WASHINGTON – President Bush on Saturday praised the 250,000 U.S. troops arrayed around the Persian Gulf and asked friends and neighbors to lend a hand to their families while they are away fighting Iraq.
Democratic congressional leaders also pledged all the resources U.S. troops need.
"Our cause is just — the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "And our mission is clear — to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism and to free the Iraqi people."
Bush was spending the weekend, the first since he launched war in Iraq on Wednesday, at Camp David, Md. Before departing, Bush told congressional leaders at an Oval Office meeting Friday that the war was going well.
"We are making progress," he said.
Aides portrayed it as Bush merely keeping to routine, and noted that his father also spent the first weekend of the 1991 Persian Gulf War at Camp David when he was president. They also pointed out that the Marine-run facility 60 miles from the White House is equipped all the communications gear and personnel Bush could need to keep tabs on the war and world events.
On Saturday, the president was convening a National Security Council meeting at the Maryland mountain retreat, with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet and others.
In Washington, anti-war protesters planned to gather again in Lafayette Park across from the White House.
"Our entire nation appreciates the sacrifices made by military families, and many citizens who live near military families are showing their support in practical ways, such as by helping with child care, or home repairs," Bush said in his radio remarks.
"All families with loved ones serving in this war can know this: Our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done."
The top Democrats in the House and Senate, who had been critical earlier of the move toward war, also voiced praise and support for the troops in their party's weekly radio address.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who opposed a war resolution passed by Congress last fall, extolled the military personnel who are "focused on their mission, motivated by a profound love of country and prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice."
"We pledge to our forces and their families: You will have all the support you need to win this war and win the peace," she said.
"We are deeply grateful to them and their families for their courage and sacrifice," said Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. "And we pray that they return home safely and soon."
On Friday, Bush watched the aerial pummeling of Baghdad on television from his study and told Congress it wasn't known how long the war in Iraq or occupation of the country would be.
"It is not possible to know at this time either the duration of active combat operations or the scope or duration of the deployment of U.S. armed forces necessary to accomplish our goals fully," he said in a five-paragraph letter.
Under terms of the Vietnam-era War Powers Act, the president formally notified Congress he had concluded that "only the use of armed force" can disarm Iraq, protect U.S. security and bring stability to the Middle East.
The 1973 law, designed to curb executive branch powers after the Vietnam War, lets presidents send troops into conflicts for up to 60 days but requires congressional approval beyond that. Ever since its passage, presidents have considered the law an infringement on their constitutional authority but still have filed brief reports to Congress.
Bush also told congressional leaders at an Oval Office meeting Friday that the war was going well. "We are making progress," he said.