CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Bush said yesterday that he was “just as disappointed as everybody else” when U.S. troops failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and pledged that his administration is adjusting strategy to defeat Iraqi insurgents.
In a lengthy speech to the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, Mr. Bush also said he is confident Iraq can govern itself and urged its leaders to create a unity government quickly.
“The enemy for a while tried to shake our nerve. They can’t shake my nerve. They just can’t shake it,” Mr. Bush told hundreds of supporters gathered in the auditorium of the Central Piedmont Community College.
“So long as I think I’m doing the right thing, and so long as we can win, I’m going to leave our kids there because it’s necessary for the security of this country.”
In his latest defense of the Iraq war — an ongoing White House effort to convince Americans that a plan for victory is in place — Mr. Bush said Saddam Hussein needed to face “serious consequences” after refusing to cooperate with the United Nations.
“I fully understand that the intelligence was wrong, and I’m just as disappointed as everybody else is,” Mr. Bush said. “But what wasn’t wrong was Saddam Hussein had invaded a country, he had used weapons of mass destruction, he had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction, he was firing at our pilots.
“He was a state sponsor of terror. Removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing for world peace and the security of our country.”
Democrats criticized the president, with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts charging that Mr. Bush is allowing U.S. troops to die for a lost cause.
“When you stand in the ‘V’ at the Vietnam Wall, you can’t help but see that half the names were added after American leaders knew our strategy would not work,” said Mr. Kerry, who supported the Senate’s 2002 resolution giving the president authority to go to war with Iraq.
“It was immoral then, and it would be immoral now to engage in the same delusion.”
But Mr. Bush insisted that the war in Iraq is not another Vietnam, saying: “During the Vietnam War, there was a lot of politicization of the military decisions. That’s not going to be the case under my administration.”
He said generals are devising the strategies to defeat insurgents in Iraq.
“We had to change our tactics. When we first got there, we said, ‘Why don’t we train us an army that will be able to protect from an outside threat.’ It turned out there wasn’t much of an outside threat compared to the inside threat. And so now the training mission has adapted to the tactics of the enemy on the ground,” he said.
“We’ve got a plan to help rebuild Iraq. … By the way, every war plan or every plan is fine, until it meets the enemy. But you’ve got to adjust,” he said.
Although the crowd was tightly controlled, Mr. Bush faced an uncomfortable moment when a questioner in a balcony said the president has wrongly asserted his right “to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges.”