President Bush says opposition Democrats calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq are wrong because that would make America less secure.
Half a world away from Washington's acrimonious debate about Iraq, President Bush sought to tone down some of the rhetoric sparked by Democratic Congressman John Murtha's call for U.S. troops to come home.
"Congressman Murtha is a fine man, a good man who served our country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam and as a United States congressman," he said. "He is a strong supporter of the United States military and I know the decision to call for an immediate withdrawal of our troops by Congressman Murtha was done in a careful and thoughtful way. I disagree with his position."
President Bush says a premature withdrawal would not only strengthen America's enemies in Iraq, but in the broader fight against terrorism as well.
"They want to break our will in Iraq so that we leave and they can turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taleban - a safe haven for terror, a place where they can plot and plan attacks against America and freedom loving countries around the world," he said.
Congressman Murtha this past week surprised the White House with an emotional call for U.S. troops to leave Iraq, saying the military has accomplished its mission and its duty is done.
The Pennsylvania lawmaker said U.S. troops have become a catalyst for violence as the primary targets of Iraqi insurgents who he says are united against American forces.
That brought stinging denunciations from Republican legislators and White House spokesman Scott McClellan who said Congressman Murtha's plan would be surrendering to terrorists on the eve of historic elections in Iraq.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing, President Bush said questions about the war are part of an important debate worthy of America - a debate that he says does not have to be a partisan political issue.
"People should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about Iraq," he said. "I heard someone say well maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position. I totally reject that thought. This is not an issue of who is patriotic and who is not patriotic. It is an issue of an honest open debate about the way forward in Iraq."
The president says he is confident of the way forward, that the political process in Iraq will slowly but surely marginalize those who are trying to stop the development of a democracy that he says will set a clear example of what is possible for reformers in Iran, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.