President Bush met with wounded soldiers and military commanders Saturday before heading for the White House and a renewed fight with the Democratic-run Congress over future U.S. involvement in Iraq.
He plans a nationally televised address this coming week to “lay out a vision” for the American people about the U.S. role. In his Saturday radio address, Bush also set the stage for Monday’s congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the chief U.S. commander in Iraq.
Bush flew here from Sydney, Australia. As Air Force One refueled in Hawaii, he met with the soldiers and was briefed by military commanders. He was expected back in Washington early Sunday.
In the radio talk, recorded before the flight, Bush recounted his Labor Day trip to Iraq’s Anbar Province to visit U.S. troops and “see with my own eyes the remarkable changes they are making possible.”
Previewing the political fight
Sunni tribal leaders, working with Iraqi and U.S. forces, helped drive out al-Qaida militants, Bush said. “The level of violence is down. Local governments are meeting again. Young Sunnis are joining the police and army. And normal life is returning,” the president said.
“Success in Anbar is critical to the democratic future of Iraq and to the war on terror,” he said.
But the Senate’s top Democrat contended in his party’s weekly radio address that the president had misled the country into “an ill-planned war in Iraq” before finishing the job of destroying al-Qaida.
The U.S. military is not to blame for setbacks in the war, said Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. “These are President Bush’s failures — and it is long past time for him to change his flawed policies,” he said.
Previewing his national address, Bush said he would “lay out a vision for future involvement in Iraq — one that I believe the American people and their elected leaders of both parties can support. By coming together on the way forward, we will strengthen Iraq’s democracy, deal a blow to our enemies, secure interests in the Middle East and make our nation safer.”
Bush meets with wounded troops
Anticipating Petraeus’ testimony to Congress, Reid said he expected the commander’s assessment would “pass through the White House spin machine, where facts are often ignored or twisted, and intelligence is cherry-picked.”
After meeting privately with a group of wounded soldiers, Bush told reporters traveling with him that Americans can be assured that the troops are getting the best medical care possible.
“I’m amazed at their spirit and resolve,” he said. “What I heard was encouraging.”
Addressing the Iraq business that awaits him in Washington, Bush said: “My resolve is as strong as it’s ever been.” He asked Congress to “sit back and listen to what they have to say,” referring to Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq.
Bush said that when he learned of the layover in Hawaii, he thought it “best to stop to say hello to some of our wounded.”
Bidding farewell to APEC leaders
Bush left Sydney after the first formal session of this year’s meeting of Pacific Rim leaders. He cut the visit short to return home because of the busy week on Iraq awaiting him. But the president had arrived in Australia earlier than originally scheduled and spent the past four days meeting with other leaders from the region.
They had lunch and joined for a traditional “group photo,” in which all members wore Australian “bone-dry” coats. Bush watched fireworks over Sydney Harbor and had dinner with fellow heads of state before departing.
Thousands of demonstrators, held back by metal fences and concrete barriers, protested over the Iraq war, poverty and global warming.
Pacific defense issues was the focus of a meeting Bush held with Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Later, the president met separately with Abe and with Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono, whom Bush thanked “very much for your strength in this struggle against extremists.”
In his session with Abe, Bush said Osama bin Laden’s just-released video speech was a reminder of “the dangerous world in which we live.”
In Hawaii, Bush also said he spoke twice with his wife, Laura, who underwent surgery Saturday to relieve pain from pinched nerves in her neck. They spoke when she was at the hospital in Washington and after she had returned to the White House.
“She is doing great,” Bush said. “Her spirits are good. I told her I’m looking forward to having breakfast with her.”