President Bush yesterday vowed not to let political pressure dictate a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, although he said a drawdown could begin as Iraqi forces assume greater control next year.
“The people don’t want me making decisions based upon politics,” Mr. Bush told reporters in El Paso, Texas. “I know there’s a lot of voices in Washington. We’ve heard some people say: ‘Pull them out right now.’
“That’s a huge mistake,” he said. “It would be a terrible mistake. It sends a bad message to our troops, and it sends a bad message to our enemy, and it sends a bad message to the Iraqis.”
Nonetheless, the president today will give a detailed progress report on the training of Iraqi security forces in a major speech in Annapolis, and the White House this morning planned to release an unclassified version of its overarching war plan, titled “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.”
“We will make decisions about troop levels based upon the capacity of the Iraqis to take the fight to the enemy,” he said in a preview of the speech. “I want our troops to come home. But I don’t want them to come home without having achieved victory.”
The speech is one of several Mr. Bush will deliver between now and Dec. 15, when Iraqis elect a permanent government, on the administration’s plan for victory in the war. While today’s address will focus on security issues, others will emphasize the political and economic aspects of the president’s strategy.
“We are not going to cut and run,” Mr. Bush said. “Look, here’s what I’m interested in: I’m interested in winning. I want to defeat the terrorists.”
Earlier this month, Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, called on Mr. Bush to begin withdrawing immediately the United States’ more-than 150,000 troops from Iraq and to complete the pullout within six months. But virtually no other Democrats endorsed his idea, and the House rejected an immediate pullout proposal by a vote of 403-3.
Yesterday, a prominent Senate Democrat essentially agreed with Mr. Bush that a precipitous withdrawal would be disastrous. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, voiced his opinion in a column published in the Wall Street Journal.
“The Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood,” he wrote, “unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn.”
Mr. Bush made his remarks while touring the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso. He reiterated his call for comprehensive immigration reform, including beefed-up borders and a guest-worker program.
“It’s one thing to add agents, but if you look at the size of this border, you can’t add enough agents,” he said. “What you’ve got to do is get technology in the hands of the agents so they can better do their job.
“Slowly but surely, technology is being employed up and down the border,” he said. “You’re going to have a virtual fence on the border when we bring technology to bear: infrared, cameras, drones.”
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the war-strategy document is being disclosed so that Americans “can see how we look at the enemy, the nature of the enemy that we’re facing, and they can see how we define success in Iraq.”