Bush Reasserts Objection to Iraq Timetable
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Yesterday, it was President Bush's turn to defend the war in Iraq. He spoke at an American Legion post in Northern Virginia, where his warning against the timetable for withdrawal would seem to be welcomed.
NPR's White House correspondent David Greene stayed after the president's speech to see how it was received.
DAVID GREENE: The White House works very hard to pick just the right venue for a presidential speech.
(Soundbite of applause)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you for your warm hospitality. It's a pleasure to be here at Legion Post 177, Fairfax, Virginia.
GREENE: The room in Fairfax was cozy, with two brass chandeliers hanging above the president and maybe 60 or so veterans gathered to hear him. Mr. Bush said he had come to talk about service to country, the war in Iraq…
President BUSH: And the need for the United States Congress to make sure our troops have what is necessary to complete their mission.
(Soundbite of applause)
GREENE: The mission may take some time, he said. Only some of the new troops he's deployed have made it into Baghdad. And yet Democrats, he complained, are already trying to dictate when troops will come home. Their efforts, he argued, are what's holding up emergency money for the military.
President BUSH: We're at war. It is irresponsible for the Democratic leadership in Congress to delay for months on end while our troops in combat are waiting for the funds they need to succeed.
GREENE: During his speech, the president got pretty much the gung-ho response his staff had expected from the vets. But after listening to the president, individual members of the audience sounded very savvy about the ways of Washington and the part Mr. Bush plays. Vietnam veteran Al Dorring(ph) said the president and the Democratic leaders are just doing some political posturing right now.
Mr. AL DORRING: You know that as well as I do, that what you have is the folks on the one side, the folks on the other side, and the great thing about America is we always meet in the middle of somewhere.
GREENE: And that will happen soon, Dorring predicted, because both the White House and Democrats genuinely want to get new funding to the troops.
Mr. DORRING: I'm sure the president will be successful. I'm sure that Congress will be successful. They'll both be able to declare victory. And as long as the troops are well taken care of, I think that's the most important thing.
GREENE: Dorring did say Mr. Bush should veto any legislation setting dates for withdrawal because, he said, when it comes to the military…
Mr. DORRING: There's one boss, and he's the president.
GREENE: Mr. Bush's charge that Democrats are irresponsible didn't fit well with Brett Reistad, another Vietnam veteran. He said Democrats are only responding to voters.
Mr. BRETT REISTAD (Commander, Virginia American Legion): Well, I think that they're doing so because they were voted in office with cause, and I think that they're exercising their voice with the president. And I think it's a difficult road for him to navigate now as a result of that.
GREENE: Are they wrong to do that, to exercise their voice?
Mr. REISTAD: I don't think so. I don't think so. I think if the shoe was on the other foot, the Republican Party would be doing the same thing if a Democrat was the president. So no.
GREENE: Reistad recently served as the American Legion's Virginia state commander. He descries himself as a Bush supporter and says he sees signs of progress in securing Baghdad. But he also says Americans serving in Iraq are wondering when the war will be over.
Mr. REISTAD: I think it's difficult if you're a National Guardsman or a Reservist and you're pulling your third or fourth tour over there. It's difficult on you and your family, and I think that there comes a point in time where they say, where's the end?
GREENE: Lehman Young(ph) is 91 years old. The World War II Navy aviator said he likes Mr. Bush's firm stand.
Mr. LEHMAN YOUNG: Oh, I think he's fine. He's a damn good commander-in-chief. He listens to soldiers instead of the media.
GREENE: But now the question is whether he'll listen to Democrats. Mr. Bush has invited their leaders in next week to discuss war funding. But the White House insists Mr. Bush is willing only to meet, not to negotiate.
David Greene, NPR News, the White House.
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