- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — President Bush yesterday vehemently rejected calls in Congress for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, saying that military commanders view retreat as “a recipe for disaster.”

Mr. Bush was center stage as the White House hailed the resounding defeat late Friday night of a House resolution calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

“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,” the president told thousands of camouflage-clad troops who packed into the Black Cat Hangar at Osan Air Base before he departed for a visit to China.

Congress, Mr. Bush said, will not determine when U.S. troops will leave Iraq.

“As long as I am commander in chief, our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sober judgment of our military commanders on the ground,” he said. “When our commanders on the ground tell me that Iraqi forces can defend their freedom, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.”

The president’s audience, representing all branches of the armed forces, roared its approval.

After the speech South Korea, Mr. Bush headed to China to meet with President Hu Jintao. He was expected to stress that the world’s most populous nation should allow religious freedom and to urge Mr. Hu to open up markets to ease the U.S. trade deficit.

The president spoke to the troops about three hours after the House voted 403 to 3 against the resolution urging an immediate pullout. Republicans put forth the measure to place critics of the war on the record, a day after Rep. John Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq over six months.

History has shown that terrorists “hit us and they expect us to run,” Mr. Bush said.

“They want to use the vacuum that would be created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, to build a base from which to launch attacks on America and to conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments.

“I’m going to make you this commitment: This is not going to happen on my watch.”

In the remarks at Osan Air Base, headquarters for the 7th Air Force, the primary U.S. Air Force unit in South Korea, Mr. Bush also said a senior commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William Webster, warned that setting a deadline for withdrawal would be “a recipe for disaster.”

Mr. Murtha, a retired Marine colonel and decorated Vietnam War veteran, sounded his call for a troop withdrawal “at the earliest practicable date.”

“Our military has done everything that has been asked of them,” Mr. Murtha said. “The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily.”

After harsh Democratic rhetoric and a week of silence from the White House, senior Bush adviser Dan Bartlett said the administration decided to go on the offensive because the debate had “reached a critical mass.”

“It’s an old political axiom in Washington that a charge leveled, whether it be true or false, if left unanswered, can have currency,” Mr. Bartlett said.

The president had no choice but to respond, because Democrats accused him of manipulating prewar intelligence.

“There is a bright red line there, and it’s one the Democrats have crossed,” Mr. Bartlett said.

He said the White House would respond in kind until Democrats tone down their rhetoric.

Mr. Bush made his remarks after attending the last day of meetings in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, a group of 21 Pacific Rim nations.

In a final statement, leaders challenged the European Union to make deeper cuts in farm subsidies, vowed action against bird flu and urged North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. The declaration also pledged to break up terrorist groups and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The president ends his eight-day, four-country trip — which began in Kyoto, Japan — with a stop tomorrow in Mongolia, a friendly democracy on the doorstep of communist China before he returns to Washington.

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