WASHINGTON – The United States has a plan for victory" that involves overcoming a "common enemy" to Iraqis and Americans that must be defeated abroad so Americans will be safer here at home, President Bush said Wednesday.
Speaking to an audience of students and faculty at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Bush stressed that Iraq is the terrorists' "central front in their war against humanity" and said U.S. forces can come home once Iraqis can defend themselves and once an effective government is installed.
The commander-in-chief also rejected any notion of an "artificial timetables set by Washington" for troop withdrawl, arguing that that doesn't help the troops, the mission, or the Iraqi people.
Leaving Iraq "would vindicate the beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murders, and would invite attacks on America. To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run from car bombers and assassins as long as I am your commander in chief," Bush told the midshipmen.
The president said quashing the terrorists there is key to overall success in the War on Terror. Terrorists in Iraq share the same ideology as those responsible for the attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, the July London bombings, attacks on tourist sites in Bali, and most recently, the homicide bombings in Amman, Jordan, Bush said.
"This is an enemy without conscience and they cannot be appeased," Bush said, adding that if the coalition were not fighting terrorists in Iraq, those terrorists would be plotting ways to harm the United States elsewhere.
"By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are fighting a direct threat to the American people … we will never back down, we will never give in and we will never accept anything less than compete victory," the president said. "America will help the Iraqis so they can protect their families and secure their free nation. We will stay as long as necessary to complete the mission."
Administration officials said Bush's Wednesday speech is the first in a series to be given before the Dec. 15 election in Iraq. Aides say the speeches are aimed at calming some of the rancor echoing throughout Washington and elsewhere about U.S. strategy in Iraq.
The White House on Wednesday released a new 35-page White House document outlining the administration's plan for Iraq, which says: "No war has ever been won on a timetable."
The plan says growing numbers of Iraqi troops are equipped and trained, a democratic government is coalescing, Iraq's economy is being rebuilt, and the U.S. military and civilian presence will change as conditions improve.
"We expect, but cannot guarantee that our force posture will change over the next year, as the political process advances and Iraqi security forces grow and gain experience," the report said. "While our military presence may become less visible, it will remain lethal and decisive, able to confront the enemy wherever it may organize."
The three parts of the strategy outlined in the White House document include a political element in which coalition forces help Iraq build a free society with inclusive democratic institutions that protect the rights and freedoms of all Iraqi citizens; the security side, in which coalition troops ensure that Iraqi security forces are trained well enough to secure their own country; and an economic approach.
Bush noted that many military bases as well as some of Saddam Hussein's former palaces have been turned over to Iraqi security forces. Those installations will be used by the Iraqis to fight terrorists on their own soil. The Iraqi security forces are regaining control of their country, Bush said.
The president detailed several quantifiable measures of progress:
— More than 120 Iraqi army and police combat battalions, comprised of between 250 and 800 Iraqi forces, are in fighting terrorists; of these, about 80 battalions are fighting with coalition forces, and about 40 are taking the lead.
— More than 30 Iraqi army battalions have assumed primary control of their own areas of responsibility; Iraqi battalions in Baghdad have "taken over major sectors of the capital, including some of the city's toughest neighborhoods." One of those, Bush said, includes Haifa Street, which last year was nicknamed "Purple Heart Boulevard."
— About 90 square miles of Baghdad province is under the control of Iraqi security forces. In addition, in south-central Iraq, sectors of southeast Iraq, sectors of western Iraq, and sectors of north-central Iraq are being controlled by Iraqi forces.
— Iraqi army recruits receive the same length of basic training as new U.S. Army recruits: a five-week core course followed by an additional three to seven weeks of specialized training.
—With coalition help, Iraqis have established schools for Iraqi military services: an Iraqi military academy, a noncommissioned officer academy, a military police school, a bomb disposal school, and NATO has established an Iraqi joint staff college. Professional development courses for Iraqi squad leaders, platoon sergeants, warrant officers and sergeants major are also offered.
— The country now has six basic police academies and one in Jordan that produce over 3,500 new police officers every 10 weeks. At the Baghdad police academy, simulation models allow Iraqis to train to stop improvised explosive device attacks and operate roadblocks. They're also getting live-fire training with AK-47s.
