President Bush has delivered a strong message of resolve about the U.S. commitment to rebuilding Iraq and bringing democracy to the Middle East, declaring freedom and democracy are worth fighting and dying for. Correspondent Nick Simeone reports his forceful comments came on a day when two more American soldiers were killed in Iraq and amid more criticism here in Washington, from members of his own Republican party, of the U.S. military mission there.
In a speech that went much further than simply re-stating U.S. goals in Iraq, President Bush likened the effort to bring democracy to the Middle East to the Cold War struggle against Communism. At the same time, he came close to saying it's now clear that support the United States and other nations gave to dictatorships in the Middle East over the decades amounted to a dangerous mistake.
"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe because in the long run, stability can not be purchased at the expense of liberty," he said.
Now, he went on to say, the region is at a turning point, poised between progress and peace, or remaining a source of violence and terror. As he signed a $87.5 billion package of aid for Iraq and Afghanistan into law Thursday, Mr. Bush called the task ahead a test of wills, leaving no doubt the effort to rebuild both countries will be a massive and difficult undertaking, but one well worth the effort.
"The establishment of a free Iraq and a free Afghanistan will be watershed events in the history of the Middle East, watershed events in the global democratic revolution that has already transformed Europe and Latin America and much of Africa and Asia," he said.
But his forceful defense of U.S. goals in the Middle East came amid increasing criticism of the U.S. strategy for rebuilding Iraq from members of the president's own Republican party in Congress. Senator John McCain, a well-respected voice on defense matters is among those questioning whether the Pentagon can restore peace and security in Iraq short of putting more troops on the ground.
"President Bush speaks frequently of the need to take the offensive in the war on terror. But on Iraq, we too often appear to be playing defense," he said. "The simple truth is we do not have sufficient forces in Iraq to meet our military objectives."
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Senator McCain's ideas are worthy of discussion but he added, "I have not been told of a single military commander in Centcom in Iraq, who is recommending additional U.S. military forces. Not one."
But fresh American soldiers and reservists are being called to duty in Iraq. Secretary Rumsfeld announced he has signed orders alerting some 85,000 combat troops they will be sent to Iraq next year for a 12 month tour of duty, and that some 43,000 reservists and National Guard members may be deployed there as well. Even so, he said those deployments would be to replace - and not increase - troops already in the country and that the overall level of American forces in Iraq should drop next year provided the security situation does not deteriorate further.