Five years on, Bush again talks of Iraq victory
By Matt Spetalnick 44 minutes ago
President George W. Bush said on Wednesday he had no regrets about the unpopular war in Iraq despite the “high cost in lives and treasure” and declared that the United States was on track for victory.
Marking the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion with a touch of the swagger he showed early in the war, Bush said in a speech at the Pentagon, “The successes we are seeing in Iraq are undeniable.”
With less than 11 months left in office and his approval ratings near the lows of his presidency, Bush is trying to shore up support for the Iraq campaign, which has damaged U.S. credibility abroad and is sure to define his legacy.
Presiden George Walker Bush adalah Presiden AS yang paling ‘koboi’ di antara yang sebelumnya. Presiden yang dua kali memenangkan pemilu presiden dengan aksi curang ini adalah orang yang paling busuk dari seantero dunia.
But he faced the challenge of winning back the attention of war-weary Americans more preoccupied with mounting economic troubles and increasingly focused on the race to pick his successor in the November election.
Bush’s Democratic critics used the anniversary to press accusations that Bush launched the invasion based on faulty intelligence, mismanaged the war and failed to put together an exit strategy.
“Five years into this battle, there is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning, and whether we can win it,” Bush told an audience of top military officers and about 200 Defense Department employees.
“The answers are clear to me: Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight America can and must win,” he said.
Rejecting calls from Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for a timetable for early troop withdrawal, Bush touted the security gains from a troop buildup or “surge” he ordered early last year and said those needed to be consolidated.
He insisted that “retreat” would embolden al Qaeda and Iran and put the United States at risk.
“The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around — it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror,” Bush said, hailing increased cooperation of Iraqi Sunnis in fighting al Qaeda.
Such an assertion could come back to haunt Bush if the situation deteriorates. War critics have roundly mocked Bush for his premature declaration in May 2003 that “major combat operations” in Iraq were over as he stood on the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner reading “Mission Accomplished.”
UPBEAT BUT TEMPERED ASSESSMENT
Possibly mindful of that, Bush stopped short of promising outright victory in Iraq, as he had earlier in the war before sectarian violence brought the country to the brink of civil war.
“No one would argue that this war has not come at a high cost in lives and treasure, but those costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq,” he said.
Not all anniversary assessments were as upbeat as Bush’s. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the war was not worth waging.
Told about the poll result in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Vice President Dick Cheney, in Oman after a visit to Iraq, said: “So?” He added: “I think we cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations of the public opinion polls.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “The cost to our national security has been immense — our military is stretched thin and our reputation in the world is damaged. And now, the war in Iraq has become a threat to our economy.”
The war has cost the United States $500 billion. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and millions displaced. Nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed, as well as 175 British troops and 134 from other countries.
Bush — a Republican who had huge public support after the attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants on September 11, 2001 — has long described Iraq as a central front in the battle against Islamic extremists.
But Democrats say his administration has been distracted from what they see as a more vital struggle in Afghanistan.
In his speech, Bush hailed the increased role of Iraqi Sunnis in the fight against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda as the “first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology, and his murderous network.”
A number of Sunni tribal chiefs have joined against al Qaeda, responsible for many of the worst attacks, but progress remains slow bridging the national sectarian divide.
Violence across Iraq has dropped 60 percent since 30,000 extra U.S. troops became fully deployed in June. But a recent spate of attacks showed that Iraq was far from safe and Bush noted that “the gains we’ve made are fragile and reversible.”
Bush’s speech was the second in the lead-up to the next status report that Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will give to Congress in early April.
The U.S. military is on track to complete the withdrawal of about 20,000 troops by July, leaving about 140,000 in Iraq.
Bush reiterated any decision on bringing more troops home would depend on recommendations from commanders on the ground.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Patricia Wilson and David Storey)