WASHINGTON — As public support for his Iraq policy declines, President Bush is working to convince wary Americans that he has a military and political strategy for success in the war in which 1,730 U.S. troops have been killed.
In his radio address on Saturday, Bush warned that there is likely to be more tough fighting to come in Iraq. And, as he did in his meeting at the White House Friday with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Bush urged Americans to share their confidence in a positive outcome to the war.
“The Iraqi people are growing in optimism and hope,” Bush said. “They understand that the violence is only a part of the reality in Iraq.”
'Tactical and strategic incompetence'
In the Democratic radio response, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser in the Carter administration, alleged that the war has been conducted with “tactical and strategic incompetence.”
“Two years later, America finds itself more isolated than ever before, the object of unprecedented international mistrust,” Brzezinski said. “As a result, we are not as safe as we should be here at home.”
He said the war has turned Iraq into a training ground for terrorists and noted that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has not been captured. “The violence in Iraq continues at increasing rates and American casualties continue to mount,” Brzezinski said.
Bush’s message that Iraqis are overcoming their fears and working to defeat those opposed to an Iraqi democracy is likely to be echoed in a prime-time address he’ll make Tuesday from Fort Bragg, N.C. The address at the home of the Army’s elite 82nd Airborne Division will mark the first anniversary of the transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraq’s interim government.
No deadline for withdrawal
The president told radio listeners his strategy for military success is to defeat members of Saddam Hussein’s former regime and foreign and Iraqi terrorists and criminals responsible for the violence. At the same time, the United States is helping train Iraqi security forces so U.S. troops can eventually return home. Bush again turned aside calls in Congress and elsewhere for him to set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops.
“The terrorists’ objective is to break the will of America and of the Iraqi people before democracy can take root,” Bush said.
“Two years ago, they tried to intimidate the Iraqi Governing Council — and failed,” he said. “Last year, they tried to delay the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq — and failed. This year, they tried to stop the free Iraqi elections — and failed. Now the terrorists are trying to undermine the new government and intimidate Iraqis from joining the growing Iraqi security forces.”
On the political front, Bush said the United States would continue helping Iraqis build a democracy. He said al-Jaafari assured him the Iraqi government would meet its deadline to draft a new constitution. By Aug. 15, Iraq’s National Assembly is to unveil the draft of a constitution. A ratification referendum would follow within two months. If approved, the constitution will provide the basis for general elections by Dec. 15.
Trying to build public support and ally the concerns of Americans anxious for the war to end, Bush said, “Americans can be proud of all that we and our coalition partners have accomplished in Iraq. Our country has been tested before, and we have a long history of resolve and faith in the cause of freedom. Now we will see that cause to victory in Iraq.”
Ongoing violence in Iraq has taken a political toll on Bush and has raised alarms in Congress. Just over half of Americans now say the United States made a mistake going to war, and almost six in 10 say they don’t approve of the way Bush has handled Iraq, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.
Friday evening, al-Jaafari told questioners at the National Press Club that the violence would not deter establishment of an Iraqi democracy. “The challenges are very, very real but also is the determination of the Iraqi people.” He thanked Americans for their support and sacrifices on Iraq’s behalf.
While Bush says progress is being made, Brzezinski points to a Pentagon warning that the Army Reserve is turning into a “broken” force.
In January, the military services’ own estimates indicated that at the pace of U.S. deployments to Iraq, the Pentagon would be hard pressed by next year to provide enough reserve combat troops. Army Reserve chief Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly advised at the time that his citizen militia was “rapidly degenerating into a ’broken’ force.”
“Patriotism and love of country does not demand endless sacrifice on the part of our troops in a war justified by slogans,” Brzezinski said.
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