President Appeals for Continued Support in Iraq Conflict
The president said in a prime-time speech Tuesday marking the first anniversary of the handover of authority from the U.S. occupation to Iraqis, ”The work in Iraq is difficult and dangerous,”
“We have more work to do and there will be tough moments that test America’s resolve. We are fighting against men with blind hatred, and armed with lethal weapons, who are capable of any atrocity.”
To help make his case, the president explicitly tied the continuing military operations in Iraq to the ongoing war against militant Islamic terrorism, pointing out that fighters captured in Iraq have come from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and other nations.
“Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania,” Mr. Bush said. “There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home.”
But analysts differed on the strength of the president’s case tying the two wars together.
“Sadly because of what has happened in Iraq, and there are so many foreign jihadis in the fight there, the connection with the Iraq war and the war on terror is now easier to make for President Bush than it was, ironically, at the beginning,” Rich Lowry of the National Journal said following the president’s address. “And that has always been an important political dynamic in Iraq is the support for that war has been boosted to the extent it can be connected with the war on terror.”
Others disputed the claim, saying Mr. Bush was using the stronger support for the war on terrorism to prop up support for the war in Iraq.
“I think the connection is rhetorical not factual,” The Boston Globe’s Tom Oliphant countered. “The president has this habit … he states as fact that which is in dispute. Obviously there are relationships between Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq. I am not quite sure they are as intimate as he asserts.”
The president remained defiant throughout the speech, pledging to stand up to the continued militant attacks against Iraqi civilians and American troops.
“The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom,” he said in a speech that was to be attended by 750 soldiers and airmen. “They will fail.”
But President Bush rejected calls for more troops to be sent into the war zone, saying any increase in American deployments would do little to stabilize Iraq.
“Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight,” Mr. Bush said. “And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever.”
He also argued against any firm timetable for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, saying it “would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out.”
Ahead of the president’s address, Democratic leaders and anti-war activists called on the Mr. Bush to own up to the failures of his Iraq policy and outline a clear path toward American withdrawal from the war-torn nation.
Writing in the New York Times, 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, D.-Mass., called on the president to “tell the truth to the American people.”
“Happy talk about the insurgency being in ‘the last throes’ leads to frustrated expectations at home,” Kerry wrote, echoing the words used by Vice President Dick Cheney. “It also encourages reluctant, sidelined nations that know better to turn their backs on their common interest in keeping Iraq from becoming a failed state.”
The president acknowledged the insurgency has taken its toll on American efforts to rebuild Iraq, but stressed the U.S. and Iraqi forces would persevere.
“Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying and the suffering is real,” Mr. Bush said, but pledged the continue effort “Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country.”
Democratic members of Congress said the president’s words would do little to assuage public concerns about a lack of clear focus in Iraq.
“We just don’t have a clue what the criteria for success is,” said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a Vietnam combat veteran. “People are still willing to give the president time if he would just level with them.”
But for anti-war activists, bolstered by polls showing dwindling public support for the war, the president’s call for perseverance fell on deaf ears.
“With more than 1,700 Americans killed, more than 13,000 wounded, and more than $200 billion of taxpayer dollars spent, patience is not what’s needed, a plan for withdrawal is,” Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action, said Tuesday. “Americans can now be sure about two things about Iraq. One: things are getting worse in Iraq, not better. Two: Don’t look to the White House for leadership to solve the problem in Iraq.”
Even as Iraq marked its first anniversary of taking control of the government from the post-war American occupation, violence continued to flare throughout the nation. Suicide bombers assassinated a prominent member of the Iraqi parliament, his son and three bodyguards as well as two U.S. soldiers on Tuesday.