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Bush Defends Iraqi Troop Plan

U.S. President George Bush is defending plans to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq as part of what he says is a new way forward. VOA White House correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats say it will only make things worse.

Responding to criticism of the plan, President Bush says this strategy will succeed where past efforts have failed, because security operations will now be free from political and sectarian interference.

"We recognize that many members of Congress are skeptical," he said. "Some say our approach is really just more troops for the same strategy. In fact, we have a new strategy with a new mission: helping secure the population, especially in Baghdad."

Public opinion polls show two-thirds of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq. A CNN survey says nearly 70 percent of people now disapprove of the way the president is handling the war.

Iraq was the central issue in November legislative elections that gave Democrats control of the House and Senate. Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz says the vote shows Americans want an end to what he calls the president's failed policies in Iraq.

"Before moving forward with this escalation, we owe it to these troops, to their families, and to all Americans to ask the tough questions and demand honest answers about this policy," he said. "Is there a clear strategy that the commanders on the ground believe will succeed? What are the benchmarks for success, and how long does the president believe it will take to achieve them? Is this a policy that will contribute to America's security in the larger war on terror, or distract from it?"

Walz is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. In the Democratic radio address, he said sending more troops to Iraq will only make things worse.

"It is a step in the wrong direction - more of the same at the very time when we need a new direction in Iraq," he said. "Let us be very clear: we need diplomatic and political solutions in Iraq, not more American troops."

President Bush says the main obstacle to a political solution is continuing sectarian violence, so the best way to reach that solution is to help Iraqi forces put down that violence.

In his weekly radio address, the president said he will hold the Iraqi government to benchmarks it has established to take responsibility for security in all provinces by November, pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis, and spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction projects that will create new jobs.

Mr. Bush says critics of his plan have the burden to come forward with a better alternative.

"Members of Congress have a right to express their views, and express them forcefully," he said. "But those who refuse to give this plan a chance to work have an obligation to offer an alternative that has a better chance for success. To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible."

The Commander-in-Chief needs no further approval from Congress to send more troops. He says those thousands of young men and women will join an important mission that will in large part determine the outcome in Iraq.

Democrats and Republicans opposed to the plan say it is too few troops to significantly change the course of the war, and further delays Iraq taking more responsibility for its own security.

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