< Back to Iraqi Dinar in the News October 25th, 2006

Bush Says Iraq Goal the Same Even as Tactics Change

By Richard Keil and Roger Runningen

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush acknowledged public anxiety about the war in Iraq and sought to

By Richard Keil and Roger Runningen

Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush acknowledged public anxiety about the war in Iraq and sought to balance an open-ended commitment of American forces there with a promise to change course as the situation warrants.

In his second White House news conference this month and with less than two weeks before congressional elections, the president today said the stability of Iraq remains crucial to national security and the costs of the war are worthwhile.

``I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq. I'm not satisfied either,'' Bush said. ``If I did not think our mission in Iraq was vital to America's security, I'd bring our troops home tomorrow.''

Disapproval of Bush's strategy among Americans has grown in parallel with a surge in sectarian violence and a rise in the number of U.S. military personnel killed in combat. Facing pressure for changes in strategy from members of his own party as well as Democrats, the president has stopped using the phrase ``stay the course'' when talking about Iraq, emphasizing instead that the military is adapting to changes on the ground.

``Our goals are unchanging, we are flexible in our methods to achieving those goals,'' the president said today.

Iraq is the issue most often cited by Americans as their top concern in voting in congressional elections on Nov. 7, according to national polls. The polls also show the president's public approval ratings are at less than 40 percent largely because of Iraq. That is spilling over on his fellow Republicans, who are struggling to maintain their majorities in the House and Senate.

Strategy and Explanations

The public doubts, expressed in national polls, may be justified, according to Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

``When you have to explain your strategy every two or three days, it suggests you don't have one,'' Gelb said. ``Basically, he's still trying to hang in there as the situation deteriorates.''

While highlighting successes in battling insurgents, Bush conceded that Americans are unsettled by daily reports of attacks and U.S. deaths. So far during October, which overlaps with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, 93 U.S. service personnel have died in Iraq, the most since October of last year, and more than 300 Iraqi forces have been killed in battle.

`A Serious Concern'

``The events of the past month have been a serious concern to me, and a serious concern to the American people,'' Bush said. A military approach alone ``will not stop violence.''

As he has in the past, Bush acknowledged mistakes made in the early stages of post-invasion period in Iraq, including overestimating the capacity of Iraq's civil service to restore government service and the failure to anticipate Iraq's army would ``melt away'' in the face advancing U.S. forces.

After the election, Bush and the public will hear from an independent commission set up by Congress to review U.S. policy in Iraq. Former Secretary of State James Baker, co-chairman of the committee, has said the panel is seeking a plan that falls somewhere between keeping the current course and a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The administration has been reacting to the pressure for change in the past week. General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad yesterday announced that the Iraqi government has agreed to a timetable for taking full control of the country's security over the next 12 to 18 months. U.S. military support still will be required after that time, Casey said.

`Sacrifices Yet to Come'

Bush, saying he remains confident of success in Iraq, reinforced the view that the U.S. won't be leaving anytime soon.

``We cannot allow our dissatisfaction to turn into disillusionment,'' he said. ``We must gird ourselves for the sacrifices yet to come.''

The plan announced in Baghdad yesterday also would set milestones for the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to reach a political settlement that will unify sectarian and ethnic factions, including changing the constitution and establishing a program for sharing revenue from oil production.

``We are pressing Iraqi's leaders to take bold measures to save their country,'' Bush said. ``We're making it clear that America's patience is not unlimited.''

Bush's critics said his remarks fell short of what both the American people and the Iraqis need to hear.

``I think the president has to be much more clear and candid in terms of strategically what is he going to do to help the Iraqi government make these tough decisions,'' Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a conference call with reporters.

Without a political resolution ``continuing military operations are not going to be decisive,'' Reed said.

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services panel, noted that Maliki earlier today distanced himself from yesterday's announcement by Casey and Khalilzad and accused Bush of changing his rhetoric for political purposes.

`Disconnect'

``There is a disconnect between what the Iraqis are saying and what President Bush is saying,'' Levin said on the conference call. ``This gets re-written day-to-day in order to get past the elections.''

While the U.S. will continue to pressure Maliki to make progress, Bush said, ``we're not going to push him to the point where he can't achieve the objectives.''

The president again rejected setting any deadline on the U.S. presence. ``This notion about a fixed timetable of withdrawal in my judgment means defeat,'' he said. ``You can't leave until the job is done.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Richard Keil in Washington at ; Roger Runningen in Washington at .

While highlighting successes in battling insurgents, Bush conceded that Americans are unsettled by daily reports of attacks and U.S. deaths. So far during October, which overlaps with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, 93 U.S. service personnel have died in Iraq, the most since October of last year, and more than 300 Iraqi forces have been killed in battle.

`A Serious Concern'

``The events of the past month have been a serious concern to me, and a serious concern to the American people,'' Bush said. A military approach alone ``will not stop violence.''

As he has in the past, Bush acknowledged mistakes made in the early stages of post-invasion period in Iraq, including overestimating the capacity of Iraq's civil service to restore government service and the failure to anticipate Iraq's army would ``melt away'' in the face advancing U.S. forces.

After the election, Bush and the public will hear from an independent commission set up by Congress to review U.S. policy in Iraq. Former Secretary of State James Baker, co-chairman of the committee, has said the panel is seeking a plan that falls somewhere between keeping the current course and a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The administration has been reacting to the pressure for change in the past week. General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad yesterday announced that the Iraqi government has agreed to a timetable for taking full control of the country's security over the next 12 to 18 months. U.S. military support still will be required after that time, Casey said.

`Sacrifices Yet to Come'

Bush, saying he remains confident of success in Iraq, reinforced the view that the U.S. won't be leaving anytime soon.

``We cannot allow our dissatisfaction to turn into disillusionment,'' he said. ``We must gird ourselves for the sacrifices yet to come.''

The plan announced in Baghdad yesterday also would set milestones for the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to reach a political settlement that will unify sectarian and ethnic factions, including changing the constitution and establishing a program for sharing revenue from oil production.

``We are pressing Iraqi's leaders to take bold measures to save their country,'' Bush said. ``We're making it clear that America's patience is not unlimited.''

Bush's critics said his remarks fell short of what both the American people and the Iraqis need to hear.

``I think the president has to be much more clear and candid in terms of strategically what is he going to do to help the Iraqi government make these tough decisions,'' Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a conference call with reporters.

Without a political resolution ``continuing military operations are not going to be decisive,'' Reed said.

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services panel, noted that Maliki earlier today distanced himself from yesterday's announcement by Casey and Khalilzad and accused Bush of changing his rhetoric for political purposes.

`Disconnect'

``There is a disconnect between what the Iraqis are saying and what President Bush is saying,'' Levin said on the conference call. ``This gets re-written day-to-day in order to get past the elections.''

While the U.S. will continue to pressure Maliki to make progress, Bush said, ``we're not going to push him to the point where he can't achieve the objectives.''

The president again rejected setting any deadline on the U.S. presence. ``This notion about a fixed timetable of withdrawal in my judgment means defeat,'' he said. ``You can't leave until the job is done.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Richard Keil in Washington at ; Roger Runningen in Washington at .

Last Updated: October 25, 2006 14:06 EDT