US President George W. Bush said Tuesday that American forces will remain in
Iraq for years and it will be up to a future president to decide when to bring
them all home.
But defying critics and plunging polls, he declared, "I'm optimistic we'll
succeed. If not, I'd pull our troops out."
US President Bush
listens to a question at a news conference at the White House, Tuesday,
March 21, 2006 in Washington. [AP]
The president rejected calls for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld, chief architect of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Listen, every war
plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy," Bush said, acknowledging
mistakes as the United States was forced to switch tactics and change a
reconstruction strategy that offered targets for insurgents.
He also rejected assertions by Iraq's former interim prime minister that the
country had fallen into civil war amid sectarian violence that has left more
than 1,000 Iraqis dead since the bombing last month of a Shiite Muslim shrine.
"This is a moment the Iraqis had a chance to fall apart and they didn't,"
Bush said, crediting religious and political leaders with restraint.
The president spoke for nearly an hour at a White House news conference, part
of a new offensive to ease Americans' unhappiness with the war and fellow
Republicans' anxiety about fall elections. He faced skeptical questions about
Iraq during an appearance Monday in Cleveland, and plans another address soon on
Public support for the war and for Bush himself has fallen in recent months,
jeopardizing the political capital he claimed from his 2004 re-election victory.
"I'd say I'm spending that capital on the war," Bush said.
The White House believes that people appreciate Bush's plainspoken approach
even if they disagree with his decisions.
"I understand war creates concerns," the president said. "Nobody likes war.
It creates a sense of uncertainty in the country."
Bush has adamantly refused to set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S.
forces from Iraq. Asked if there would come a day when there would be no more
U.S. forces in Iraq, Bush said, "That, of course, is an objective. And that will
be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."
Pressed on whether that meant a complete withdrawal would not happen during
his presidency, Bush said, "I can only tell you that I will make decisions on
force levels based upon what the commanders on the ground say."
White House officials worried Bush's remarks would be read as saying there
would not be significant troop reductions during his presidency. They pointed to
comments Sunday by Gen. George W. Casey, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, who
said he expected a substantial troop reduction "certainly over the course of
2006 and into 2007."