Bush: Stay the Course In Iraq

President Bush addresses the nation for the first time since decaring an end to major combat in Iraq, May 1, 2003. He defends his administration's post-war course and asks for more funding, U.N. support. CBS

President Bush wants billions of dollars more to pay for U.S. troops in Iraq and rebuilding the country, and congressional aides say the figure could top $80 billion in the upcoming budget year.

In his speech tonight designed to bolster his ebbing approval ratings and respond to pressure to tell Americans his strategy for the ongoing U.S. involvement in Iraq, Mr. Bush urged other nations to help stabilize and rebuild Iraq.

"We will do whatever is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom, and to make our nation more secure," Mr. Bush said.

"Our strategy in Iraq has three objectives — destroying the terrorists ... enlisting the support of other nations for a free Iraq ... and helping Iraqis assume responsibility for their own defense and their own future."

In his speech, Mr. Bush said members of the United Nations have an opportunity and a "responsibility" to assume a broader role to make sure Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation. He will also urge the Iraqi people to step up to the task of governing themselves.

"They must rise to the responsibilities of a free people, and secure the blessings of their own liberty."

Mr. Bush has been under criticism from Democrats about the unsuccessful effort so far to stabilize Iraq, especially since the postwar U.S. death toll has climbed past the number killed in major combat. Democrats and Republicans alike have urged the president to spell out his plan for getting Iraq under Iraqi control and withdrawing U.S. troops, who are dying at a rate of more than one a day.

With those concerns in mind, the president made the case that progress is being made in Iraq.

The last time Mr. Bush addressed the nation from the White House was on March 19 when military operations began in Iraq. His last national speech was May 1, when he landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the president believes the "cost of freedom and the cost of peace cannot be measured and that it is important that we put adequate resources to this task."

Mr. Bush is talking with lawmakers about what is needed and working on ways to increase the participation of Iraqis and other nations in stabilizing and reconstructing Iraq, Rice said in a broadcast interview.

"The key here is we must remain resolute," she said.

"There's a reason that foreign fighters are coming into Iraq. There is a reason that we're seeing evidence — not really yet completely clear evidence — of terrorists trying to operate in Iraq," Rice said. "They know that this is the central battle in the war on terrorism."

"It's going to cost more, and there will be continued sacrifice on the part of our young men and women," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday. "Hopefully, in the very near future we'll get control of the security situation," he told CBS' "Face the Nation."

Rice declined to offer specifics on how much money would be needed. Congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they would not be surprised if the amount the president requests is higher than the $60 billion to $80 billion figure that has been reported for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

"I think it could be bigger than $80 billion," said a congressional aide, who is familiar with the president's work in refining how much to request from Congress. "I think the expectation is that it's going to be a very, very big number."

A second congressional aide said: "I'm thinking we're in the $70 billion to $80 billion range and I would lean to the higher end of that."

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Congress will approve the money needed to support U.S. troops, but lawmakers want the president to tell them what his "exit strategy" is from Iraq.

Defense Department officials have said U.S. operations are costing about $3.9 billion monthly. That figure excludes indirect expenses such as replacing damaged equipment and munitions expended in combat.

Levin said lawmakers are being told that it will cost $4.5 billion a month for the military — plus reconstruction expenses.

"What we're going to need from this president — what we haven't had so far — is straightforward, straight-from-the-shoulder discussion about how long we're going to be there ... how many troops we're going to have to keep there, for how long and what the costs are going to be," Levin said during a broadcast interview.

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he expects $100 billion will be needed in Iraq during the next 12 months.

Powell dismissed critics who have compared the situation in Iraq to the prolonged conflict in Vietnam. "It's not happening again," Powell said.

"If we can get Iraqis trained and equipped quickly to start doing these guard functions and to go to places that are relatively stable and keep them stable, then that's what we should do, and not send more U.S. troops to stand around in these places," Powell said.

Facing opposition from France and Germany, the United States has offered to revise a U.N. resolution aimed at getting more peacekeeping troops into Iraq.

"The resolution that the United States will be working with our Security Council colleagues ... will give a broader mandate for international community to come together," Powell said.

"It talks about a multinational force. It talks about a political process to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people. You can't do it overnight," the secretary said.

He said the new resolution could result in other nations sending 10,000 to 15,000 more troops to Iraq.

"There are a lot of demands on the international community — in the Congo, in Liberia, in Bosnia, Kosovo, many other places," Powell said. "What we're really interested in this resolution, though, is to get the international community to come together and participate in the political reconstruction of Iraq."

Levin chided the administration for not acting more quickly to garner international support sooner.

"It's incomprehensible why the administration has not been willing to go until now to the United Nations to get that mandate, which those Muslim nations and other nations say are necessary in order for them to send troops in," the senator said.
  • Joel Arak

Comments