- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

2:09 p.m.

President Bush today announced $180 million in new humanitarian aid to Lebanon and urged other nations to get the international peacekeeping force up and running, though he would not say they should be involved in disarming Hezbollah.

With Hezbollah winning still more public support by moving quickly to rebuild devastated parts of Lebanon after having kidnapped Israeli soldiers and then withstanding the retaliatory attacks, the Bush administration is trying to push its own reconstruction efforts ahead.

“Our nation is wasting no time in helping the people of Lebanon. In other words, we’re acting before the [international peacekeeping] force gets in there,” Mr. Bush said at an hour-long press conference in which he also pledged to remain in Iraq through the end of his presidency.

“We’ve been on the ground in Beirut for weeks,” Mr. Bush said, adding that the United States has already distributed about $25 million in aid, or half of the previous commitment made in July.

Today’s new aid brings the total commitment to $230 million and includes $42 million to help Lebanon’s military prepare for deployment in southern Lebanon, money to rebuild schools in time for the school year and a response team to help clean up an oil spill off the country’s coast.

Mr. Bush said he will also ask Congress to extend loan guarantees to Israel to help that nation rebuild.

Asked if he would insist that the international force disarm Hezbollah, Mr. Bush did not answer directly, saying instead that the force would create a “security cushion” on Israel’s border.

He seemed to leave the decision of disarming up to Hezbollah and Lebanon.

“Hopefully, over time Hezbollah will disarm,” he said, adding that Lebanon should not allow an armed faction to exist within its borders.

“The reality is, in order for Lebanon to succeed — and we want Lebanon’s democracy to succeed — the Lebanese government’s eventually going to have to deal with Hezbollah,” he said.

With violence increasing in Iraq, Mr. Bush said he is concerned about the possibility of civil war there, and said the war is “straining the psyche” of Americans here at home, but said the choice facing the United States is clear.

“If you think it’s bad now, imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself and sustain itself,” Mr. Bush said, defending his administration’s criticism of Democrats who are calling for withdrawal from Iraq.

He also pledged that the United States would remain committed to Iraq through the end of his presidency.

“Either you say, yes, it’s important that we stay there and get it done, or we leave. We’re not leaving so long as I’m the president,” he said.

“Leaving before the job was done would be a disaster. And that’s what we’re saying,” he said. “I will never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me. This has nothing to do with patriotism; it has everything to do with understanding the world in which we live.”

Along those lines, he said he will not endorse the Republican candidate running for Senate in Connecticut, which is a boost to Sen. Joe Lieberman, who lost the Democratic primary in that state but is running for re-election as an independent.

He said this year’s mid-term congressional elections give the parties a chance to clarify where they stand for voters.

But Sen. John Kerry, Democrats’ 2004 presidential nominee, said Mr. Bush is wrong about where the problem lies.

“The American psyche isnt the problem. The problem is this administrations disastrous Iraq policy,” the Massachusetts senator said.

And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Democrats are united in demanding U.S. troops withdraw beginning this year.

“‘Stay the course’ has produced the situation President Bush now decries, and his repeated failure to offer a new direction provides no hope for a lessening of the sectarian violence that is the greatest threat to Iraq’s future,” she said.

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