“After 9/11, I made a commitment to the American people this nation will not wait to be attacked again,” he said.
“There is only one course of action against them — to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home.”
But some, including U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., recently have urged Bush to pull troops out soon and set a deadline for their removal.
“I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible,” he said. “So do I.”
But Bush said a deadline would be a serious mistake.
“Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done.”
He added that a deadline could give troops the impression that officials aren’t serious about rebuilding democracy in Iraq, and could encourage enemies to wait for U.S. forces to leave.
“We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed, and not a day longer,” he said.
Bush also said sending more troops — a strategy some critics have suggested to speed up the Iraqi rebuilding process — isn’t an option unless the commanders in Iraq say it’s necessary.
“If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them,” he said. “But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.”
Though Bush said he is opposed to setting a deadline and employing more troops, he named a few new tactics the United States is using to expedite the process of building democracy in Iraq.
The United States is partnering coalition units with Iraqi units, embedding coalition transition teams inside Iraqi units and working with Iraqi ministries of interior and defense.
The President also said that organizations like NATO are getting involved in the effort to help rebuild Iraq, and that 17 countries, including Italy, Germany and the Ukraine, have sent troops through the NATO mission.
“Whatever our differences in the past, the world understands that success in Iraq is critical to the security of our nations,” Bush said.
Bush’s second visit to North Carolina since his re-election comes at a time when support for the war and Bush’s decision to keep U.S. forces abroad is low in the state.
The (Raleigh) News & Observer and WRAL conducted a statewide survey that found 49 percent of N.C. residents polled don’t believe the war has been worthwhile, while only 42 percent say it has.
Bush spent the afternoon before the speech meeting with 33 families of soldiers who died in the war.
All told, 89 troops from Fort Bragg have died since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Currently, 9,300 troops from the base are employed in Iraq.
The patriotic-themed event, which featured the 82nd Airborne Division All-American Chorus singing “God Bless the USA” before the speech, seemed to build morale for the troops who attended.
“I think (Bush) just wanted to let the military know he appreciates us,” said Capt. Richard Hobart. “We appreciate everything he’s done.”
Bush’s dogged determination makes him a forceful leader in a defining period, said Fort Bragg acting commander, Maj. Gen. Virgil L. Packet.
“We’ve got a tenacious bulldog that is leading the charge here.”
Troops and the president agreed they must fight until what was started in Iraq is finished.
“Our strategy can be summed up this way,” Bush said. “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”
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