BOISE, Idaho, AP -President Bush, defending his Iraq war policy in the face of anti-war opposition and slumping approval ratings, says pulling out before the mission is complete would dishonor the memory of all the Americans who fought and died in pursuit of freedom.
"A policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety," Bush said Monday in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Salt Lake City. Repeatedly citing the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, "The only way to defend our citizens where we live is to go after the terrorists where they live."
Bush noted the U.S. military death toll — more than 2,000 killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
"Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home. Each of these heroes left a legacy that will allow generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty. And each of these Americans have brought the hope of freedom to millions who have not known it," Bush said, as if speaking to Cindy Sheehan, the California anti-war activist whose son Casey was killed in Iraq.
"We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for … by staying on the offensive against the terrorists, and building strong allies in Afghanistan and Iraq that will help us win and fight — fight and win the war on terror."
Recent polls have shown growing public dissatisfaction with the president”s handling of the war in Iraq in the face of a persistent insurgency and the mounting U.S. death toll. An AP-Ipsos poll taken earlier this month showed that the percentage of Americans who approve of Bush”s handling of Iraq — a number that had been hovering in the low- to mid-40s most of the year — dipped to 38 percent.
Some lawmakers from both parties are urging Bush to set a timetable for withdrawal, or at least lay out a strategy for leaving.
Sen. Russ Feingold (news, bio, voting record), D-Wis., who last week called for a Dec. 31, 2006, timetable for completing the mission, criticized Bush”s speech as "more of the same sloganeering."
"We need the president to be clear about the remaining U.S. military mission in Iraq, and we need a target date," Feingold said in a statement.
Monday”s speech was the first of two Bush will deliver this week in an effort to build support for the conflict by reaffirming his commitment to help Iraq transition from tyranny to democracy and urging the public”s patience with his policy. The second speech comes Wednesday when he speaks to military families in Nampa, Idaho.
After Monday”s speech, Bush and his wife, Laura, flew to Donnelly, Idaho, where he was to spend Tuesday out of public view at the Tamarack Resort in the mountains 100 miles north of Boise.
Several demonstrations against U.S. involvement in Iraq were planned to coincide with Bush”s visit. They included a lunchtime rally Tuesday at a park across from the Idaho Statehouse, where members of the Idaho Peace Coalition were to dedicate 1,866 white-cross memorials — one for every U.S. soldier who has died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
Bush spoke Monday hours before the Iraqi parliament failed to meet its second deadline for approving a draft constitution. Bush applauded their efforts and praised as courageous steps the Israeli government has taken by removing settlements in the Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank. Bush said both would lead to greater stability in the Middle East, and more security for America.
The White House released a statement later that said in part: "The progress made over the past week has been impressive, with consensus reached on most provisions through debate, dialogue and compromise. This is the essence of democracy, which is difficult and often slow, but leads to durable agreements, brokered by representatives that reflect the interests and values of free people."