FORT BENNING, Ga. - President Bush, surrounded yesterday by cheering soldiers in camouflage, defended his decision to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq and cautioned that the buildup would not produce immediate results.
"It's going to take a while," he said.
With Americans in polls overwhelmingly opposed to the increase, Bush said the U.S. commitment to the war was not open-ended - though he put no timetable on how long it would last. While more bloodshed can be expected, Bush said, Americans should give the Iraqi government time to prove its resolve to stop violence and unify the nation.
"The American people have got to understand that suicide bombings won't stop immediately," he said.
Fort Benning, south of Columbus, offered Bush a patriotic backdrop and a friendly audience in which to sell his retooled plan for Iraq, which drew heavy fire on Capitol Hill from Democrats and some Republicans. About 4,000 members of Fort Benning's Third Brigade Combat Team are being sent to Iraq earlier than planned because of the new deployment.
The increase in soldiers is a hard sell. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll of 1,002 adults, conducted Monday through Wednesday, said 70 percent of those surveyed opposed sending more troops. Bush's overall job approval slumped to 32 percent, a new low in AP-Ipsos polling. Sixty percent of respondents said they thought it unlikely that a stable, democratic Iraqi government would be established. The poll's margin of error was 3 percentage points.
Outside the gates of the Georgia base, dozens of demonstrators protested the war.
"Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results," said Jim Steen, 81, a veteran who held a sign that read, "Surge for Peace."
Some lawmakers have threatened to withhold financial support for sending more troops. White House counselor Dan Bartlett said that the White House was closely monitoring sentiment in Congress but that those who reject the president's plan before it has a chance to work have the burden of proposing an alternative.
Bush said his plan had a well-defined mission - something that military leaders had insisted upon if more troops were sent.
"The mission," he said, "is to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help Iraqis protect the local population, and to ensure that the Iraqi forces that are left behind will be capable of providing the security necessary in the capital city of Iraq."
Bush had lunch with about 300 military personnel and their relatives, saw a paratrooper training exercise, and met with relatives of 25 soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During a White House ceremony before visiting Georgia, Bush awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham of Scio, N.Y. Dunham, 22, fell on a hand grenade in Iraq in April 2004, giving his life to save comrades. He was only the second recipient from the Iraq war of the nation's highest military honor.
Bush had lauded Dunham's courage in November, when he dedicated a new Marine museum.
"I've lost my son," Dunham's mother, Deb, said after yesterday's ceremony, "but he became a part of history. It still hurts as a parent, but the pride that you have from knowing he did the right thing makes it easier."
A comparison of President Bush's new plan for Iraq with the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group:
Bush: Send 21,500 more troops
to help squelch the violence in Baghdad and Anbar province. Embed more troops with Iraqi
forces as advisers. No timetable for withdrawing troops.
Study Group: Temporarily increase by about 16,000 the number of troops devoted to training and equipping the Iraqi forces. Plan a gradual withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, aiming to bring the bulk home by early 2008.
Bush: Do not engage in talks with Iran and Syria; intensify U.S. efforts to counter Iranian and Syrian influence in Iraq. Urge Arab states to back the Iraqi government. Increase U.S. military presence in the region, and keep the United Nations active in Iraq.
Study Group: Launch a diplomatic offensive to quickly engage Syria, Iran, and the leaders of insurgents in negotiations on Iraq's future. Work toward resolving the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict.
Bush: Iraqis should dedicate
$10 billion for reconstruction efforts, deliver three brigades for the Baghdad effort, and crack down on all insurgents and extremists. Sets benchmarks for Iraqis but doesn't tie U.S. support to
Study Group: Called for similar benchmarks for progress, and said the United States should make clear that its support will be reduced if the milestones are not met.
Bush: Spend $814 million to
double the number of U.S. civilian workers helping coordinate reconstruction and to provide quick-response funds for local rebuilding projects; spend $350 million more on a program that gives field commanders money to solve local problems.
Study Group: The United States should provide $5 billion a year in economic aid and work faster to put aid programs in place. The group encouraged greater international investment in Iraq's oil industry, its management and its security.
SOURCE: Associated Press
Britain said yesterday that it would not follow the United States in raising troop levels in Iraq and signaled it would pursue its own planned handover of security responsibilities to Iraqis in
Britain has about 7,000 troops, mainly in the city of Basra, and insists the situation there is far less dire than in Baghdad. British officials dismissed as speculation a report in the Daily Telegraph of London that that number would be cut by 3,000 before the end of May.
Some British politicians voiced concern that a U.S. crackdown
in Baghdad could provoke an upsurge of fighting in Basra.
"Many of us do not accept the apparent belief of the prime minister that U.S. action in Baghdad can have no conceivable effect on the security position in southern Iraq," said David Heath,
a spokesman for the antiwar Liberal Democrat opposition party.
British government officials made clear that the U.S. troop increase would not distract them from trying to reduce British forces.
- N.Y. Times News Service
Read the president's words