OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AP) – U.S. President George W. Bush said Saturday there would be no early withdrawal of American troops from Iraq because "sober judgment" must prevail over emotional calls to end the military mission before the country is stabilized.
"We will fight the terrorists in Iraq," Bush said in a speech at a U.S. military air base south of Seoul, the South Korean capital. "We will stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory that our brave troops have fought for. The defense of freedom is worth our sacrifice."
The speech added the president”s voice, from thousands of miles away, to a nasty debate in Congress over his Iraq policies and the timing of any U.S. withdrawal. It also continued a rapid-fire White House counterattack against the president”s newly aggressive war critics.
Bush spoke at the end of a three-day stay in South Korea, stopping at the base for little more than an hour after meetings with 20 other Pacific Rim leaders in the port city of Busan. Immediately after speaking, he left for China, the most anticipated segment of his weeklong Asian swing.
Bush arrived in Beijing late Saturday to good news on a difficult front in the U.S.-China relationship, a massive trade deficit that hit a record US$162 billion (¤138 billion) last year. China planned to announce Sunday that it is making a large purchase, 70 737 aircraft, from Chicago-based Boeing Co., a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not been made.
The move was regarded by U.S. officials as a goodwill gesture that represents follow through on China”s promise to reduce the trade imbalance between the two countries. Democrats have seized on the indictment of a top White House aide in the CIA leak case to question whether the president deceptively portrayed prewar intelligence on whether former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction _ Bush”s main justification for war. None were found.
An AP-Ipsos poll earlier this month found a significant drop in the share of Americans saying Bush is honest. And nearly two-thirds of the country disapproves of Bush”s conduct of the war, according to the poll. Unwelcome news poured out of Iraq Friday. Suicide bombers detonated explosives at two Shiite mosques in Khanaqin, near the Iranian border, killing at least 74 worshippers during noon prayers. In Baghdad, a pair of car bombs targeted a hotel housing Western journalists and killed several Iraqis.
Some senior Republicans have become willing to question Bush on Iraq, albeit carefully, amid fears that the public”s concerns will affect next year”s midterm congressional elections.
Earlier this week, the Republican-controlled Senate voted down a Democratic push for Bush to outline a withdrawal timetable, but supported telling the president to outline a strategy for "the successful completion of the mission" in Iraq. The clash over Iraq policy continued Friday, fueled by prominent defense hawk and decorated Vietnam war veteran Rep. John Murtha”s call for the nearly 160,000 troops to be brought home.
Murtha, a Democrat, introduced a resolution saying troops should be withdrawn "at the earliest practicable date." House Republican leaders countered with an alternative that, in calling for an immediate withdrawal, was designed to be soundly defeated. The fireworks prompted the White House to insert lines into Bush”s long-planned speech to troops that were then released nine our before he delivered the speech to ensure they would make newspaper deadlines back home.
The president said a pullout from Iraq would create a home base for terrorists to launch attacks on the United States and moderate Arab nations. "In Washington, there are some who say that the sacrifice is too great, and they urge us to set a date for withdrawal before we have completed our mission. Those who are in the fight know better,"
"So long as I am the commander in chief, our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sober judgment of our military commanders on the ground," he said. Before flying to the base, Bush the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leaders” summit Busan. The 21 APEC leaders hoped to inject urgency into stalled global talks on a worldwide free-trade accord by pushing Europe to make key concessions. They also pledged unity in preventing a potential bird flu pandemic and combatting terrorism. Now Bush turns to a two-day state visit in China. The communist giant is a vast and growing market for American goods, undertaking a military buildup that worries U.S. officials and using its economic might to increasingly assert itself globally.
The focus of meetings Sunday with Chinese President Hu Jintao would be bird flu and trade issues. The United States is demanding that China complete moves toward a market-based currency and fulfill promises to better protect copyrights of American software and movies.
Bush also planned to continue his push for a unified front among all the U.S. partners in talks aimed at ending North Korea”s nuclear weapons ambitions. The president also was hoping to gently press for democratic advances in China.