U.S. President George W. Bush, in a rare formal address from the White House's Oval Office, yesterday rejected calls for a quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq -- although he acknowledged that the fight against the insurgents is proving "more difficult" than expected. Bush has made a series of speeches on Iraq in recent weeks. But last night's address was the first nationally televised speech from the Oval Office since the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003. Bush's speech came as former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke publicly about the flawed intelligence that led the United States to invade Iraq.
Prague, 19 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The last time President Bush addressed the American people from the Oval Office was in March 2003, when he announced the start of operations against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Bush's tone at the time was resolute and optimistic.
Last night, Bush returned to the formal setting. His resoluteness was intact. But the tone was more sober. It recalled Winston Churchill's famous "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat" speech from 1940, in which the legendary British wartime prime minister promised "many months of struggle and suffering" to his people before victory.
In his 17-minute speech, Bush acknowledged that much of the intelligence about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction was "wrong."
At times, he sounded contrite. Bush accepted responsibility for the decision to go to war, and he acknowledged that the conflict has created a split in American society.
He also admitted that progress has been slower than expected in fashioning order out of chaos in Iraq.
"The work has been especially difficult in Iraq -- more difficult than we expected," Bush said. "Reconstruction efforts and the training of Iraqi security forces started more slowly than we hoped. We continue to see violence and suffering, caused by an enemy that is determined and brutal -- unconstrained by conscience or the rules of war."
But Bush argued forcefully that removing Saddam Hussein from power -- whatever the reason -- was the right thing to do. Now that the United States is engaged in Iraq, Bush said, it would be both "dishonorable" and "reckless" to withdraw prematurely.
"My conviction comes down to this: We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists. We invite terrorism by ignoring them," he said. "And we will defeat the terrorists by capturing and killing them abroad, removing their safe havens, and strengthening new allies like Iraq and Afghanistan in the fight we share."
Bush outlined a three-pronged strategy for winning the war in Iraq. First, he said the U.S.-led military coalition will "remain on the offensive" -- pursuing insurgents and terrorists and building up the capabilities of Iraqi police and military units.
Second, Bush said that in the wake of recent national elections, the United States will continue to help the nascent Iraqi government establish lasting national institutions to anchor democracy in Iraq.
Last, Bush said that after much delay, a reconstruction plan is being put into place to revive Iraq's economy and infrastructure.
In closing, Bush acknowledged that some of his decisions on Iraq had led to "terrible loss." He predicted more violence in the weeks and months ahead. But he said it was important for the American people to take the long view -- and realize that the war can be won.
"The terrorists will continue to have the coward's power to plant roadside bombs and recruit suicide bombers. And you will continue to see the grim results on the evening news," Bush said. "This proves that the war is difficult -- it does not mean that we are losing. Behind the images of chaos that terrorists create for the cameras, we are making steady gains with a clear objective in view. America, our coalition, and Iraqi leaders are working toward the same goal: A democratic Iraq that can defend itself, that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists, and that will serve as a model of freedom for the Middle East."
He called on Americans to stand by him and not to lose hope in what he called "this difficult, noble, and necessary cause."
Meanwhile, Bush's former secretary of state, Colin Powell, has also spoken about the faulty intelligence on Iraq that prompted the war. In an interview broadcast yesterday with David Frost on the BBC, Powell spoke about his reaction when he discovered the truth.
"It was not a happy moment when it started to emerge and when I started to receive word from the intelligence community that said, 'Oops, this source was not good,'" Powell told the BBC. "But we still had three other sources, and then suddenly the three other sources turned out not to be good. Now, I was not happy. I was deeply disappointed in what the intelligence community had presented to me and to the rest of us. And what really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced up to us."
Powell said that during his time in the Bush administration, he sometimes disagreed with Vice President Dick Cheney -- seen as one of the architects of the Iraq war -- but he called his relations with Cheney "respectful."
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