WASHINGTON – President Bush signed an $87.5 billion supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan on Thursday that will be used to buy supplies for U.S. troops as well as help rebuild Iraq's decrepit infrastructure.
"We determined to confront and undermine threats abroad before they arrive in our own cities," Bush said during a signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
"Today, the United States is making a critical financial commitment to this global strategy to defeat terror. We are supporting our servicemen and women in the field of battle. We are supporting reconstruction and the emergence of democratic institutions in a vital area of the world. The American people accepted these responsibilities now, in our time, so that we will not face a far greater danger in the future," he said.
The president's signature followed a morning speech in which he blamed the United States and other nations for tolerating oppressive governments in an effort to achieve stability in the Middle East (search).
"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty," Bush said.
At the signing ceremony, Bush added: "We are pursuing long-term victory in this war by promoting democracy in the Middle East so that the nations in that region no longer breed hatred and terror."
Democratic and some Republican lawmakers have complained about operations in Iraq, saying that the Pentagon has no exit plan. On Wednesday, Rep. Charles Rangel (search), D-N.Y., called on Donald Rumsfeld to resign his post as defense secretary.
"He doesn't know whether we're winning or losing, he doesn't know whether we're creating more terrorists than we're killing, and ... he has no answers to the problems of how the hell we're going to get out of Iraq," said Rangel, who added that he's not "overly impressed" that the greatest military power in the world "knocked off" the military "running around in Iraq."
"If he doesn't know, he will to have to step aside so we can find somebody who can tell us whether we're winning or losing," Rangel added.
But lawmakers who have traveled to Iraq have nearly universally praised U.S. troops and efforts to hand over authority to Iraqis.
"All of us came away more encouraged about the ability of Iraq to ultimately form a stable nation, more encouraged than before we went," said Rep. Mac Thornberry (search), R-Texas, who led a group of eight House representatives to the country. "I came away even more convinced that this really is the central front in the war on terrorism and that we have an incredible amount at stake in its success."
Congress forwarded the supplemental bill on Tuesday after the Senate approved the $87 billion by voice vote on Monday, which was three days after the House voted 298-121 to a compromise bill that gives the president many of the conditions he sought in September when he first made the request.
More than $65 billion in the bill goes to military operations, $51 billion of which is destined for Iraq. The money will pay for basic military necessities such as air, rail and sea transportation for American and coalition troops to the theaters of action. It will also buy ammunition for weapons; fuel and spare parts for airplanes, helicopters and road vehicles; replacement equipment; and new equipment including thousands of pieces of body armor for troops.
The military funds will also pay for troops' salaries, including pay lost to National Guard and Reservists who left jobs, as well as additional pay for hazardous duty.
"The American government will keep its responsibilities to all who risk their lives for America," Bush said.
Another $18.6 billion is being spent on reconstruction projects in Iraq, including rebuilding the oil industry; training police officers; upgrading hospitals and schools; improving basic services like water, electricity and sanitation; re-establishing a banking system and civil service; and training and helping equip the Iraqis and Afghans who join the police, army and security forces.
"Our investment in the future of Afghanistan and Iraq is the greatest commitment of its kind since the Marshall Plan. By this action, we show the generous spirit of our country, and we serve the interest of our country, because our security is at stake," Bush said.
Despite the massive training over the last six months — 100,000 Iraqis are now conducting security operations in the country — violence has been escalating in Iraq over the last week. On Thursday, American soldiers held a memorial service for 15 GIs killed when their CH-47 Chinook (search) helicopter was hit by a rocket on Sunday. The service was held as two more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq and Polish forces suffered their first combat death — a major who was ambushed while on patrol.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers (search), facing questions about how the Pentagon is responding to the increased violence, said coalition forces conducted several offensive operations in the last 24 hours, including more than 24 raids and 1,800 patrols around Iraq, that uncovered multiple weapons caches.
The United States also plans to rotate out the bulk of U.S. troops currently in Iraq beginning next January through April. About 85,000 combat troops will be replaced. Replacement troops have already been notified that they'll be rotating into the theater, Rumsfeld said Thursday.
In a speech last week, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said it took nearly two generations of U.S. work to win the Cold War and defeat communism. U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq won't take as long, but the benefits to the United States as well as other countries in the region could be just as important, she said.
Speaking to members of the National Endowment for Democracy (search), a private organization in Washington set up to strengthen democracy around the world, on its 20th anniversary, Bush argued that democratic governments in Afghanistan and Iraq won't arrive overnight, but that does not make the struggle futile. However, without U.S. success in Iraq, terrorists will be emboldened, he said.
Bush also tried to rebut anti-Western criticism and opposition to events in Iraq.
The administration argues that the stakes in Iraq and Afghanistan are not only high militarily, but offer hope for stability in a region that has long frustrated U.S. policy makers.
Bush said that efforts in Iraq do not represent the United States' desire to impose its own goals on the country, but to help its citizens achieve the freedoms they wish to enjoy.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said war is always a last resort in efforts to achieve liberty.
"The president is confronting the dangerous threats that we face," McClellan said before the signing ceremony. "It's also important that we follow through on our word ... the world is a safer and better place with Saddam Hussein removed from power. The president seeks peace, the president seeks freedom and democracy."