President Bush aims to inspire patience with the war Tuesday by arguing that the fight against extremists in Iraq is crucial to U.S. security and the future of a strategic, struggling region. Bush is speaking before thousands of veterans Tuesday at the American Legion convention. It his second major speech in a week devoted to an attempt to buttress support for the war.
Last week before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he likened today’s fight against extremism in Iraq to past conflicts in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
On Tuesday, he plans to discuss the implications of the fight in Iraq for the broader Middle East, a global crossroads that has largely missed the democratic and economic advances seen in other parts of the world and is thus vulnerable to the rise of terrorism, said a senior administration official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting the president.
The pair of speeches is intended to set the stage for a crucial Sept. 15 assessment of the fighting, particularly whether the additional U.S. forces that Bush ordered to Iraq in January are improving security enough to create an environment for lasting political progress. The report, required by law to be presented to Congress, also is to measure Iraq’s performance on U.S. benchmarks for military and political development.
Democrats, as well as some Republicans, are pressing to start the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The president is expected to announce shortly after the report’s release whether he intends to do so.
Bush added 30,000 troops to help calm Baghdad and a western province, making the total now more than 160,000. At least 3,728 military members have died in the war.
Awaiting a report from Iraq
In the next week, Bush and his senior advisers are likely to hear the initial thinking from Ryan Crocker, Bush’s envoy in Baghdad, and the top U.S. general in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, another senior administration official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a schedule still in flux.
Bush leaves Monday to spend nearly a week in Australia, but Crocker and Petraeus are expected to testify to Congress as soon as Sept. 10 on the military and political landscape in Iraq more than four years after the start of the war, officials said. The two will give two days of testimony before their report is sent to lawmakers.
The two have already telegraphed many of their conclusions, and Bush has made it increasingly clear that he is likely to say that he wants more time for the additional forces to have an impact.
In fact, the first official said the president in his Tuesday speech would note the security gains from the surge, as well as early signs of political progress, while asking lawmakers to hold off on any judgments until hearing from Crocker and Petraeus.
But he was also to make a broader argument about the importance of the fighting in Iraq. He was to argue that Iraq is at the heart of rising extremist movements in both the Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities, the former dominated by al-Qaida and the latter by Iran, the official said.
“Failure in Iraq would cause the enemy not to retreat but to follow us to America,” Bush said Monday night in Bellevue, Wash., in remarks at a fundraiser for GOP Rep. Dave Reichert.
‘Much more needs to be done’
Earlier Monday, he sought to highlight nascent moves toward political reconciliation in Iraq, heralding an agreement over the weekend among leading Iraqi politicians. He called Sunday’s pact on some issues that have blocked national reconciliation a good step, but not enough.
“I reminded them, and they understand, much more needs to be done,” Bush said on an airport tarmac in New Mexico, where he was raising campaign cash for Republican Sen. Pete Domenici. He added that it will be up to the Iraqi parliament to codify the new agreements when it reconvenes in early September.
Both Bush and Iraq’s leaders are under increasing pressure to show progress amid slow deliberations and political squabbling in Baghdad and sinking support for the war among Americans and in Congress.
The Iraqi leaders said on Sunday that they agreed on some issues that the U.S. has set as targets, among them holding provincial elections, releasing prisoners held without charge and changing the law preventing many former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party from holding government jobs and elected office.
No details were released and committees must hash out final versions of legislation to be presented to the Iraqi parliament. Iraqi officials have announced similar deals in the past, only to have them fall apart.
The deal also was not enough to convince the main Sunni Arab political bloc to take back posts in government that they abandoned this month over differences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.