Bush: We'll Shift Tactics in Iraq
President Bush expressed a willingness to shift tactics in response to rising violence in Iraq but remained adamant that the goals of achieving security and democracy there remained possible during an hourlong speech and press conference today devoted almost exclusively to the war.
The conference came amid a month of almost uninterrupted bad news from Iraq and less than two weeks before voters largely dissatisfied with the situation there will determine whether Republicans keep the majority in the House and Senate. Asked directly whether America was winning the war, Bush replied, "Absolutely, we're winning."
Bush also voiced his own dissatisfaction with the situation with Iraq and sympathy with concerns that the Iraqi government, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in particular, are not doing their part to improve stability. Still, he insisted on his continued confidence in the Iraqi government, noting that Maliki has been in office only five months.
"We are making it clear that America's patience is not unlimited," he said. "Yet we also understand the difficult challenges Iraq's leaders face, and we will not put more pressure on the Iraqi government than it can bear."
The press conference was another disavowal of the "stay the course" rhetoric Bush has previously used, with frequent references to flexibility about tactics and openness to suggestions for change. Bush welcomed the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group led by former Secretary of State James Baker, which is expected to report after the election.
Bush also tried to distinguish the plan announced yesterday by Iraqi Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad and Gen. George Casey from long-standing Democratic calls for a specific timetable of goals and phased withdrawal of troops. The plan sets a series of benchmarks Khalizad said the Iraqis had agreed to for clamping down violence, and Casey predicted American troops would be able to pass off most of their duties to Iraqis in 12 to 18 months, shifting to a more supporting role. Bush insisted that the plan is substantially different from the phased withdrawal Democrats have pushed.
"A fixed timetable for withdrawal, in my judgment, means defeat," he said. "You can't leave until the job is done."
Bush declined to comment on what the American response would be if the Iraqi government fails to meet the benchmarks.
Highlighting taxes and national security as the two issues voters would use to make their decisions in November, Bush said he remains confident that Republicans will keep both the House and the Senate, despite negative poll numbers.
"[Democrats are] dancing in the end zone; they just haven't scored the touchdown," he said. "There's a lot of time left."