Bush to Address Iraq War Concerns

President Bush steps before a military audience Wednesday morning to outline his plans for winning the war in Iraq. Democrats and members of his own party are among those demanding a clear strategy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

President Bush worked today to reinforce support for his plans for winning the war in Iraq. Speaking at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, the president said American troops will be able to withdraw from Iraq as Iraqi forces take greater control of security.

(Soundbite of today's speech)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington.

(Soundbite of applause)

INSKEEP: Here to talk about the speech now is NPR White House correspondent David Greene.

And, David, what was different, if anything, about what the president had to say today compared to previous statements?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Well, Steve, it's probably important to point out first that much of this was the same. I don't think you can leave this speech saying the president has dramatically altered his approach to Iraq. But the signals he sent were important. He spoke more than he ever has about the idea of bringing troops home, and as you heard, he said he will be able to do that and not undermine the ability to fight the insurgency. So the president sent that message, but also made clear, as he has been doing for days, that the decision when to bring troops home is his--not Democrats, not anyone else, but it's up to him and his military commanders.

INSKEEP: And we're about to talk, David, about the status of Iraqi forces who would take over from Americans under the president's plan. What is the president saying about how well-trained the Iraqis are now?

GREENE: Well, the president made a pretty forceful case that Iraqi forces are taking on more leadership in missions, they're taking control of bases and larger areas of the country. He even went after critics who have been saying that only one Iraqi battalion in the country is ready to operate on its own. He said that's not a measure of success, and that even some NATO battalions might not even meet the standard of being able to operate independently.

And what was interesting, Steve, I think, was the president's tone. This is not a president who likes to reflect all that much or talk about mistakes, but here he was admitting that the US-led coalition didn't handle the training of Iraqi forces all that well in the beginning. He said, for example, they had Iraqi police officers in the classroom too much, they weren't training them in small arms, and that they learned from their mistakes.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent David Greene.

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