Media: The Associated Press
Byline: TERENCE HUNT
Date: 21 August 2006
WASHINGTON_President George W. Bush said Monday the Iraq war is "straining
the psyche of our country" but leaving now would be a disaster.
Bush served notice at a news conference that he would not change course or
flinch from debate about the unpopular war as he campaigns for Republicans
in the November congressional elections. In fact, he suggested that national
security and the economy should be the top political issues, and criticized
the Democrats' approach on both.
Many Democrats want to leave Iraq "before the job is done," the president
said. "I can't tell you exactly when it's going to be done," he said, but
"if we ever give up the desire to help people who live in freedom, we will
have lost our soul as a nation, as far as I'm concerned."
Now in its fourth year, the war has taken a heavy toll _ more than 2,600
Americans have died and many more Iraqis have been killed. Last month alone,
about 3,500 Iraqis died violently, the highest monthly civilian toll so far.
Bush's approval rating has slumped to the lowest point of his presidency,
and Republicans are concerned that they could lose control of Congress
because of voters' unhappiness.
Bush said he was frustrated by the war at times.
"War is not a time of joy," he said. "These are challenging times, and
they're difficult times, and they're straining the psyche of our country. I
understand that. You know, nobody likes to see innocent people die. Nobody
wants to turn on their TV on a daily basis and see havoc wrought by
But Bush said he agreed with Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in
the Middle East, that if "we leave before the mission is done, the
terrorists will follow us here." A failed Iraq would provide a safe haven
for terrorists and extremists and give them revenue from oil sales, Bush
In response, Democrats said it was time for a new direction and Bush should
begin redeploying troops this year.
"Our soldiers in Iraq should transition to a more limited mission focused on
counterterrorism, force protection of U.S. personnel and training and
logistical support of Iraqi security forces," House Democratic Leader Nancy
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said, "Far from spreading freedom and
democracy in the Middle East, the Bush administration has watched while
extremists grow stronger, Iran goes nuclear, Iraq falls into civil war and
oil and gas prices skyrocket. Simply staying the course is unacceptable."
Bush said differences over Iraq provide "an interesting debate." "There's a
lot of people _ good, decent people _ saying `withdraw now.' They're
absolutely wrong. ... We're not leaving, so long as I'm the president. That
would be a huge mistake."
"Leaving before the job is done would be a disaster."
Bush said he would not question the patriotism of someone who disagreed with
him _ although Vice President Dick Cheney said recently the Democratic
primary election victory of anti-war candidate Ned Lamont over incumbent
Sen. Joe Lieberman, a defender of the war, might encourage "the al-Qaida
Bush opened his nearly hour-long news conference by calling for quick
deployment of an international force to help uphold the fragile cease-fire
in southern Lebanon. "The need is urgent," Bush said. He said the United
States was increasing humanitarian and reconstruction aid to more than $230
European countries expected to provide the bulk of peacekeepers have delayed
committing troops. France disappointed allies by merely doubling its
contingent of 200.
The president also said the United States would seek a new U.N. resolution
on disarming Hezbollah in southern Lebanon but he sounded doubtful about
achieving results soon on the ground. "Hopefully, over time, Hezbollah will
disarm," the president said.