RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Bush acknowledged in a prime-time address last night that the war in Iraq has been harder than expected. He said America can win and is winning that war. As proof, he pointed to the big turnout in last week's Iraqi elections. The president's speech was the latest in a series he's delivered recently in an attempt to shore up sagging public support for the war. It did not include any new policies, nor did the president give any indication of when some US troops might begin coming home. NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA reporting:
The president spoke from behind his desk in the Oval Office, a setting he had not used to address the American public since March of 2003 when he announced that the war had begun. The location was chosen last night for added gravity. Mr. Bush began with last week's election in Iraq which he cautioned won't mean the end of violence.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But it is the beginning of something new, constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East, and this vote 6,000 miles away in a vital region of the world means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror.
GONYEA: As he has in other speeches recently, the president conceded that the intelligence that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was wrong, adding that he takes responsibility for the decision to invade, but he quickly defended that decision as the right one anyway, saying that Saddam needed to be removed, that Iraq was a threat to America and that the lesson of 9/11 is that threats must be taken seriously. The president continued to insist that there will be no artificial time line for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, saying that will be determined by the situation on the ground. There are those, he said, who argued that the war in Iraq creates more problems than it solves in the larger fight against terrorism, but he hastened to counter with this.
Pres. BUSH: My conviction comes down to this. We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. We invite terrorism by ignoring them. And we will defeat the terrorists by capturing and killing them abroad, removing their safe havens and strengthening new allies like Iraq and Afghanistan in the fight we share.
GONYEA: The president also continued his recent practice of speaking more candidly about difficulties the Iraq mission has encountered, the casualties and continuing violence, the slower-than-hoped-for training of Iraqi security forces, but he also cited progress in training Iraqis and said he disagrees with those who say the war has not been worth the cost.
Pres. BUSH: I have heard your disagreement and I know how deeply it is felt.
GONYEA: He said it's important not to give in to defeatism.
Pres. BUSH: And the need for victory is larger than any president or political party because the security of our people is in the balance. I don't expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give into despair and do not give up on this fight for freedom.
GONYEA: The president also asked the public for patience. That may be what is most needed going forward. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington says the way ahead in Iraq remains full of uncertainty, and he says despite the high turnout and low violence seen in last week's voting, the election is one of many areas that remain big question marks in the country.
Mr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Center for Strategic & International Studies): We have no idea as yet what this new government is actually going to stand for or what kind of coalition is going to emerge. So one problem that people in Iraq really face as Americans and as Iraqi forces is that it may be months before we know exactly what the new government really stands for, and it may not stand for a lot of the things we'd like to see develop inside Iraq.
GONYEA: But that's not a possibility the president discussed in his prime-time speech. For the White House, the election has already been a triumph to be trumpeted in hopes of recalibrating American public opinion on the overall mission in Iraq. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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