CRAWFORD, Texas – From the window of his limousine, President Bush (search) got a motorcade view of more than 100 anti-war protesters camped outside his ranch as he rode to a political fund-raiser Friday near his spread. Bush did not stop.
Law enforcement agencies used their cars to block two intersecting roads. Demonstrators have camped out all week but authorities have required them to stand behind yellow tape. They were not asked to leave their makeshift campsite.
Cindy Sheehan (search), a California mother leading the protesters, held a sign that read: "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?"
It's unclear whether Bush, riding in a black Suburban with tinted windows, looked at the demonstrators as his caravan passed. He arrived before noon, local time, at a neighbor's ranch for a barbecue where he was expected to raise at least $2 million for the Republican National Committee, said RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.
Some 230 people attended the fund-raiser at Stan and Kathy Hickey's Broken Spoke Ranch, a 478-acre spread next to Bush's ranch. All have contributed at least $25,000 to the RNC, and many are "rangers," an honorary campaign title bestowed on those who raised $200,000 or more for Bush, or "pioneers," those who have raised $100,000 or more.
On Thursday, Bush had acknowleded that some families of U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq want to bring the troops home now, but he said that would be a big mistake.
"Pulling the troops out would send a terrible signal to the enemy," he said.
Speaking to reporters at his ranch, the president noted that the United States sent more soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan before elections and was considering doing so again before another round of Iraqi elections in December.
Reports that the Pentagon may increase or decrease troop levels in Iraq next year were simply "speculation and rumors," he said between meetings Thursday with his military and foreign affairs advisers.
Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, has said repeatedly that "fairly substantial" reductions were expected after the election if the political process stayed on track, if the insurgency did not expand and if the training of Iraqi security forces proceeded as planned.
Bush said he would make any decision to remove troops based on recommendations by Casey, who gave a briefing by videolink during the president's ranch meeting with advisers.
"My position has been clear, and therefore, the position of this government is clear," Bush said. "Obviously, the conditions on the ground depend upon our capacity to bring troops home."
The president said Casey reported that Iraqi security units were becoming more capable, although he acknowledged they were not ready to work alone without support from U.S. forces. He described the Iraqis' progress as improving from "raw recruit" to "plenty capable."
"I know it's hard for some Americans to see that progress," Bush said. "But we are making progress."
As for bringing the troops home, the president said he had "heard the voices of those saying, `Pull out now."'
"I've thought about their cry and their sincere desire to reduce the loss of life by pulling our troops out. I just strongly disagree," he said.
Bush spoke as Sheehan sat on the road outside his ranch with a growing group of war protesters. Sheehan's son, Casey, was killed five days after he arrived in Iraq last year at age 24.
Sheehan began her standoff on Saturday, declaring she would stay for the entire month that Bush plans to stay in Texas if he won't meet with her. Since then, dozens of other activists have joined her, including at least three other parents who have lost children in the war, although the protesters began facing increased antagonism Thursday from locals and opposition from other military families.
"The president says he feels compassion for me, but the best way to show that compassion is by meeting with me and the other mothers and families who are here," Sheehan said. "All we're asking is that he sacrifice an hour out of his five-week vacation to talk to us, before the next mother loses her son in Iraq."
An AP-Ipsos poll early this month showed just 38 percent of respondents approved of Bush's handling of Iraq. More than 1,840 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war in March 2003
"I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan," Bush said. "She feels strongly about her position. She has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America."
The White House put out an accounting of all the meetings that Bush has had with families of the war dead -- 900 relatives of 272 people who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sheehan met the president in June 2004 but said she deserves another visit since there have been so many revelations about faulty prewar intelligence since then.