By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
July 10, 2007 – President Bush today said he will wait until the top commander in Iraq issues his assessment of progress there before deciding the way ahead for the region. "I believe that it's in this nation's interest to give the commander the chance to fully implement his operations," Bush said, speaking to about 400 people in a town-hall-style meeting in Cleveland.
Bush said he believes the United States eventually can reduce its troop presence in Iraq to the number necessary to preserve the country's territorial integrity, ensure al Qaeda doesn't gain safe haven from which to launch attacks, and continue training Iraqi troops.
But, he said, that would not be possible without the current surge of troops.
"I wouldn't ask a mother or a dad - I wouldn't put their sons in harm's way - if I didn't believe this was necessary for the security of the United States and peace of the world," Bush said. "I strongly believe we will prevail. And I strongly believe that democracy will trump totalitarianism every time."
The president called the top commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, "smart and capable," and said the general provides candid advice. Petraeus assumed command of the Multinational Force Iraq on Feb. 10, and the surge he asked for is now under way, with the final troops needed for it having arrived last month.
Bush will issue a report to Congress by July 15 on the progress the Iraqi government has made toward the 18 benchmarks set as part of the supplemental spending bill earlier this year. A final report is due in September.
Bush told the Cleveland audience he never wanted to be a wartime president. "Now that I am one," he said, "I'm going to do the best I can to protect America."
The president said he realized after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that "oceans can't protect us from an enemy that is ideology-driven and who will use murder as a tool to achieve their political objectives."
"They will kill a Muslim, a child or a woman in a moment's notice to achieve a political objective. They are dangerous people that need to be confronted," he said.
Since the terrorist attacks, the U.S. strategy has been to find the enemy and defeat them overseas. But, Bush said, that is a short-term strategy. The long-term answer, he explained, is to promote an alternative ideology that will "marginalize" the extremists and radicals.
The United States needs to promote an ideology in the region that is liberty-based and offers the Iraqi people a chance to live in a free and open society, the president told the audience.
"I believe that freedom belongs to every man, woman and child on the face of the earth," Bush said.
Bush said he understands why recent spikes in violence in Iraq have resulted in more questioning of his policy, but he maintained that victory is necessary in the region. Al Qaeda and other extremists want U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq so they can rebuild and retrain their force, he said.
"The killers who came to America have said with clarity that 'We want you out of Iraq so we have a safe haven from which to attack gain,'" he said. "They thrive on chaos. They like the turmoil. It enables them to more likely achieve their objective. What they can't stand is the advancement an alternative ideology that will end up marginalizing them."
Defeating the terrorists in Iraq is essential to current and future generations of Americans, the president said.
"Failure in Iraq would have serious consequences for the security of your children and your grandchildren," he said.