President Bush, facing new pressure to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq, said Tuesday he won’t consider it until hearing a fresh assessment from his top commander there this fall.
“That’s what the American people expect. They expect for military people to come back and tell us how the military operations are going,” Bush said. “And that’s the way I’m going to play it as commander in chief.”
Gen. David Petraeus is due in September to present a progress report to Congress on the effects of the recently completed troop buildup in Iraq. Frustration in Congress — among leaders of both parties — has led to calls for changes in strategy before then.
‘We just started’
Bush, though, said he won’t be swayed.
“We just started. We got all the troops there a couple of weeks ago,” Bush told the Greater Cleveland Partnership, a coalition of Northeast Ohio companies.
Bush’s comments came as the White House scrambled to respond to growing opposition to the war.
“I wouldn’t ask a mother or a dad — I wouldn’t put their son in harm’s way if I didn’t believe this was necessary for the security of the United States and the peace of the world,” Bush said. “I strongly believe it, and I strongly believe we’ll prevail.”
Fading GOP support
Back in Washington, the Senate wrestled with a defense spending bill, including efforts to withdraw troops and other ideas to wind down the war. With Republican support fading, and a new report expected to show little progress, the war continued to hang over Bush.
The closest he came to signaling a troop withdrawal was to say, “I believe we can be in a different position in a while.” He described that as a troop level that would remain high enough to protect Iraq and keep training Iraqis.
One man asked the president if the war on terror will ever really end. The president didn’t answer directly, saying instead that it is possible to marginalize those who train people to hate America and seek terror.
“Liberty prevails every time if we stay with it,” Bush said.
Meanwhile, Bush was also trying to pressure lawmakers into taking up what’s left of his shrinking domestic agenda.
In stops through the Cleveland area, he hoped to draw attention to a strung-together list of topics: energy alternatives, affordable health insurance and restrained spending.
He began in Parma with a tour of GrafTech, a maker of graphite products that are used in fuel cells. Bush playfully climbed about a fork lift powered by such a fuel cell. He is promoting alternative fuels as a primary way to reduce U.S. consumption of gasoline.
Later, Bush dug into a heaping corned beef sandwich over lunch with community leaders in Cleveland. He then visited the Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit hospital where Bush learned about new ways to repair aneurysms and probe the brain. “Amazing,” he said.
Bush’s itinerary underlined the White House strategy: get beyond the collapse of immigration reform by focusing on what’s next — and blame Congress for inaction.
Immigration a sore subject
Even though Democrats run the legislative branch, Bush’s own party crushed his bid to legalize millions of unlawful immigrants and strengthen the border. Three-quarters of the Senate’s Republicans, including the chamber’s leader, voted to derail his immigration bill last month.
Bush still sounded glum about it when an audience member brought up the topic.
“There wasn’t the will in Washington to get anything done on a comprehensive basis,” Bush said. “That’s what happens sometimes in politics.”
The White House sees a chance to regain some advantage in the yearly spending debates. The aim is to simplify the arcane appropriations process into a message that resonates with the public: Bush will stop Democrats from spending too much of the public’s money.
Indeed, Bush is itching for a fight and promising vetoes of spending bills.