Published January 13, 2015
Pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq too early would hurt that country's fledgling democracy as well as American security efforts, President Bush told members of the National Guard ( search) in Idaho on Wednesday.
"Our nation is involved in a global War on Terror that affects the safety and security of every American," Bush said. "We'll complete our work in Afghanistan and Iraq ... an immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq or a broader Middle East, as some have called for, will only embolden the terrorists and create a staging ground to launch attacks against America and other free countries. So long as I am president, we will stay and we will fight and will win the War on Terror."
Idaho has the second highest National Guard deployment rate in the United States behind Hawaii, with about 1,700 members of the Idaho Guard currently serving in Iraq. Bush said Idaho has the highest percentage of Guard forces mobilized overall than any other state. Many people Bush was addressing are preparing to go back for another tour of duty.
"In the War on Terror, you're bringing justice to the enemies and honor to the uniform and our country is grateful for your service," Bush told the crowd, noting that 19 presidents of the United States have served in the National Guard, and he is one of them. "You're not only protecting the American homeland — you're also taking the fight to the enemy."
Bush also thanked the families of American service men and women in times of heavy sacrifice.
"The families are standing for America and America appreciates the service and the sacrifice of the military families," he said. "There are few things more difficult than seeing a loved one go to war."
Bush will later meet at the Mountain Home Air Force Base near Boise with 19 families — not all of which are from Idaho — who lost loved ones in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is meeting privately with each individual family before returning to his Texas ranch in the evening.
Among the families scheduled to meet with Bush was 18-year-old Stevie Bitah. Her father, Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Virgil R. Case, died June 1 from non-combat related wounds in Iraq.
"At first, I was kind of scared to do it — I didn't know what to expect. There's been lots of anger and sadness," Bitah said. "If I met with him, I think he'd know that this person I lost was important to me — not only to me, but to my entire family."
Bitah said she does not share the anti-war views of Cindy Sheehan (search), the California woman who lost a son in Iraq and has given momentum to the peace movement by holding a vigil near Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. But Bitah said she hopes American forces will return soon to spare other families the loss she endured.
"I don't think he intended to go over there and have people lose family members. He's doing it for specific reasons; he's doing it to protect our country," Bitah said of Bush. "My dad chose to go over there and that's something he was proud of, and our family was proud of him."
Making the World More Secure
Bush continued his push Wednesday to keep American servicemen and women focused and vigilant in the War on Terror (search). With polls show domestic support slipping for the war in Iraq, Bush says efforts by the U.S. military abroad "make this world a more secure place."
"Our enemies murder because they despise our freedom and our way of life," Bush said. "Their goal is to make us retreat" and turn the Middle East into a "safe haven for terrorism." Bush vowed to continue work to prevent failed states from being fertile ground for terror groups.
The president acknowledged that in a free society, it is "impossible to protect against every threat," which is even more reason, he explained, "to go after the terrorists where they live."
But in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, American troops are helping lay "the foundation of peace" and aiding in democratic efforts, Bush said.
Wednesday's theme was consistent with Bush's remarks made earlier in the week.
"We have an obligation and a duty to protect this country and one way to do so is to not only firm up the homeland but to stay on the offense against the terrorists and we'll do so," Bush said in a speech Monday to the 106th annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Bush told reporters outside his Idaho vacation resort on Tuesday: "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."
The president also said Tuesday he had no plans to Sheehan, who he already met with 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.
Sheehan has been in California for several days caring for her ailing mother but plans to return to Crawford late on Wednesday.
"I appreciate her right to protest. I understand her anguish," Bush said Tuesday. "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'll continue to meet with families."
At least three local broadcasters have agreed to air a TV ad in which Sheehan accuses Bush of lying to the public about the war. ABC affiliate KIVI-TV aired the 60-second ad on Tuesday. NBC affiliate KTVB-TV and FOX affiliate KTRV-TV also said they would run the spot. The general manager for CBS affiliate KBCI-TV did not immediately return calls.
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" tour 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.
FOX News' Molly Henneberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.