President Bush says Thursday's election in Iraq was historic and strengthened an ally in the war on terror. At the same time, though, he warns against a hasty U.S. pullout, suggesting there would be harsh consequences. In a nationally broadcast address Sunday night, the president urged patience on the part of the American people.
It was the president's first speech to the nation from the Oval Office since he announced the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Mr. Bush said to this day many Americans have questions about the cost and direction of the war. He said there have been disagreements about his Iraq policy, but added the need for victory should be paramount.
"I do not expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request: Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom," he said.
President Bush acknowledged there will be more bloodshed and sacrifice ahead, but said a free Iraq is worth the cost. He said sometimes progress is hard to see behind all the images of violence. But he said progress is indeed being made, and offered up the Iraqi election last Thursday as proof, saying a new constitutional democracy has taken root in the heart of the Middle East.
"For every scene of destruction in Iraq, there are more scenes of rebuilding and hope," he said. "For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed…and for every terrorist working to stop freedom in Iraq, there are many more Iraqis and Americans working to defeat them. My fellow citizens, not only can we win the war in Iraq - we are winning the war in Iraq."
President Bush spoke in rather stark terms, pointing to critics of his Iraq policy, and their calls for an early withdrawal. He said it is important for all Americans to understand the consequences of pulling out of Iraq before "our work is done."
"We would abandon our Iraqi friends, and signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word," he said.
The Oval Office address followed a series of four speeches by the president in the days leading up to the Iraqi election in which he outlined, what he called, his strategy for victory. They were all delivered in the morning hours to audiences of military personnel, or members of private organizations interested in foreign policy matters. In contrast, Sunday's remarks from the Oval Office were aimed directly at the American public and aired during the prime television viewing hours in the evening.
They are all part of an administration effort to build confidence in the president's handling of the Iraq situation at a time when opinion polls show ever-growing public concern about the war. Critics contend the Bush White House is not doing enough to put security in Iraqi hands, and is not applying enough pressure on Iraq's new leaders to amend their recently-adopted constitution to be more inclusive of Sunnis and women.
Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, appeared earlier Sunday on the NBC television network program Meet the Press.
"We have got to change course," he said. "We have got to tell the Iraqis they need to come together politically…not that they have to possibility to come together politically…not that they have a bold constitution when they don't and when they have a divisive constitution. We have got to tell them they need to come together politically or we are going to have to reconsider our presence in Iraq."
Mr. Levin said if the Iraqis do not unify, there will be no way to beat the insurgency.