President Bush says mistakes have been made in Iraq, and more U.S. troops and economic aid are necessary. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports he now has to sell his revised war plan to skeptical members of Congress and a war-weary American public.
The president unveiled his new Iraq strategy in a long-awaited address to the nation Wednesday night. "The new strategy I outline tonight will change America's course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror," he said.
Mr. Bush left no doubt he believes the stakes are high, and the setbacks of the last year in Iraq must be reversed. He vowed to set a new course. "The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people, and it is unacceptable to me. Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," he said.
The president said he is starting by sending in more troops and more than one billion dollars in additional economic aid. He said more than 20,000soldiers and Marines will join the roughly 130,000 Americans already serving in Iraq. Most will go to Baghdad to fight alongside Iraqi forces. The rest will go to Anbar Province in the west, which he said has become a base of operations for al-Qaida terrorists.
Mr. Bush has been under pressure to bring American troops home. He said an increase in forces in the short run is necessary to prevent the democratically elected Iraqi government from collapse and ensure victory. "If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home," he said.
The president has tried a similar tactic before -- most recently in 2006, when he authorized a troop surge for the Baghdad area. But he stressed this time will be different. "There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have," he said.
Mr. Bush said his military commanders reviewed his plan, and determined it will address these mistakes and can work. He said they have been assured by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated. "I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people," he said.
Mr. Bush also called on Iraq's neighbors to do more to help the Maliki government. And he made clear the United States will seek out and destroy networks in Iran and Syria that back terrorists and insurgents in Iraq.
The president warned that even if his plan works perfectly, deadly acts of violence will continue and there will be more casualties. But he said he is convinced his revised strategy will bring America and Iraq closer to success. "America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can and we will prevail," he said.
President Bush delivered the speech at a time when opinion polls show ever-dwindling public support for the war in the United States. In a new poll conducted by the USA TODAY newspaper and the Gallup polling organization, 72 percent of those surveyed said they disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation in Iraq.
The war was a big issue in last November's congressional elections in the United States, which resulted in Democratic Party majorities in the House and Senate. The new congressional leadership warned before the speech that an expansion of U.S. military forces in Iraq would be unacceptable.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said President Bush never sought input from Congress during consultations on the revised Iraq strategy, and their opposition to an escalation of the war was ignored. "We will give his proposal a fair hearing. And in our hearing, we will establish the ground truth of what is happening in Iraq. And then we will vote on the president's proposal," she said.
The White House will begin its campaign for legislative approval on Thursday, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates testify on Capitol Hill. At the same time, President Bush will launch his drive for public support with an appearance at one of America's largest military bases -- Fort Benning, Georgia.