At a combination speech and news conference at the White House, Mr. Bush rejected a suggestion that Iraq was becoming another Vietnam — a quagmire without ready exit. "I think that analogy is false," he said. "I also happen to think that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops and it sends the wrong message to our enemy."
One year after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush said is neither a civil war nor a popular uprising. "The violence we've seen is a power grab by ... extreme and ruthless elements" from inside Iraq and from outside.
Mr. Bush said that if, necessary, he was ready to send additional forces to join the more than 100,000 troops already stationed in Iraq.
He also said the United States would stick to a deadline of June 30 for handing over political power to Iraqis. He said a U.N. envoy would help decide which Iraqis would be placed in charge.
The president strode into the East Room of the White House midway through the deadliest month for Americans since Baghdad fell last spring. At least 83 U.S. forces have been killed and more than 560 wounded in April, according to the U.S. military, as American troops fight on three fronts: against Sunni insurgents in Fallujah, Shiite militiamen in the south and gunmen in Baghdad and on its outskirts.
At least 678 U.S. troops have died since the war began in March 2003.
Additionally, four American employees of a private security company working in Iraq were killed and their bodies mutilated two weeks ago, and Thomas Hamill, a employee another firm, was seized as a hostage since last week.
The president opened the session with a 17-minute statement — roughly the duration of a medium-length address to the nation. The audience included top aides, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and political guru Karl Rove among them — and uncounted millions watching the prime-time appearance on television.
It was Mr. Bush's first prime-time news conference since March 6, 2003, just days before the opening of the war to depose Saddam. Mr. Bush's only other evening news conference was on Oct. 11, 2001, a month after the terror attacks.
While Mr. Bush opened with remarks about Iraq, the questions were broader — focusing as well on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Mr. Bush sidestepped questions about whether he would apologize to the families of Sept. 11 victims – as his former top terrorism adviser Richard Clarke did recently – or take personal responsibility.
"Had I had any inkling whatsoever that people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect the country. Just like we're working to prevent further attacks," he said.
Asked whether he felt any responsibility for the attack, Mr. Bush said he grieved for the families of the victims and said in retrospect he wished, for example, the Homeland Security Department had been in place.
Mr. Bush did not say so, but even after the attack, he initially opposed creation of the agency. He changed his mind under prodding from lawmakers.
The president also said he received on Aug. 6, 2001, contained "nothing new" in terms of disclosing that Osama bin Laden hoped to attack the United States. He was heartened, he said, by the disclosure that the FBI was conducting numerous investigations.
But that claim was undercut earlier in the day at a televised hearing by . Former Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard testified he didn't know where the material came from, and one commission member, Slade Gorton, suggested many of the investigations related to fund raising, not the threat of attacks.
Mr. Bush said he would investigate the matter.
While he addressed matters of war and peace, election-year politics shadowed the proceedings. Asked whether he believes he has acted correctly even if it costs him his job, he replied quickly, "I don't intend to lose my job. Because I'm going to tell the American people I have a plan to win the war on terror."
Iraq figures in Mr. Bush's decline in public opinion polls in two areas that are critical for his re-election campaign. Approval of his handling of Iraq has declined to the mid-40 percent level, and approval for his handling of terrorism has dipped into the mid-50s. Growing numbers of people say the military action in Iraq has increased rather than decreased the threat of terrorism.
CBS News Military Analyst Col. Mitch Mitchell (Ret.) says many more troops are needed in Iraq to bring about an end to violence, but they need not be all Americans.
"We don't need 10,000 troops," Mitchell said. "We need 400,000 troops on the ground to control Iraq, to give them the peacekeeping force that will give them stability and allow them to determine their own fate. We don't have anything near that now, so the troops that we have there are going to be the fire brigade – put out a fire here, put out a fire there, but they'll never be able to pacify Iraq like it should be pacified."