said, "We're not winning. We're not losing." Why did you drop your confident assertion about winning?

GEORGE W. BUSH: My comments -- the first comment was done in this spirit. I believe that we're going to win. I believe that -- and, by the way, if I didn't think that, I wouldn't have our troops there. That's what you've got to know.

We're going to succeed. My comments yesterday reflected the fact that we're not succeeding nearly as fast as I wanted when I said at the time and that conditions are tough in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad. And so we're conducting a review to make sure that our strategy helps us achieve that which I'm pretty confident we can do, and that is have a country which can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.

When I speak -- like right now, for example -- I'm speaking to the American people, of course, and I want them to know that I know how tough it is, but I also want them to know that I'm going to work with the military and the political leaders to develop a plan that will help us achieve the objective.

And I want the enemy to understand that this is a tough task, but they can't run us out of the Middle East, that they can't intimidate America. They think they can. They think it's just a matter of time before America grows weary and leaves, abandons the people of Iraq, for example, and that's not going to happen.

I'm not going to speculate out loud about what I'm going to tell the nation, when I'm prepared to do so, about the way forward. I will tell you we're looking at all options. And one of those options, of course, is increasing more troops.

But in order to do so, there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished with more troops, and that's precisely what our commanders have said, as well as people who know a lot about military operations.

I'm often asked about public opinion. Of course I want public opinion to support the efforts. I understand that. But, Jim, I also understand the consequences of failure.

And, therefore, I'm going to work with the Iraqis and our military and politicians from both political parties to achieve success. I thought the American -- the election said they want to see more bipartisan cooperation. They want to see us working together to achieve common objectives, and I'm going to continue to reach out to Democrats to do just that.

Iraq study group report

JOURNALIST: You have always seemed very confident of your decisions, but I can't help but wonder if this has been a time of painful realization for you, as you, yourself, have acknowledged that some of the policies you hoped would succeed have not. And I wonder if you can talk to us about that. Has it been a painful time?

GEORGE W. BUSH: The most painful aspect of my presidency has been knowing that good men and women have died in combat. I read about it every night. My heart breaks for a mother or father or husband or wife or son and daughter. It just does. And so when you ask about pain, that's pain.

But I -- you know, look, my heart breaks for them. It just does, on a regular basis. But I also know it's the right decision for America to stay engaged, and to take the lead, and to deal with these radicals and extremists, and to help support young democracies.

It's the calling of our time, Sheryl, and I firmly believe it is necessary. But the most painful aspect of the presidency is the fact that I know my decisions have caused young men and women to lose their lives.

JOURNALIST: A question about the Iraq Study Group report. One of the things that it recommends is greater dialogue, direct talk with Syria and Iran. James Baker, himself secretary of state under your father, says that it's a lot like it was during the Cold War, when we talked to the Soviet Union. He says it's important to talk to your adversaries. Is he wrong?

GEORGE W. BUSH: The -- let me start with Iran. We made it perfectly clear to them what it takes to come to the table, and that is a suspension of their enrichment program.

I heard the foreign minister -- or read the foreign minister say the other day that, yes, we'll sit down with America, after they leave Iraq. Now, if they want to sit down with us for the good of the Iranian people, they ought to verifiably suspend their program.

It's -- we made that clear to them. It's obvious to them how to move forward. I am -- I -- I -- the Iranian people can do better than be an isolated nation. This is a proud nation with a fantastic history and tradition.

And yet they've got a leader who constantly sends messages to the world that Iran is out of step with the majority of thinkers, that Iran is willing to become isolated to the detriment of the people. I mean, I was amazed that, once again, there was this conference about the Holocaust, that heralded a really backward view of the history of the world.

And all that said to me was, is that the leader in Iran is -- is willing to say things that really hurts his country and further isolates the Iranian people.

Syria, the message is the same. We have met with Syria since I have been the president of the United States. We have talked to them about what is necessary for them to have a better relationship with the United States, and they're not unreasonable requests.

What I would suggest, that if they're interested in better relations with the United States, that they take some concrete, positive steps that promote peace, as opposed to instability.