President Bush, paying a bedside visit to soldiers wounded in Iraq, said Tuesday that U.S. troops leading the assault against insurgents in Fallujah were doing “the hard work necessary for a free Iraq to emerge.”
The president and his wife, Laura Bush, spent about two hours at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, visiting with more than 50 service members who had been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. He offered his best wishes and prayers for the forces he said were still “in harm’s way” in Fallujah.
“Coalition forces are now moving into Fallujah to bring to justice those who are willing to kill the innocent, those who are trying to terrorize the Iraqi people and our coalition, those who want to stop democracy,” he said. “They are not going to succeed, and we wish our troops all the best.”
The U.S. toll in Iraq has surpassed 1,100, and 11 Americans died Monday alone. Three more were killed Tuesday in Fallujah.
“We are forever grateful to the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “They are serving for an important cause, and a free Iraq will help transform a dangerous region of the world and make America more secure. We mourn the loss of all of our fallen.”
Bush reviewed developments in Iraq in a meeting Monday with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The secretary later would not say whether he wanted to continue in his job in Bush’s second term, adding that the matter had not been discussed in post-election meetings.
Aides to Rumsfeld said they expected him to remain for the start of Bush’s new term, although whether he aimed to stay the full four years was unclear. Other possibilities for the top Pentagon job include Sen. John Warner, R-Va.; national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who has told associates that she plans to resign; and John Lehman, a former Navy secretary and Republican member of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In the only major decision announced for Bush’s second term, the president will keep Andrew Card as his chief of staff. Card, an unflappable veteran of the Reagan and first Bush presidencies, is admired for his work ethic, steady hand and open-door policy.
Keeping Card aboard is “a real pin strike for the president,” said Nick Calio, Bush’s former liaison to Capitol Hill. “He is a very, very solid leader, he is one of the most capable people I have ever met or worked for in my entire life, and he manages without ego and solely on behalf of the president.”
Another former staff adviser, Jay Lefkowitz, said Card “makes sure the president gets perspective from all relevant people on staff on any particular issue.”
“The Chief,” as Card is known at the White House, was appointed four years ago this month, even before the 2000 recount was resolved. He told The Associated Press in an interview in February 2001 that he normally arrived at work at 5:30 a.m. and stayed until the president had retired for the night. Aides say Card, 57, continues that schedule nearly four years later.
“There’s a certain comfort walking into the West Wing when it’s still dark out and seeing the light in Andy’s office on,” said Adam Levine, a former assistant White House press secretary.