President Bush says he will start pulling some U.S. troops out of Iraq this month because his decision to send reinforcements earlier this year has been a success. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats say more troops should come home sooner.
President Bush says he will bring nearly 6,000 U.S. troops home from Iraq by the end of the year. "The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is return on success. The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home," he said.
His new plan would continue to cut U.S. troops through the middle of 2008, leaving about 130,000 Americans in Iraq. In a nationwide address, Mr. Bush says those reductions are possible because his decision to send reinforcements earlier this year has improved security.
His return on success strategy appears designed to keep lawmakers from his own political party behind him in the face of opposition efforts to bring more U.S. troops home sooner. "Whatever political party you belong to, whatever your position on Iraq, we should be able to agree that America has a vital interest in preventing chaos and providing hope in the Middle East. We should be able to agree that we must defeat al Qaeda, counter Iran, help the Afghan government, work for peace in the Holy Land, and strengthen our military so we can prevail in the struggle against terrorists and extremists," he said.
In the Democratic response to the president's address, Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed says it is time to change course in Iraq by rapidly beginning a reduction of troops. "Our proposal can not erase the mistakes of the last four and a half years, but we can chart a better way forward. That is why our plan focuses on counter-terrorism and training the Iraqi army. It engages in diplomacy to bring warring factions to the table and addresses regional issues that inflame the situation. It begins a responsible and rapid redeployment of our troops out of Iraq. And it returns our focus to those who seek to do us harm: Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups," he said.
A public opinion poll by the Associated Press this week shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the war.
President Bush tried to close that gap Thursday by saying that those who believe success in Iraq is essential to America's security are not so far from those who believe U.S. troops should come home now. "The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together," he said.
The president again sought to link the war with security at home, saying the nation must succeed for the safety of future generations of Americans.
Senator Reed says what he calls an endless and unlimited military presence in Iraq is not an option. "Democrats and Republicans in Congress and throughout the nation can not and must not stand idly by while our interests throughout the world are undermined and our Armed Forces are stretched toward the breaking point," he said.
Democrats say the president's surge of troops has failed to achieve what he said was its primary objective - to give Iraq's leaders the chance to reach political reconciliation.
President Bush says Iraq's leaders are getting some things done by passing a budget, sharing oil revenues with provinces, and allowing former Ba'athists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions.