TAMPA, Fla. – Appealing for patience, President Bush said Friday that Americans should not be discouraged by setbacks in Iraq and must realize the nation is at war.
The president said a "tendency of folks is to say this really isn't a war. People kind of want to slip to the comfortable."
But he said the nation still faces a ruthless enemy in Iraq that has no regard for human life.
"We shouldn't be discouraged about setbacks, short term setbacks, or the enemy's capacity to take innocent life, because we've seen democracy change the world in the past," Bush said.
The president also called for doubling the number of peacekeeping troops in Sudan's troubled Darfur region and said NATO's involvement would probably be required. Bush discussed the peacekeeping effort with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday.
"I'm in the process now of working with a variety of folks to encourage there to be more troops, probably under the United Nations," the president said here.
"But it's going to require a — I think a NATO stewardship, planning, facilitating, organizing, probably double the number of peacekeepers that are there now, in order to start bringing some sense of security." Currently peacekeeping is handled by some 7,000 African Union troops who are hampered by shoddy equipment, poor training and lack of funds.
The White House declined to say if U.S. troops might be part of a peacekeeping effort. "We believe it is premature to speculate about what types of forces and equipment may be needed until we see the U.N. plans," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.
The large Darfur region of western Sudan has been torn by violence since February 2003 in a conflict between non-Arab rebels and government forces backed by militia allies. The Arab militiamen in particular are accused of atrocities against non-Arab civilians. The U.N. estimates 180,000 people have died.
Bush's remarks about Iraq reflected the tough-on-terrorism theme that proved so successful during his re-election campaign. White House aide Karl Rove already has advised Republicans to make national security the top partisan issue in the November midterm elections.
Bush spoke at a cruise ship terminal at the Port of Tampa, pacing the stage with a microphone in his hand. He spoke before an invited audience arrayed around him. Before his address, the president received an update on the war on terror in a private, hourlong briefing at the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, which oversees forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As of Thursday, at least 2,272 members of the U.S. military had died since the beginning of the Iraq war, in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes six military civilians. At least 1,781 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.
Bush took questions from the friendly audience after his prepared remarks. The first questioner said the nation was blessed to have Bush as president. The next questioner referred to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as "your great brother."