— Iraqis now have a small air force that recently conducted its first combat airlift operations, bringing Iraqi troops to the front in Tal Afar.
— The Iraqi navy is helping protect the ports of Basra and Umm Qasr.
— A national depot has been built north of Baghdad to supply logistical needs for 10 divisions of the Iraqi army. In addition, regional support units and base support units have been created to supply Iraqi war-fighters.
— An Iraqi military intelligence school has been established to produce Iraqi intelligence analysts and collectors.
"When Iraqis stand up, American forces can stand down ... when our mission of defeating the terrorists is complete, our troops can return home to a proud nation ... this is a goal the Iraqis share," the president said.
As Iraqi security forces take on more responsibility, the U.S. military mission in Iraq will change — more specialized operations will be started to target the most dangerous terrorists and operations will begin moving out of the cities. The number of bases from which coalition forces operate will be reduced and U.S. forces will conduct fewer patrols, Bush said.
Political Wars Over Timetables
Bush's long list of activities in Iraq is serving in part as a progress report that has been demanded by critics who have suggested that U.S. troops are no longer offering substantive help to a Iraqi military that would rather let the coalition do the work than do it themselves.
Bush said he has been told that Iraqi soldiers themselves say that is not the case.
"Over the past two and a half years, we've faced some setbacks in standing up a capable Iraqi security force, and their performance is still uneven in some areas. Yet many of those forces have made real gains over the past year, and Iraqi soldiers take pride in their progress," he said.
Bush and other White House officials argue that political fighting at home not only sends a negative message to the U.S. troops fighting the war, but it also sends a message to the enemy that if they wait long enough, the United States may leave the job before it's done because of a disagreement on politics.
"This war's going to take many turns and the enemy must be defeated on every battlefield," Bush said Wednesday, adding that every man and woman in a U.S. military uniform deserves an "unwavering commitment to the mission and a clear strategy for victory."
The political fight grew more intense earlier this month when Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., known as one of the more hawkish Democrats on Capitol Hill, called for timed military withdrawal from the country. That led to a Senate vote for quarterly reports from the administration about progress in Iraq. The House also rejected a resolution calling for immediate withdrawal.
Although Bush said people should not be afraid to debate the issue, those who think the United States can immediately pull out its troops are "sincerely wrong ... pulling our troops out before they've achieved their purpose is not a plan for victory," he said.
In an opinion piece welcomed by the White House, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., agreed.
"I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation ... unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn," Lieberman wrote in a piece for The Wall Street Journal following a Thanksgiving visit to Iraq.
In the article, Lieberman said withdrawal would be too risky for both the United States and Iraq. He said Bush needs to stress to America that the strategy he is pursuing has a definable outcome.
Bush cited Lieberman's observations in his remarks Wednesday, saying setting an "artificial timetable" would discourage U.S. troops, confuse the Iraqi people and embolden the terrorists.
"Setting an artificial timetable would send the message across the world that America is weak and an unreliable ally," the president said.
After the speech, Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and John Kerry of Massachusetts blasted Bush for not presenting a more specific plan for Iraq and charged that he didn't give the full picture of reality on the ground there.
"We appreciate what these soldiers are doing. They, more than anyone else deserve a coherent plan," Reed said. "The American people are hungry for leadership and a frank appraisal of how we're doing."
Kerry, who lose his presidential bid against Bush last year, said no lawmaker has called for the United States to run from the enemy; yet several have in fact demanded the president present an exit strategy.
"The best way to stand up for the troops is to provide the best policy for success in Iraq," said Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran. "This debate is not about an artificial debate about withdrawal … no one is talking about running in the face of a challenge. We're talking about how to win, how to succeed, how to achieve our goals. That's the choice here."
But Bush counselor Dan Bartlett told FOX News that Kerry's statement don't make up for the fact that the Democrats themselves have not presented a good alternative for the current strategy in Iraq and said Bush went into "painstaking detail" Wednesday about success so far in Iraq, changes in course and tactics in the near future, and other benchmarks.
"We saw John Kerry fumble across different explanations and claims about their positions," Bartlett said. It "seems like the only people who aren't optimistic are John Kerry and some of his colleagues."
FOXNews.com's Greg Simmons contributed to this report.