WASHINGTON – President Bush on Wednesday lamented that the House is planning a resolution to express disapproval with the plan to deploy more U.S. forces to Iraq and said the U.S. Congress ought to do more to show its support for service members.
"Our troops are counting on their elected leaders in Washington, D.C., to provide them with the support they need to do their mission. We have a responsibility, all of us here in Washington, to make sure that our men and women in uniform have the resources and the flexibility they need to prevail," Bush told reporters in an East Room press conference.
Bush also said he had proof that many improvised explosive devices used against American forces in Iraq come from Iran but did not mention any specific plan for action.
"My job is to protect our troops. And when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we're going to do something about it, pure and simple," he said.
The president said he discussed operations in Iraq this morning with the top U.S. commander there, Gen. David Petraeus.
"When Gen. Petraeus' nomination was considered three weeks ago, the United States Senate voted unanimously to confirm him. And I appreciated that vote by the senators," Bush said.
"And now members of the House of Representatives are debating a resolution that would express disapproval of the plan that Gen. Petraeus is carrying out," he continued.
The 95-word nonbinding resolution opposes Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, even as the deployment is in the works.
"Our coalition troops that are heading into Baghdad will be arriving on time," he said.
House lawmakers were continuing debate on the resolution on Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the new policy won't work.
"The American people have lost faith in President Bush's course of action in Iraq and they are demanding a new direction," Pelosi said Tuesday on the House floor.
"In light of the facts, President Bush's escalation proposal will not make America safer, will not make our military stronger and will not make the region more stable. And it will not have my support."
Bush said he understands that honorable people can disapprove of his plan and that Congress has the right to express its opinion, but his decision was made based on the goal of enabling Iraq to govern and sustain itself and be an ally in the War on Terror.
Bush said "disastrous consequences" would emerge from backing out of Baghdad.
"The Iraqi government could collapse, chaos would spread, there would be a vacuum and into the vacuum would flow more extremists, more radicals, people who have stated their intent to hurt our people," he said.
The president also said, "No question, people are watching what happens here in America. The enemy listens to what's happening."
He said that what happens in the halls of Capitol Hill is being closely monitored by enemies as well as friends, who are worried about the U.S. "commitment to this cause." He warned that people won't take risks for peace if they're worried that it will all be for naught.
"As to whether or not this particular resolution is going to impact enemy thought, I can't tell you that. But I can tell you that people are watching the debate. ... And I think it's going to be very important," he said.
House and Senate Democrats have proposed legislation that would cut off funding for additional forces to go to Iraq. Bush said he thinks it's possible to support the warrior, but not the war, but only insofar as lawmakers don't do anything to undermine the ability of the warrior to do his or her job.
"I think you can be against my decision and support the troops, absolutely. But the proof will be whether or not you provide them the money necessary to do the mission," he said. "My hope ... is that this nonbinding resolution doesn't try to turn into a binding policy that prevents our troops from doing that which I have asked them to do."
While Congress debates its displeasure with the president, efforts to quell violence in Iraq are ongoing. Bush said Petraeus told him the top Iraqi commander in Baghdad is nearly ready to take over security efforts.
"The commander who Prime Minister Maliki picked to operate the Baghdad security plan is in place. They're setting up a headquarters. And they're in the process of being in a position to be able to coordinate all forces," he said. Iraqi commanders are also set to deploy three additional army brigades in the capital, Bush said.
Bush has repeatedly stated that as Iraqi forces build up, U.S. troop commitments will come down. But many troops have been forced to go back to serve multiple times in Iraq, and Bush said that is a concern of his despite not hearing from commanders on the ground that troop morale is eroding.
The president said he felt he received a polite and respectful reception by Democrats at the State of the Union address and at the party retreat a couple weeks ago. Despite so much attention being paid to the Iraq resolution debate, he said he is hopeful that Democrats and Republicans will be able to work on other legislation.
"I think there's a lot of expectation that the difference of opinion on Iraq would make it impossible for us to work on other areas. I disagree with that assessment. And I hope I'm right," he said, pointing to possible opportunities for cooperation on a balanced budget, immigration reform and energy independence.
Iran's Interference in Iraq Still Not Cause for War
In his first press conference since Dec. 20, Bush rejected charges that the United States is trying to implicate Iran's government in contributing to the violence.
"The idea that somehow we're manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing IEDs is preposterous," Bush said of claims, including by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the United States fabricates evidence to justify war.
On Sunday, unnamed U.S. military officials displayed ample evidence that armor-tearing explosive devices found in Iraq had originated in Iran. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace on Monday said that while the materials were definitely Iranian-made, he could not confirm that they had arrived in Iraq on orders of the Iranian government.
"I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of government. But my point is: What's worse — them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it's happening?" Bush said, referring to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard.
"Whether Ahmadinejad ordered the Quds Force to do this, I don't think we know. But we do know that they're there. And I intend to do something about it," he said, adding that the conclusion that the Iranians are involved is not being used as a pretext for war.
The president said he will continue to rely on U.N. efforts to deal with Iran as the world tries to convince the Islamic regime to disband its nuclear program. Bush said he wouldn't go to one-on-one talks until Iran makes a positive gesture, like North Korea, to suspend its program.
"If they want us at the table, we're more than willing to come, but there must be a verifiable suspension of this weapons program that is causing such grave concern," he said.
Other International Ups and Downs
As the president spoke, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he did not think additional sanctions are the best way to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program.
"Resolutions and sanctions are not what we need to focus on. We need to focus on finding a way out of the so-far dead-end situation and creating conditions for starting negotiations," Reuters reported Lavrov telling journalists aboard a plane from New Delhi to Abu Dhabi.
At his press conference, Bush acknowledged that "money trumps peace, sometimes." He said it's difficult to convince nations to put sanctions on countries when powerful commercial interests are pulling in the other direction.
Bush also refused to express displeasure with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last weekend said the United States is pushing countries toward a new arms race. In 2001, Bush said he had looked in Putin's soul and liked what he saw.
"The person who I was referring to in 2001 is the same strong-willed person. He is a person with whom I have had agreements and disagreements throughout my presidency and his," said Bush, noting that one issue of disagreement is the role of NATO and its deployment along Russia's borders.
"Democracies tend not to fight each other. And I firmly believe NATO is a stabilizing influence for the good, and that helps Russia. Evidently, he disagrees with that assessment," Bush said.
On other topics, Bush welcomed North Korea's agreement, announced Tuesday, to shut down its nuclear program in exchange for heating fuel aid.
The deal calls for Pyongyang to suspend its operations for 60 days and allow U.N. inspectors full access. In exchange, the country will be given 50,000 tons of aid. If it follows through in a second phase toward further disablement of its program, members of the six-party talks that include China, Russia, Japan and South Korea will give almost 1 million tons of aid.
"We're watching carefully and that there's an opportunity for the North Koreans to prove that this program can work," Bush said.
The president was tight-lipped, however, on domestic issues, most specifically on the perjury trial of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and speculation about the 2008 presidential race.
"I will resist all temptation to become the pundit-in-chief," Bush said.