President Bush says America must stay the course in Iraq, despite the high cost in lives and dollars. One year after the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis, President Bush asked the American people for patience.
The president went to one of the largest military bases in the United States in an effort to shore up support for his Iraq policy. "Our mission in Iraq is clear. We are hunting down the terrorists. We are helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We are advancing freedom in the broader Middle East," he said.
In a speech to the nation from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the president acknowledged that many Americans have grown uneasy about the war. He said he understands, and added that he too has seen the disturbing pictures from Iraq of suicide bombings and other acts of violence. "Every picture is horrifying - and the suffering is real," he said."Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it?"
Mr. Bush said the work in Iraq is difficult and dangerous, but added it is indeed worth the cost. The president said freedom is under attack in Iraq by an enemy with total disregard for human life. He said the insurgents fighting democracy in Iraq are cut from the same cloth as the terrorists responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
"The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11 … if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi … and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like Bin Laden," he said.
His words followed another day of bloodshed in Iraq. A prominent Shi'ite member of parliament was killed in one suicide car bombing, two American soldiers died in two others.
Mr. Bush took note of the mounting death toll, but stressed the stakes are high in Iraq, and America can not quit. He said progress is being made on the political front - half of a two-part strategy for success that calls for military support for the young Iraqi democracy.
"To complete the mission, we will prevent al-Qaida and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban - a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends. And the best way to complete the mission is to help Iraqis build a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself," he said.
The speech, which was broadcast live by the major American television networks, was part of a campaign by the White House to build public support at a time when polls show confidence in the president's handling of Iraq is slipping.
A new USA TODAY/CNN survey shows increasing doubts on the war's progress, with 61 percent of those polled saying they do not think the president has a clear plan for ending the war. But in his speech President Bush said he has a strategy for victory. He said Americans will stay in Iraq as long as they are needed and not a day more. "Our strategy can be summed up this way. As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," he said.
Before heading to North Carolina, the president met with top Republicans and Democrats from the U.S. Congress. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voiced the growing skepticism among members of her party. She did not call on the president to set a timetable for bringing American troops home, but stressed Mr. Bush needs to put out a detailed plan of action - including benchmarks -- for bolstering the Iraqi government and preparing that nation to take on its own security needs.
"It is important for the president to tell the American people, to give them a strategy for success," he said. "We simply haven't had that."
A few Republicans in Congress have joined the Democrats in questioning the Bush administration's handling of Iraq. Among them is Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who accused the White House of painting a rosy picture of the war, that ignores the reality on the ground.