FORT IRWIN, Calif. – President Bush said Wednesday he knows the nation is weary of war and wondering if the U.S. can win. Still, he said efforts to pull troops home from Iraq only make the U.S. more vulnerable to attack from an enemy that is "pure evil."
"The enemy does not measure the conflict in Iraq in terms of timetables," Bush said to soldiers here, a reference to congressional Democrats' plans to start phasing in troop withdrawals.
"A strategy that encourages this enemy to wait us out is dangerous — dangerous for our troops, dangerous for our security," Bush said. "And it's not going to become law."
While speaking to troops at Fort Irwin, where more combat units are preparing to deploy to Iraq, Bush was trying to keep public pressure on Democrats. Both the House and Senate have approved war-funding bills that would establish timelines for U.S. troops to return home from the four-year-old conflict.
"It's a tough war," Bush said. "The American people are weary of this war. They're wondering whether or not we can succeed. They're horrified by the suicide bombing they see."
Yet Bush used a horrific tale in Iraq — one in which terrorists put children in a car to get through a checkpoint, then exploded the vehicle — to describe why he won't pull back.
"It makes me realize the nature of the enemy we face, which hardens my resolve to protect the American people," Bush said. "People who do that are not — it's not a civil war, it is pure evil. And I believe we have an obligation to protect ourselves from that evil."
Bush then left the Mojave Desert for the upscale Brentwood section of Los Angeles. There, at the home of friend Brad Freeman, he hoped to raise $2.2 million for the Republican National Committee before flying to his family ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Back in Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said congressional proposals to provide war funding only for certain missions could cause more bloodshed in Iraq.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week said he would propose legislation to cut off funds for combat operations, and provide money for only three missions: targeted counterterrorism operations, training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, and to provide security for U.S. personnel and infrastructure.
But Gates said that could pull troops from Baghdad neighborhoods, which have been the focus of the latest military buildup in Iraq.
"If we abandon some of these areas and withdraw into the countryside or whatever to do these targeted missions, that you could have a fairly significant ethnic cleansing inside Baghdad or in Iraq more broadly," Gates said in a radio interview Wednesday with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham.
Bush is on a six-day break from Washington just as he's in a stalemate with Congress.
The first stop was Fort Irwin, home of the U.S. Army's premier desert training center for combat units. Created during the Cold War era of tank warfare, the National Training Center has been redesigned to teach the counterinsurgency work of detecting homemade bombs.
Before his speech, Bush stood in a dusty, rocky field as soldiers explained how they detect and disarm homemade bombs, called Improvised Explosive Devices. Bush operated a remote-control robot, playfully steering the device straight into a row of news photographers.
Bush is chiding the House and Senate for passing war-funding legislation they knew he would veto — because of the withdrawal provisions — and for taking Easter vacation with the matter unfinished.
The White House is eager to show urgency even as Bush takes a vacation of his own.
"The president can sign a bill anywhere, anytime," said spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
His schedule calls mostly for quiet time in Crawford through the weekend. He is expected to promote his immigration policies in Arizona and return to Washington on Monday.