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‘We are winning the war in Iraq,’ Bush says, urging patience & optimism from Americans

WASHINGTON (BP)–More than 10 million Iraqis voted in their first constitutional election on a “landmark day in the history of liberty,” President George W. Bush told the nation during his first address from the Oval Office since he announced the decision to send troops to Iraq, “yet our work is not done” and all Americans have a role to play in the effort.

“Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day. I don’t believe that,” Bush said during a prime-time speech Dec. 18. “Our military commanders do not believe that. Our troops in the field, who bear the burden and make the sacrifice, do not believe that America has lost. And not even the terrorists believe it. We know from their own communications that they feel a tightening noose and fear the rise of a democratic Iraq.”

The president’s remarks were part of his continued push to see democracy prevail in Iraq as a growing number of leaders question the need for a U.S. presence there. While acknowledging that not every plan has gone smoothly, he gave specific reasons for optimism in the future.

Bush said it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power because that decision “rid the world of a murderous dictator who menaced his people, invaded his neighbors and declared America to be his enemy.”

“Saddam Hussein, captured and jailed, is still the same raging tyrant — only now without a throne,” the president said. “His power to harm a single man, woman or child is gone forever. And the world is better for it.”

And to those who suggest the world would be a more peaceful place if America would simply withdraw its troops from Iraq, Bush said al Qaeda’s goal is to “intimidate America into a policy of retreat.”

“The terrorists do not merely object to American actions in Iraq and elsewhere. They object to our deepest values and our way of life,” the president said. “And if we were not fighting them in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Southeast Asia and in other places, the terrorists would not be peaceful citizens. They would be on the offense and headed our way.”

Bush said his conviction is that America does not create terrorism by fighting terrorists but invites terrorism by ignoring them. The cost of fighting rather than ignoring the terrorists is high, he said, but Americans must not lose heart in the midst of battle.

“The terrorists will continue to have the coward’s power to plant roadside bombs and recruit suicide bombers,” the president said. “And you will continue to see the grim results on the evening news. This proves that the war is difficult. It doesn’t mean that we are losing. Behind the images of chaos that terrorists create for the cameras, we are making steady gains with a clear objective in view.”

Among the encouraging signs from the Dec. 15 elections in Iraq was the comment from one voter who, when asked whether he was Sunni or Shiite, replied, “I am Iraqi,” Bush noted as evidence of progress toward unity.

Seven in 10 Iraqis say their lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect circumstances to improve in the year ahead, Bush said, “and that optimism is justified.”

The president again turned to those who are outspoken against the war, saying “there is a difference between honest critics who recognize what is wrong and defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right.”

“For every scene of destruction in Iraq, there are more scenes of rebuilding and hope,” he said. “For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed. And for every terrorist working to stop freedom in Iraq, there are many more Iraqis and Americans working to defeat them. My fellow citizens: Not only can we win the war in Iraq, we are winning the war in Iraq.”

In the days ahead, Americans can expect more sacrifice from the military, their families and the Iraqi people, but as certain goals are met on the path to a stable democracy, the number of American troops required in Iraq will decrease, Bush said.

“I will make decisions on troop levels based on the progress we see on the ground and the advice of our military leaders — not based on artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington,” the president said. “Our forces in Iraq are on the road to victory — and that is the road that will take them home.”

The president called on all Americans to “consider the stakes of this war, to realize how far we have come and the good we are doing, and to have patience in this difficult, noble and necessary cause.”

“I don’t expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair and do not give up on this fight for freedom,” he said.

Bush expressed remorse for the lives that have been lost in the struggle for liberty and said he is reminded of the cost each time he visits wounded soldiers at military hospitals and each time he speaks with a family member who greatly misses a loved one. But the vast majority of those who have paid the price have asked him to complete the mission.

“I know this war is controversial, yet being your president requires doing what I believe is right and accepting the consequences,” the president said. “And I have never been more certain that America’s actions in Iraq are essential to the security of our citizens and will lay the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren.”

In closing, Bush mentioned a battle-time Christmas song based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells.”

“Next week, Americans will gather to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. Many families will be praying for loved ones spending this season far from home — in Iraq, Afghanistan and other dangerous places,” he said. “Our nation joins in those prayers. We pray for the safety and strength of our troops. We trust, with them, in a love that conquers all fear, in a light that reaches the darkest corners of the earth. And we remember the words of the Christmas carol, written during the Civil War: ‘God is not dead, nor [does] He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on Earth, goodwill to men.’”

The following morning, Bush held the 21st news conference of his presidency when he gave some opening remarks and then took questions from the press regarding Iraq and national security. He again congratulated the Iraqi people on a successful election and said they have shown “incredible courage.”

“Think about what has happened in a brief period of time — relatively brief,” he said Dec. 19 in the East Room of the White House. “I know with all the TV stations and stuff in America, two and a half years seems like an eternity. But in the march of history, it’s not all that long. … And it happened because the Iraqis want to live in a free society. And what’s important about this election is that Iraq will become an ally in the war on terror, and Iraq will serve as a beacon for what is possible; a beacon of freedom in a part of the world that is desperate for freedom and liberty.”

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  • Erin Curry Roach