Bush Defends Iraq Strategy, Resists Call to Leave President Bush defends the U.S. mission in Iraq, saying that calls for American troops to leave the country are premature. The president warned that the situation would only worsen without U.S. troops -- and that "chaos in Iraq would be very unsettling in the region."
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Bush Defends Iraq Strategy, Resists Call to Leave

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Bush Defends Iraq Strategy, Resists Call to Leave

Bush Defends Iraq Strategy, Resists Call to Leave

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Today President Bush said that an international peacekeeping force for Lebanon must be put in place quickly. He also announced that the U.S. is sending more than $200 million in humanitarian aid to help rebuild homes and infrastructure. The president's comments came during a news conference where he also addressed the situation in Iraq and the recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

DON GONYEA reporting:

The president opened with prepared remarks about Lebanon. He said the U.N.-approved peacekeeping force is urgently needed.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The international community must now designate the leadership of this new international force, give it robust rules of engagement and deploy it as quickly as possible to secure the peace.

GONYEA: The United Nations says the force should number up to 15,000 troops. It's still not known exactly what the peacekeepers would be asked to do. The president offered few specifics, except to say that the U.S. role would be to provide logistical support, communications and intelligence.

President BUSH: One thing for certain is that when this force goes in to help Lebanon, Hezbollah won't have that safe haven or that kind of freedom to run in Lebanon's southern border.

GONYEA: On Iraq, the president has been facing growing criticism of his policies. When pressed today on whether it's time to change his overall strategy, he said no, that it's vital to remain in Iraq until the new government can provide for its own security.

President BUSH: If you think it's bad now, imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself and sustain itself. A, you know, chaos in Iraq would be very unsettling in the region.

GONYEA: But one reporter noted that the consequences the president mentions for pulling out of Iraq seem like they never would have been there if the U.S. hadn't gone in in the first place.

President BUSH: You know, I've heard this theory about, you know, everything was just fine until we arrived and, you know, kind of stir up the hornets nest theory. It just doesn't hold water as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

GONYEA: Then came the follow-up question, what did Iraq have to do with 9/11?

President BUSH: Nothing. Except for it's part of - and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a - the lesson of September 11th is take threats before they fully materialize.

GONYEA: Though it is true that during the run up to the war in Iraq the president and other White House officials evoked the tragedy and images of 9/11 and alleged ties between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein in making the case for war.

On Hurricane Katrina, the president said rebuilding the Gulf Coast will take time and said the ongoing goal is to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles. As for the debris that is still piled up in New Orleans one year later -

President BUSH: The money's available to help remove that debris. People can get after it, you know, and I would hope they would.

GONYEA: Asked if he was disappointed by anything about how Washington has handled the recovery, Mr. Bush said he's pleased with the $110 billion in federal money committed for the Gulf Coast.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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