On Tuesday evening, President Bush vetoed a bill from Congress that would have tied funding for the Iraq war to a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. Excerpts from his remarks:
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Twelve weeks ago, I asked the Congress to pass an emergency war-spending bill that would provide our brave men and women in uniform with the funds and flexibility they need. Instead, members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders. So a few minutes ago, I vetoed this bill. . . .
Here is why the bill Congress passed is unacceptable. First, the bill would mandate a rigid and artificial deadline for American troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq. That withdrawal could start as early as July 1. And it would have to start no later than Oct. 1, regardless of the situation on the ground.
It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing. All the terrorists would have to do is mark their calendars and gather their strength - and begin plotting how to overthrow the government and take control of the country of Iraq. I believe setting a deadline for withdrawal would demoralize the Iraqi people, would encourage killers across the broader Middle East, and send a signal that America will not keep its commitments. Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure - and that would be irresponsible.
Second, the bill would impose impossible conditions on our commanders in combat. After forcing most of our troops to withdraw, the bill would dictate the terms on which the remaining commanders and troops could engage the enemy. That means American commanders in the middle of a combat zone would have to take fighting directions from politicians 6,000 miles away in Washington, D.C. This is a prescription for chaos and confusion, and we must not impose it on our troops.
Third, the bill is loaded with billions of dollars in nonemergency spending that has nothing to do with fighting the war on terror. . . .
The Democratic leaders know that many in Congress disagree with their approach, and that there are not enough votes to override a veto. I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war. They've sent their message. And now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need.
Our troops are carrying out a new strategy with a new commander - Gen. David Petraeus. . . . In January, Gen. Petraeus was confirmed by a unanimous vote in the United States Senate. In February, we began sending the first of the reinforcements he requested. Not all of these reinforcements have arrived. And as Gen. Petraeus has said, it will be at least the end of summer before we can assess the impact of this operation. Congress ought to give Gen. Petraeus' plan a chance to work. . . .
Last week, Gen. Petraeus was in Washington to brief me, and he briefed members of Congress on how the operation is unfolding. He noted that one of the most important indicators of progress is the level of sectarian violence in Baghdad. And he reported that, since January, the number of sectarian murders has dropped substantially.
Even as sectarian attacks have declined, we continue to see spectacular suicide attacks that have caused great suffering. These attacks are largely the work of al-Qaeda - the enemy that everyone agrees we should be fighting. . . . Gen. Petraeus explained it this way: "Iraq is, in fact, the central front of all al-Qaeda's global campaign." . . .
The need to act is urgent. Without a war-funding bill, the military has to take money from some other account or training program so the troops in combat have what they need. . . . we add to the uncertainty felt by our military families. Our troops and their families deserve better - and their elected leaders can do better.
Here in Washington, we have our differences on the way forward in Iraq, and we will debate them openly. Yet whatever our differences, surely we can agree that our troops are worthy of this funding - and that we have a responsibility to get it to them without further delay.