President Bush, with a weekend of boisterous anti-war rallies planned in his tiny hometown and less than half of those polled supportive of his policy in Iraq, asked Americans on Saturday to be patient with the U.S. military mission there.
“Iraqis are working together to build a free nation that contributes to peace and stability in the region, and we will help them succeed,” Bush said in his weekly radio address.
He gave no sign of dismay at serious snags in Iraq’s democratic process.
In Baghdad, the Shiite-dominated constitution committee planned to submit an amended draft constitution to Iraq’s parliament this weekend despite opposition from minority Sunni Arabs who rejected a proposed compromise. One Sunni negotiator, Saleh al-Mutlaq, called on Iraqis to reject it in an Oct. 15 referendum.
But Bush showed only confidence that the problems would be overcome, saying a new democratic constitution “will be a landmark event” in the Mideast.
“Like our own nation’s founders over two centuries ago, the Iraqis are grappling with difficult issues, such as the role of the federal government,” he said. “What is important is that Iraqis are now addressing these issues through debate and discussion — not at the barrel of a gun.”
Focus on Mideast
The president also hailed Israel’s “courageous and painful” removal of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, linking that move with Iraq’s efforts toward democracy as causes for renewed hope for the broader Middle East.
“People are making the tough choices necessary for a future of security and hope that will make the region and the world more peaceful,” Bush said.
The president spoke in unusually strong terms about the Palestinians’ obligation to crack down on terrorist attacks in the wake of the Gaza pullout.
“The Palestinians must show the world that they will fight terrorism and govern in a peaceful way,” he said. “We remain fully committed to defending the security and well-being of our friend and ally Israel. We demand an end to terrorism and violence in every form because we know that progress depends on ending terror.
The radio address devoted to optimism about developments in the region was one of a series of remarks by Bush aimed at countering declining poll standings and questions about how long U.S. troops will be kept in Iraq.
Earlier this week, Bush delivered speeches in Idaho and Utah. He plans a third in San Diego on Tuesday focusing on the war on terror and Iraq — part of a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
The president has repeatedly said that the United States cannot withdraw from Iraq now, because doing so would dishonor the sacrifice of the fighting men and women who have perished there and would endanger America’s security.
“Our efforts in Iraq and the broader Middle East will require more time, more sacrifice and continued resolve,” he said. “Yet people across the Middle East are choosing a future of freedom and prosperity and hope. And as they take these brave steps, Americans will continue to stand with them because we know that free and democratic nations are peaceful nations.”
Bush’s recent travels have been shadowed by anti-war activists newly emboldened by the vigil near his Texas ranch that was started by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain soldier.
Dueling rallies by supporters of Bush and Sheehan were expected to bring hundreds Saturday to the winding roads outside this tiny Central Texas town.
On Monday, the president speaks on Medicare twice, in El Mirage, Ariz., and Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. Back in Texas, he holds an event on combating identity theft.
He plans to return to Washington Sept. 2, after spending more than four weeks operating from his ranch. Three days later, he travels to Piney Point, Md., for Labor Day events.