Bush: Successor Decides Iraq Pullout

President Bush listens to a question at a news conference at the White House, Tuesday, March 21, 2006 in Washington. CBS

President Bush made it clear Tuesday that there will be American troops in Iraq when he leaves office and it will be his successor's job to bring them home.

In response to a question in a White House news conference about if there will come a day that when there will be no American forces in Iraq, Mr. Bush answered, "That, of course, is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq."

President Bush stepped up his defense of his Iraq strategy Tuesday, reporters that despite ongoing violence he remains confident of victory.

Mr. Bush said there will be "more tough fighting ahead" in Iraq, but denied claims that the nation is in the grips of a civil war three years after the U.S.-led invasion.

CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger reports both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have sent a strong signal to the White House that it was time for an exit strategy, but that Tuesday it did not sound as if the president was providing one.

Acknowledging the public's growing unease with the Iraq war and election-year skittishness among fellow Republicans, the president nonetheless vowed to keep U.S. soldiers in the fight.

"If I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there," Mr. Bush declared at the hour-long news conference in the White House briefing room.

CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports that even while recognizing public concern, this was a president who was projecting no doubts of his own. He stood by embattled Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"I don't believe he should resign. He's done a fine job. Every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy," he said.

Also Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney accused some Bush administration critics of being too quick to argue that the Iraq war cannot be won and of underestimating a continuing threat of terrorist attacks.

Part of a broad effort to counter polls that show waning public support for the war and for President Bush personally, Cheney emphasized what the administration has said is underreported evidence of improvement in Iraq. He also took on those who have been questioning Bush's approach in the three-year-old war.

"A few seem almost eager to conclude that the whole struggle is already lost," Cheney told an enthusiastic military audience, from a stage bedecked with flags and camouflage netting. "But they're wrong."

He said that "the only way to lose" in Iraq is to quit. "That is not an option."

Mr. Bush scoffed at a question suggesting he should reshuffle or shake up his White House staff to help raise his sagging poll standings. But he did hint that he might bring in an experienced Washington insider to work with a disgruntled Congress.

"I'm not going to announce it right now," Mr. Bush said, adding that he's satisfied with the staff he's surrounded himself with.

Borger emphasized that Mr. Bush said "right now."

"What he did was boost the morale of his staff today," she said. "But he didn't' rule out staff changes in the near future."

The president's second full-blown news conference of 2006 was part of an ongoing call for public patience with the Iraq war now into a fourth year. The White House is trying to counter critics of the war policy as it responds to polls showing sagging support for the war.

In an opening statement, Mr. Bush said that despite continued violence in Iraq, "We're making progress and that's important for the American people to understand."

He also touted a new report showing a dramatic drop in wholesale inflation.

"Productivity is strong. Inflation is contained. Household net worth is at an all-time high," Mr. Bush said, crediting his administration's policies.

Answering questions from reporters, Mr. Bush confronted his political problems by addressing them directly.

"Nobody likes war. It creates a sense of uncertainty in the country," he said. "War creates trauma."

  • Joel Roberts

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