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Bush: Change in Iraq Strategy 'Ideological Struggle of Our Time'

U.S. President George Bush is sending more troops to Iraq as part of what he says will be a new way forward. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns looks at the president's changing approach to the conflict.

Preparing the nation for war four years ago, President Bush said Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were a grave and gathering threat.

"Our cause is just: the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world. And our mission is clear: to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Saddam Hussein said he had no weapons of mass destruction. Then White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the Iraqi leader was lying.

"President Bush has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Tony Blair has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Donald Rumsfeld has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Richard Butler has said they do. The United Nations has said they do. The experts have said they do. Iraq says they don't. You can choose who you want to believe," Fleischer said.

When U.S. inspectors found no weapons of mass destruction, the president's political opponents sought to use that against him. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004.

"The president of the United States and the vice president of the United States may well be the last two people on the planet who won't face the truth about Iraq," he said.

The president said he had done the right thing.

"You know, knowing what I know today, even though we haven't found the stockpiles of weapons we thought were there, I still would have made the same decision," said Mr. Bush.

With public opinion polls showing falling support for the war, the president's re-election campaign moved away from the threat of biological weapons toward what he called a generational commitment to advancing freedom.

"A lot of my foreign policy is driven by the fact that I truly believe that freedom is a gift from the Almighty to every person, and that America has a responsibility to take a lead in the world, to help people be free," he said.

Re-elected to a second term, the president rejected calls for a timetable for troop withdrawal, saying that would only embolden the enemy. He said Americans were in the fight to win, and they were winning.

"The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home," said Mr. Bush. "As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels."

But sectarian violence grew worse. And in July of 2006, the president agreed to shift more U.S. troops to the capital.

"Obviously, the violence in Baghdad is still terrible, and, therefore, there needs to be more troops," he said.

That Baghdad security plan failed and the increasing violence in Iraq became the central issue of last year's legislative elections. The president told voters that his party would keep the nation safe. As for Democrats, he warned, they view Iraq as: The terrorists win and America loses.

"Oh, I know some in America don't believe Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, and that's fine, they can have that opinion," said Mr. Bush. "But Osama bin Laden knows it's the central front in the war on terror."

Voters gave opposition Democrats control of both houses of Congress, making Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House.

"The American people have lost confidence in the president's policy," she said.

President Bush took responsibility for what he called the electoral thumping, saying voters clearly voiced their dissatisfaction with the pace of progress in Iraq. But he said they did not vote to give up. Perhaps, Mr. Bush said, his determination was misunderstood.

"Stay the course" means, let's get the job done, but it doesn't mean staying stuck on a strategy or tactics that may not be working. So perhaps I need to do a better job of explaining that we're constantly adjusting," he said.

Announcing his latest adjustments for Iraq on Wednesday night, the president said it is more than a military conflict. It is now the decisive, ideological struggle of our time.