DONNELLY, Idaho – President Bush said Tuesday he strongly supported the right to protest the war in Iraq, but said those who want American troops to withdraw immediately were "advocating a policy that would weaken the United States."
The president also said he had no plans to meet Cindy Sheehan (search), the mother of a soldier slain in Iraq who has galvanized the anti-war movement with her a vigil outside Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch.
"I think immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake," he said. "I think those who advocate immediate withdrawal from not only Iraq, but the Middle East, are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States."
Bush was speaking to reporters at an impromptu question-and-answer session outside the Idaho resort where he is vacationing. He plans to speak to National Guard members at an Air Force base near Boise Wednesday.
Bush did meet with Sheehan in June 2004, two months after her son Casey was killed. At the time, Bush kissed her on the cheek, and the pictures were posted on the Sheehan family Web site. They have since been taken down.
From Aug. 6 to Aug. 18, Sheehan led about 100 protesters who set up what they dubbed "Camp Casey" outside Bush's ranch.
They vowed to stay there until Bush returned to Washington in September, but Sheehan was forced to go to Southern California last week after her mother suffered a stroke.
"I appreciate [Sheehan's] right to protest," Bush said Tuesday. "I understand her anguish. I met with a lot of families. She doesn't represent the view of a lot of the families I have met with, and I will continue to meet with families."
The president added that his national security adviser and a deputy chief of staff also met with Sheehan "early on."
Bush has scheduled more than two hours Wednesday to meet with family members of slain soldiers at the Mountain Home Air Force Base near Boise, Idaho.
A counter-protest, supporting Bush's policies in Iraq, has been organized to counter Sheehan's vigil and related demonstrations.
The caravan of the "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" started in Vacaville, Calif., Sheehan's Northern California hometown, and planned to travel through Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico until it reaches Crawford on Saturday.
Bush said U.S. troops were helping secure the completion of the Iraqi constitution. Representatives of the three main Iraqi ethnic and religious groups in Iraq — Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds — submitted a draft constitution to Iraq's National Assembly Monday night, minutes before a midnight deadline.
But the head of the drafting committee then asked for an additional three days to get representatives of the Sunni community, long dominant in Iraq, to agree to the draft.
On Tuesday, he told reporters that three days might not be enough, and that the constitution may ultimately have to be subject to a popular referendum.
Bush said it was noteworthy that the Iraqis were in the process of adopting a constitution.
"The fact that they're even writing a constitution is vastly different from living under the iron hand of a dictator," he said. "The fact that Iraq will have a democratic constitution that honors women's rights, the rights of minorities is going to be an important change in the broader Middle East."
Bush dismissed the notion that objections to the constitution could trigger a civil war.
"The Sunnis have got to make a choice — do they want to live in a society that's free?" he said.
The president said he thought that most Iraqi mothers, regardless of their religion, would prefer to live in a peaceful country.
Bush spoke to reporters outside the Tamarack Resort (search) in the mountains 100 miles north of Boise.
He congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) on the completion of the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip (search), praising him for making "a tough decision."
Bush, spending a day at the resort with Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (search), a Republican, said he was getting updates on the Iraqi constitutional process from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search).
He said Rice had assured him that the rights of women were being protected.
"Democracy is unfolding," the president said. "We cannot tolerate the status quo."
Bush said he planned to go on a hike and have dinner later Tuesday with Kempthorne and the Idaho congressional delegation.
Bush said he also planned to spend "quality time" with first lady Laura Bush (search), who is traveling with him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.