Bush Explains Troop Levels, Rejects Deadline for Iraq Pullout
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 29, 2005 President Bush said troop levels in Iraq are where military commanders want them and explained why he believes setting a deadline for their withdrawal would be a mistake in a nationally televised June 28 speech at Fort Bragg, N.C.
President Bush greets soldiers after delivering remarks on the war on terror at Fort Bragg, N.C.,June 28. White House photo by Eric Draper
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
The commander in chief also repeated his longstanding assertion that Iraq is the central battleground in the global war on terror and said the stakes are worth the sacrifices.
"If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them," Bush said. "But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave.
"As we determine the right force level," he continued, "our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders."
Bush rejected the notion of setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, explaining why he believes doing so would be "a serious mistake."
"Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done," the president said. "It would send the wrong signal to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is wait us out.
"We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer," he added.
The president acknowledged that some Americans wonder whether the effort in Iraq is worth the sacrifices made so far and those that are yet to come. "It is worth it," he said, "and it is vital to the future security of our country."
Bush told the nation that the enemies in Iraq - foreign fighters, criminals, Iraqi insurgents and remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime - are fighting because freedom undermines their extremist aims.
"They fight because they know that the survival of their hateful ideology is at stake," the president said. "They know that as freedom take root in Iraq, it will inspire millions across the Middle East to claim their liberty as well. And when the Middle East grows in democracy and prosperity and hope, the terrorists will lose their sponsors, lose their recruits and lose their hopes for turning that region into a base for attacks on America and our allies around the world."
Bush singled out Osama bin Laden, leader of the al Qaeda terror organization, and fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as representing the future of Iraq and the Middle East if the United States were to abandon the cause. Bin Laden, he said, has told his followers the "Third World War" being fought in Iraq will bring them victory and glory or misery and humiliation.
"The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom," Bush said. "The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of Sept. 11, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi, and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like bin Laden. For the sake of our nation's security, this will not happen on my watch."