By MARGARET TALEV
June 15, 2006
"One message I will continue to send to the enemy is, don't count on us leaving before the mission is complete," Bush said in a Wednesday morning news conference from the White House Rose Garden. "Don't bet on American politics forcing my hand because it's not going to happen."
The president said his visit, including face-to-face time with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, renewed his confidence that he has a viable partner in Iraq's new leadership.
"I'm convinced this government will succeed," Bush said. "There's a sense of hopefulness."
Bush said he would dispatch Cabinet secretaries and other officials to advise their Iraqi counterparts on various issues. These include setting up a public finance system, dealing with the question of amnesty for insurgents, and perhaps establishing a royalty trust, similar to one Alaska has, to give citizens a stake in the country's oil assets.
Bush's remarks came just hours after his return from Baghdad, where he made an unexpected visit to show support for Iraq's new government. The visit also comes about a week after the killing by U.S. forces of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
The timing of the news conference also allowed the president to shape a potentially explosive war debate scheduled for Thursday in the House of Representatives. Republicans believe the debate, as they have constructed it, will help re-establish their party's dominance on national security issues and expose Democrats' divisions on the war.
"There's an interesting debate in the Democrat Party about how quick to pull out of Iraq," Bush said Wednesday. Pulling 130,000 remaining troops out prematurely "may sound good politically," he said, but "it's bad policy."
He also said of Republicans in the November midterm elections, "I feel confident we will hold the House and the Senate."
The resolution House Republicans are asking members of both parties to vote for would reject timetables for withdrawing or redeploying U.S. forces in Iraq as "against the national security interests of the United States."
Democrats and a few Republicans have protested the resolution as a sham choice that forces critics of the war to tacitly support its continuation or to appear unpatriotic and willing to endanger national security.
"The American people want more than window-dressing," said Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. "Certainly we want to win the war on terrorism, every one of us up here, and certainly we will always support our troops. This resolution will not be meaningful. I'll make that clear. But if we have a meaningful debate, it will be the first time since we debated giving the president the authority to go into Iraq."
Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, urged House leaders to change course and allow amendments to be considered.
"Do not put us through the farce and the fraud of a pseudo debate going nowhere, ending nowhere," he said.
But the Democratic Party has been divided on how to respond, with some House members saying they should boycott the debate, others saying they should participate by calling the war a mistake, and others poised to support the resolution.
Earlier in the week, Democrats' differences were highlighted at a conference at which Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the 2004 presidential nominee who may run again, said he thought a timetable for withdrawal was essential. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., a leader among potential 2008 candidates, said she opposed setting a specific date.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was urging colleagues to agree on some compromise language so that Senate Democrats could offer a unified position on the war in the coming days.
Bush has carefully but unmistakably seized on Zarqawi's death, hoping it marks a turning point in the war and using it in the short term as an opportunity to restore his credibility and criticize those who had urged a U.S. withdrawal by now.
After his news conference, Bush met with the Iraq Study Group, an independent, bipartisan panel put together by Congress; and with the Republican and Democrat leadership of the House and Senate.
"It's important for people to share their advice with this administration," he said.
About 2,500 U.S. troops have been killed since the invasion in 2003 and the insurgency has left conditions so dangerous that the White House felt it could not safely notify Iraqi leaders about the president's visit until minutes before his arrival.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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