Bush says the war in Iraq can be won despite mixed report on progress
WASHINGTON -- President Bush took his critics to task Saturday for using the poor marks the Iraqi government received on a progress report this week as reason to argue that the war is lost.
Bush acknowledged the Iraqis received "unsatisfactory" marks on eight benchmarks, including failure to prepare for local elections or to pass a law to share oil revenue among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. But the president said "satisfactory" grades the Iraqis received in eight other areas -- like providing three Iraqi brigades for the military offensive under way and providing $10 billion of their money for reconstruction -- were cause for optimism.
"Our strategy is built on the premise that progress on security will pave the way for political progress," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "This report shows that conditions can change, progress can be made, and the fight in Iraq can be won."
He said the last of more than 20,000 additional troops he ordered to Iraq just recently arrived, and U.S. troops deserve more time to carry out the offensive.
"Changing the conditions in Iraq is difficult, and it can be done," he said. "The best way to start bringing these good men and women home is to make sure the surge succeeds."
In the Democratic response to Bush's address, Brandon Friedman, a former infantry officer in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said it's past time for a transition to diplomatic efforts in Iraq Democrats have demanded.
"The fact is, the Iraq war has kept us from devoting assets we need to fight terrorists worldwide -- as evidenced by the fact that Osama bin Laden is still on the loose and al-Qaida has been able to rebuild," Friedman said. "We need an effective offensive strategy that takes the fight to our real enemies abroad. And the best way to do that is to get our troops out of the middle of this civil war in Iraq."
On Friday, two of the Senate's most respected Republicans -- John Warner of Virginia and Richard Lugar of Indiana -- cast aside Bush's pleas for patience on Iraq and proposed legislation demanding a new strategy by mid-October to restrict the mission of U.S. troops.
Their measure would require Bush to submit by Oct. 16 a plan to "transition U.S. combat forces from policing the civil strife or sectarian violence in Iraq" to a narrow set of missions: protecting Iraqi borders, targeting terrorists, protecting U.S. assets and training Iraqi forces. The bill suggests the plan be ready for implementation by next year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid balked at the proposal because it would not require Bush to implement the strategy. He said he prefers legislation the Senate will vote on next week that would order combat troops out of Iraq by next spring.
Bush spokesman Tony Fratto said the White House would review the Warner-Lugar measure. "But we believe the new way forward strategy -- which became fully operational less than a month ago -- deserves the time to succeed," he said.
Through top aides and in private meetings and phone calls, Bush has repeatedly asked Congress to hold off demanding change until September, when the top U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, deliver a fresh assessment of progress.
The Warner-Lugar proposal came as the Pentagon conceded a decreasing number of Iraqi battalions are able to operate on their own.
At a news conference Friday, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, said the number of battle-ready Iraqi battalions able to fight independently has dropped from 10 to six in recent months despite an increase in U.S. training efforts. Pace said the readiness of the Iraqi fighting units was not an issue to be "overly concerned" about because the problem was partly attributable to losses in the field.