WASHINGTON — With Democrats pushing for an end to the Iraq war, now entering its fifth year, President Bush pleaded for more patience Monday and called on Congress to send him a war spending bill “without strings, and without delay.”
The war has stretched longer, with higher costs, than the White House ever predicted. On the fourth anniversary of the day Bush directed the invasion to begin, the president made a televised statement from the White House Roosevelt Room to defend continued U.S. involvement.
He said his plan to send 21,500 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and Iraq’s troubled Anbar Province “will need more time to take effect,” especially since fewer than half of the troop reinforcements have yet arrived in the capital. Bush added: “There will be good days and bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds.”
Democrats are bringing up this week in the House a war spending bill that would effectively require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008, on top of providing funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the year. The White House has been pushing aggressively against this legislation, and Bush did so again on Monday.
“It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home,” he said. “That may be satisfying in the short run. But I believe the consequences for America’s security would be devastating.”
President notes positive signs
He said he had received news of positive signs during a morning briefing on the war with his National Security Council, and during a closed-circuit television conference call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from Baghdad.
Bush ridiculed House Democrats’ legislation to remove troops, a measure he has promised to veto because it contains a timeline. He called it an abdication of U.S. commitments to Iraqis.
“There’s a lot more work to be done and Iraq’s leaders must continue to work to meet the benchmarks they have set forward,” he said. “As Iraqis work to meet their commitments, we have important commitments of our own.”
The House’s war spending bill includes a troop withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008. The timeline would speed up if the Iraqi government cannot meet its own benchmarks for providing security, allocating oil revenues and other essential steps.
Democrats “have a responsibility to ensure that this bill provides the funds and the flexibility that our troops need to accomplish their mission,” the president said. “They have a responsibility to pass a clean bill that does not use funding for our troops as leverage to get special interest spending for their district. And they have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay.”
Snow dismisses House war spending bill
Earlier, White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters in his morning briefing that the war spending bill up for consideration by the full House this week would “provide victory for the enemy.” Video: Military stretched too thin?
The legislation, in addition to providing funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the year, would effectively require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008.
“That is not a fund-the-troops bill but a withdraw-the-troops bill,” Snow said. “We think that is an approach that is conducive to defeat. It is a recipe for failure, not for victory. ... It would provide victory for the enemy and not the much-needed and deserved victory for the people of Iraq. Furthermore, it would forfeit the sacrifice that our troops have made in the field.”
The president also was to meet with his National Security Council on the war and hold a closed-circuit television conference call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
Entering its fifth year, the war in Iraq has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 members of the U.S. military.
Anti-war protesters arrested on Wall St.
The continuing U.S. military presence there led to a weekend of anti-war protests around the country, and protests continuned into the workweek.
In New York City, police arrested 44 anti-war protesters outside the New York Stock Exchange on Monday after they lay down in front of the entrance to mark the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion. There was no apparent impact on trade.
Rice makes the rounds
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier Monday staunchly defended going to war but acknowledged the administration should have sent more troops initially to quell the civil strife following the invasion.
On NBC's TODAY, Rice said Saddam Hussein was a "dangerous man in the world's most dangerous region" and that it was worth it to overthrow him.
Asked on CBS’s “The Early Show” to say what the administration could have done better, she said that, early on, officials “might have looked to a more localized, more decentralized approach to reconstruction.
“... And I do believe that the kind of counterinsurgency strategy in which Gen. (David) Petraeus is now pursuing, in which we have enough forces to clear an area and hold it, so that building and governance can emerge, is the best strategy. And that probably was not pursued in the very beginning.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a persistent critic of the war strategy but a supporter of the war itself, has repeatedly complained that not enough U.S. troops were placed on the ground in the weeks and months following the March 2003 invasion.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., also appearing on CBS, maintained that “the only way you end sectarian violence is to occupy a country or have a decentralized government.”
Biden said the Bush administration was pursuing a "failed strategy." Also appearing on CBS, he said the United States should do in Iraq what did in Bosnia, and give the various factions "breathing room."
Biden maintained that “the only way you end sectarian violence is to occupy a country or have a decentralized government.
“You’ve got to give these people (the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds) breathing room like we did in Bosnia,” Biden said. “You’ve got to separate these people. This is a failed strategy.”
On Sunday, President Bush’s national security adviser said that House Democrats will assure failure in Iraq and waste the sacrifice of U.S. soldiers with their legislation to remove troops. The House’s war spending bill includes a troop withdrawal deadline of Sept. 1, 2008.
Democrats' plan discounted as ‘charade’
Lawmakers know the president will veto the measure, national security adviser Stephen Hadley said, making the exercise a “charade.”
Democratic lawmakers say the public put them in charge of Congress to demand more progress in Iraq — and to start getting the U.S. troops out.
The timeline for troop withdrawal under the House bill would speed up if the Iraqi government cannot meet its own benchmarks for providing security, allocating oil revenues and other essential steps. The administration opposes setting such timelines.
The House plan appears to have little chance of getting through the Senate, where Democrats have a slimmer majority. Even if it did, Bush has promised to veto it. But the White House is aggressively trying to stop it anyway, fearful of the message the world will hear if the House approves a binding bill to end the war.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.