- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

President Bush yesterday said terrorists in Iraq are seeking to weaken U.S. resolve to complete what he called a “vital test” for freedom and democracy in the Middle East, declaring that the United States will “settle for nothing less than victory.”

Despite plummeting poll numbers among Americans and a bipartisan resolution from House lawmakers last week to set a date to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, the president said the United States will stay the course.

“The terrorists know they cannot defeat our troops, so they seek to weaken our nation’s resolve. They know there is no room for them in a free and democratic Middle East, so the terrorists and insurgents are trying to get us to retreat. Their goal is to get us to leave before Iraqis have had a chance to show the region what a government that is elected and truly accountable to its citizens can do for its people,” Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address.

“This mission isn’t easy, and it will not be accomplished overnight. We’re fighting a ruthless enemy that relishes the killing of innocent men, women and children. By making their stand in Iraq, the terrorists have made Iraq a vital test for the future security of our country and the free world. We will settle for nothing less than victory,” Mr. Bush said.

Yesterday’s speech came amid falling poll numbers for the president over his handling of the Iraq war. According to a Gallup poll this month, just 41 percent of Americans support the war, and a new Gallup poll released Monday found that six in 10 Americans think the United States should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq.

Capitalizing on that discontent, a bipartisan quartet of House lawmakers — including a Republican who voted for war — last week proposed a resolution that would require the president to start bringing home U.S. troops from Iraq by Oct. 1, 2006.

Under the measure, put forward by two Republicans and two Democrats, Mr. Bush would have to announce by the end of this year a plan for withdrawing more than 130,000 troops and steps for following through on that plan.

Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican and one of the resolution’s sponsors, said the time has come to figure out an exit strategy. “After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded and $200 billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and discussion on this resolution,” Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Bush will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari at the White House for the first time on Friday.

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