President Bush marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq Monday with a pledge that U.S. troops will stay there until Iraq's new security forces can protect the country's fledgling democracy. But in a speech designed to increase U.S. public support for the war, the president also acknowledged some problems, something a leading Democratic Party senator urged him to do Monday morning.
In a speech billed as part of a series aimed at U.S. public opinion, President Bush included a message for Iraqis.
"It's important for the Iraqis to hear this," said President Bush. "The United States will not abandon Iraq. We will not leave that country to the terrorists who attacked America, and want to attack us again. We will leave Iraq, but when we do it will be from a position of strength, not weakness. Americans have never retreated in the face of thugs and assassins, and we will not begin now."
But the president devoted most of the speech in the mid-western city of Cleveland to explaining to Americans why he is maintaining his commitment to the effort in Iraq in spite of the low level of public support.
"I understand people being disheartened when they turn on their TV screen and see the loss of innocent life," he said. "So it's my job, sir, to make it clear about the connection between Iraq and the war on terror. It's my job to remind people that progress is being made in spite of the violence they see. It's my job to make it clear to the people the stakes."
President Bush called Iraq "the central front in the war on terror."
President Bush's comments about the problems in Iraq came on the same day that a leading Democratic Party senator, Joseph Biden, called on the administration to be clearer about the situation in Iraq, and about its plans for the future U.S. role there.
"No foreign policy can be sustained in the United States of America without the informed consent of the American people," said Joseph Biden. "And 'informed' means just that, successes and failures, a realistic assessment of where we are and what the president plans to do about it."
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been a part of the effort to do that. In opinion articles published in two U.S. newspapers Monday, Secretary Rumsfeld wrote that U.S. and Iraqi forces are winning the fight against the insurgents. He said the insurgents will not succeed in starting a civil war in Iraq.
But Secretary Rumsfeld also echoed the president's acknowledgement of ongoing violence and said it is slowing the progress of Iraqi democracy. Still, he wrote that "the rationale for a free and democratic Iraq is as compelling today as it was three years ago." And he said those who believe the fight in Iraq is not worthwhile are not realistic, and do not understand the historic significance of nurturing a democracy in the middle of the Middle East.
At a news conference last week, Secretary Rumsfeld offered his criteria for evaluating progress in Iraq.
"To properly evaluate the situation in Iraq, it seems to me we ought to consider the following questions: Are the Iraqi people supporting their nation's democratic transformation? Are the Iraqi forces taking on more responsibility for the security of their country? And are the coalition forces in Iraq helping to make our country safer?," asked Donald Rumsfeld.
He answered all of those questions "yes." Secretary Rumsfeld also echoed the president when he wrote in one of his newspaper articles that regarding Iraq, "now is the time for resolve, not retreat."