I heard this announcement on the radio yesterday, and my heart sank. I guess I always knew that we were probably going to have to do the full 15 month deployment, but I always had hope that it would get reduced. No hope for that now. Thanks, George, for busting my bubble...
Bush embraces pause in troop cutbacks
By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer
President Bush on Thursday ordered an indefinite halt in U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq after July, embracing the key recommendations of his top war commander. Bush said that Gen. David Petraeus will "have all the time he needs" to consider when more American forces could return home.
Bush's decisions virtually guarantees a major U.S. presence in Iraq throughout his term in office in January, when a new president takes office.
In another major decision, the president announced he will seek to relieve the heavy strain on the Army by reducing the length of combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to 12 months, down from the current level of 15 months. He said the change would take effect on Aug. 1, and would not affect U.S. forces already deployed on the front lines.
Bush said U.S. force have made major gains since he ordered a buildup of about 30,000 U.S. forces. "We have renewed and revived the prospect of success" the president said.
Bush delivered his remarks in the Cross Hall of the White House before an audience of veterans' service groups and Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The president's decision had been foreshadowed by two days of testimony before a skeptical Congress by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. Now in its sixth year, the war has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 U.S. troops and cost more than $500 billion.
Bush said the United States would proceed with planned drawdowns of U.S. forces, bringing home the 30,000 troops he sent to Iraq last year to combat sectarian violence. The additional troops were also intended to help restore basic security and provide a sense of calm to allow Iraqi leaders to attempt to achieve political reconciliation.
While acknowledging that "serious and complex problems remain in Iraq," Bush said that "a major strategic shift" has occurred since the buildup.
"Today we have the initiative," the president said.
Bush also called on Congress to send him a spending bill for Iraq that does not include any timetables for troop withdrawals or exceed the $108 billion he has requested. Last spring, Congress added $17 billion in unrequested domestic add-ons such as children's health care, homeland security and heating subsidies.
Now, Democrats are eyeing using this year's war funding bill to stimulate the economy with road-building funds, additional unemployment benefits, a summer jobs program and additional food stamp benefits. The measure is slated to advance later this spring.
Bush said he would veto the spending measure if Congress fails to meet his conditions.
"While this war is difficult, it is not endless," Bush said in a message directed to troops, but surely to the American public as well.
The president said that only as conditions in Iraq improve will he bring more troops home, a policy he calls "return on success."
"The day will come when Iraq is a capable partner of the United States," Bush said. "The day will come when Iraq's a stable democracy that helps fight our common enemies and promote our common interests in the Middle East."
"And when that day arrives, you'll come home with pride in your success," Bush said to the military and U.S. civilians in Iraq.