WASHINGTON – President Bush, cheered on by Iraq war veterans and their families on the White House's South Lawn, urged lawmakers Tuesday to back his plan to withdraw some troops from Iraq but keep at least 130,000 through next summer or longer.
"I ask the United States Congress to support the troop levels and the strategies I have embraced," Bush said, to loud cheers and chants of "USA! USA!"
The president briefly addressed about 850 members of military support organizations who were invited to the White House for coffee, juice and pastries. With almost everyone wearing red shirts, people from several organizations gathered at picnic tables set up on the South Lawn in the morning sun.
Among the groups gathered at picnic tables set up on the South Lawn were Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission, Vets for Freedom, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations. Along with the president and his wife, Laura, other top administration officials also attended the event, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Bush offered sympathy to those in the crowd who lost a loved one in the war, and he thanked war veterans as well as active-duty military members.
"On this beautiful morning, we thank you for your steadfast resolve," he said, before lingering to shake hands and mingle with the crowd.
The president's remarks were greeted with full-throated support from the crowd, including occasional shouts of "We love you."
Bush asked his guests to deliver a message when they meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill: "The commander in chief wants to succeed."
"If we were to retreat from the Middle East, the enemy would not be content to remain where they are," he said. "They would follow us."
The president last week announced plans for a limited drawdown in Iraq, including bringing home 5,700 troops by Christmas followed by more for a total of about 21,500 by next summer. But his plan calls for combat forces to remain around the level they were before this year's buildup through next summer, and some force would stay in Iraq well past 2008.
Bush gave a nationally broadcast address from the Oval Office on his new plan last Thursday night, two days after the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, completed testimony on the war before congressional committees.
The Senate is scheduled to resume debate this week on anti-war legislation, including a proposal to require that troops have as much time at their home station as they do deployed to Iraq.