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Bush urges patience on Iraq; cites Israel as example of working Mideast democracy

Posted by vmsalama on June 29, 2007

The Associated Press

Published: June 28, 2007


NEWPORT, Rhode Island: President George W. Bush held up Israel as a model for defining success in Iraq, saying Thursday that the goal of the U.S. mission in the war-ravaged Arab nation is not eliminating attacks but enabling a democracy that can function despite continuing violence.

With his Iraq policies under increasing fire from the American public and lawmakers from both parties, Bush went to the U.S. Naval War College here to declare progress. As he pleaded for patience, his top national security aide went to Capitol Hill to meet with Republican critics.

Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, delivered a lengthy floor speech earlier this week contending that Bush’s war strategy will not have time to work and that U.S. troops should start leaving now.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley met with Lugar and others including Republican Senator John Warner. Hadley would not discuss the meetings, but Warner said a defense policy bill that is expected to attract several war-related amendments in July was a main topic.

The White House thought it had until an expected September assessment by military commanders to deal with political fallout on the unpopular war.

But a majority of senators now believes troops should start coming home in the next few months. House Republicans want to revive the independent Iraq Study Group to get new options.

Bush sought in his speech to put the brakes on these efforts.

He characterized the fight in Iraq, where tensions between Shiite and Sunni factions have kept the country in a cycle of violence, as primarily against al-Qaida forces and their use of grisly suicide attacks and car bombings.

“They understand that sensational images are the best way to overwhelm the quiet progress on the ground,” Bush said.

The president laid out in some of his plainest terms yet how to determine when the U.S. presence in Iraq has achieved its goals. This, Bush said, is “the rise of a government that can protect its people, deliver basic services for all its citizens and function as a democracy even amid violence.”

“Our success in Iraq must not be measured by the enemy’s ability to get a car bombing in the evening news,” he said. “No matter how good the security, terrorists will always be able to explode a bomb on a crowded street.”

He suggested Israel, the frequent target of terrorist attacks and a country in a decades-long, intractable and often violent dispute with Palestinians, as a standard to strive for.

“In places like Israel, terrorists have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks,” Bush said. “The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it’s not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that’s a good indicator of success that we’re looking for in Iraq.”

It was likely to be controversial — and possibly even explosive — for Bush to set out Israel as a model for a Muslim Middle Eastern nation.

Aside from Israel’s security problems, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is such a sensitive issue in the Muslim world that it has become a rallying cry for many and major recruiting tool for Islamic extremist groups such as al-Qaida.

The president ordered 21,500 additional U.S. combat troops to Iraq in January. With those troops finally all deployed, Bush ticked through the details of operations in several areas, declaring with the aid of maps and charts on screens that flanked him that progress already is being made in many places.

He said sectarian murders, after spiking in May, are now down substantially from January levels. Car bombings and suicide attacks continue, but declined in May and June. He cited “astonishing signs of normalcy” such as soccer matches and crowded markets.

“Even as our troops are showing some success in cornering and trapping al-Qaida, they face a lot of challenges,” Bush said.

The president asked lawmakers and the public to give more of a chance to his effort to create breathing room for Iraqi leaders to achieve political reconciliation.

“It’s a well-conceived plan by smart military people,” he said. “And we owe them the time, and we own them the support they need to succeed.”

Afterward, Bush took a few questions. A woman asked “with all due respect” how much the president listens to military officers when making decisions about the war. “A lot,” he replied.

Outside, about 150 anti-war protesters held signs saying “Shame,” “Impeach,” and “War is never the answer.” It was Bush’s first presidential visit to Rhode Island, a heavily Democratic state where opinion polls show he is unpopular.

The president spent about two hours later meeting privately with families of soldiers killed in Iraq. He then traveled to his family’s summer home in Maine, where he is spending the weekend and meeting on Sunday and Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Senate, meanwhile, confirmed Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute on Thursday to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the White House.


Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this story.


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