CBNNews.com - President Bush on Thursday defended the slow progress in Iraq as Iraqi politicians try to reach political, security and economic goals.
For more on the progress in Iraq, watch CBN News Terror Analyst Erick Stakelbeck, following this report.
"This progress isn't glamorous, but it is important," Bush said, speaing to a military audience of more than 1,000 people at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton.
During the speech, the President took aim at the Democratic case for troop withdrawals.
"No matter what shortcomings these critics diagnose, their prescription is always the same: retreat," Bush said. "They claim that our strategic interest is elsewhere and if we would just get out of Iraq, we could focus on the battles that really matter."
"This argument makes no sense," he said.
Pausing Troop Cutbacks
The President is expected to endorse the recommendations of Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Petraeus has proposed a pause in troop cutbacks to assess the impact of having withdrawn five combat brigades since December.
Petraus said it would be reckless to shrink the American force so rapidly that the gains achieved over the past year would be compromised or lost entirely.
Bush is unlikely to announce his decision until after Petraeus and the top U.S. diplomat in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, report to Congress next month.
Bush Praises Iraqis, Scolds Congress
Bush suggested that Iraqi officials were able to make more progress than the U.S. Congress.
"They got their budget passed," the President said. "Sometimes it takes our Congress awhile to get its budget passed.
"Nevertheless some members of Congress decided the best way to encourage progress in Baghdad was to criticize and threaten Iraq's leaders while they're trying to work out their differences," Bush said.
"But hectoring was not what the Iraqi leaders needed," he said. "What they needed was security. And that is what the surge has provided."
Bush asked critics of Iraq's political progress to consider the enormity of the task.
"They're trying to build a modern democracy on the rubble of three decades of tyranny, in a region of the world that has been hostile to freedom. And they're doing it while under assault from one of history's most brutal terrorist networks," he said.
"When it takes time for Iraqis to reach agreement, it is not foot-dragging, as one senator described it during Congress' two-week Easter recess. It is a revolutionary undertaking that requires great courage," he said.
Military Tells Bush of Troop Strains
On Wednesday, U.S. military leaders at the Pentagon told Bush they are worried about the Iraq war's mounting strain on troops and their families.
However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff indicated they'd go along with a brief halt in pulling out troops this summer.
The chiefs' concern is that U.S. forces are being worn thin, compromising the Pentagon's ability to handle crises elsewhere in the world.
Deciding the Way Ahead in Iraq
The Pentagon session was arranged by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to provide Bush extensive military views as he prepares to decide how to proceed in Iraq once his troop buildup,which will run its course by July.
"Armed with all that, the President must now decide the way ahead in Iraq," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
The discussion also covered Afghanistan, where violence has spiked, and broader military matters, Morrell said.
The United States has about 31,000 troops in Afghanistan and 156,000 in Iraq.
U.S. forces in Iraq peaked at 20 brigades last year and are to be cut to 15 brigades, with a total of about 140,000 combat and support troops, by the end of July.
A key question facing Bush is whether security conditions will have improved sufficiently by then to justify more reductions.
Petraeus is assessing the impact of having withdrawn five combat brigades since December. In their session with Bush, the chiefs laid out their concerns about the health of the U.S. force, several defense officials said.
Talk of Dropping Tours to 12 Months
Morrell said Bush is "constantly asking the Joint Chiefs about the health of the force, about retention rates, about family life, and so that was a large part of the conversation today."
The session was led by Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He presented the consensus view of the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps on Iraq strategy.
Mullen and Gates have said repeatedly that in addition to reducing troop levels in Iraq, they want to shorten tour lengths for soldiers from 15 months to 12 months as soon as possible.
A decision to do that is expected, perhaps shortly after Bush reaffirms that the number of brigades in Iraq will be cut to 15 by July.
Source: The Associated Press