Bush mulls halting drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq
U.S. President George W. Bush says he is open to the possibility of slowing or stopping plans to bring home more U.S. troops from Iraq, defying domestic demands to speed the withdrawals.
Speaking in Bahrain on Saturday, one of the stops on the president's Middle East tour, Bush said that the U.S. presence in Iraq will outlast his presidency.
He said any decision about troop levels "needs to be based upon success," but that there was no discussion about specific numbers when he was briefed by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad.
Bush is the first U.S. president to visit Bahrain and he received a splashy welcome.
Sword-waving men in flowing robes and headdresses swayed and danced to rhythmic music in a palace courtyard. The president and the king were presented with swords and flashed them skyward.
The war, now in its fifth year, was a dominant theme during Bush's stops in Kuwait and Bahrain, two Persian Gulf countries crucial to U.S. military efforts in the region.
'The final page will say: Victory was achieved'
Kuwait, invaded by Saddam and liberated by a U.S.-led war in 1991, is a major military staging area for the deployment of U.S. troops and equipment. Bahrain is headquarters of the U.S. navy's 5th Fleet.
Bush, speaking to U.S. forces in Kuwait, gave one of his most optimistic assessments of the war. "There is no doubt in my mind when history was written, the final page will say: Victory was achieved by the United States of America for the good of the world," he said.
Bush began the day receiving an hourlong briefing from Petraeus and Crocker at Camp Arifjan, the largest U.S. base in Kuwait and home to about 9,000 American troops.
Acting on the two men's recommendation a year ago, Bush ordered a buildup of 30,000 U.S. forces in Iraq.
In September, again on their advice, Bush announced he would withdraw some troops by July — essentially the 30,000 in the buildup — but still keep the U.S. level there at about 130,000.
With Petraeus at his side, Bush said, "My attitude is, if he didn't want to continue the drawdown, that's fine with me, in order to make sure we succeed, see. I said to the general, 'If you want to slow her down, fine. It's up to you.'"
Update expected in March
Petraeus and Crocker are to give Congress an update on Iraq in March and make a recommendation about troop levels.
Polls show people in the U.S. overwhelmingly oppose the war. The Democratic-led Congress has tried for a year to force Bush to order withdrawals or set deadlines for pullbacks.
But Bush, supported by most Republican legislators, has prevailed in every showdown.
The president also commented on news that Iraq's parliament had approved legislation reinstating thousands of former supporters of Saddam Hussein's dissolved Baath party to government jobs. Bush had prodded Iraqi leaders for more than a year to enact the law.
"It's an important step toward reconciliation," Bush said as he opened talks with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. "It's an important sign that the leaders of that country understand that they must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people."