AFP: US President George W. Bush on Thursday warned that a hasty pull-out from Iraq would ruin fragile progress there and convince extremists and Iran that the United States is a “paper tiger.” LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AFP) US President George W. Bush on Thursday warned that a hasty pull-out from Iraq would ruin fragile progress there and convince extremists and Iran that the United States is a “paper tiger.”
“Failure in Iraq would embolden the extremists. Failure in Iraq would say to thugs and killers, the United States is a paper tiger,” Bush said in a speech here. “Failure in Iraq would embolden Iran.”
Bush also painted his most rosy picture in months of the situation in Iraq, but left open the possibility that he could leave office in January 2009 with more US troops there than before he “surged” 30,000 more soldiers last year.
“You know, a lot of folks say, well, what’s next, Mister President? And my answer is, we have come too far in this important theater in this war on terror not to make sure that we succeed,” he said.
Bush noted that roughly 20,000 more US troops were expected to come home by July, but emphasized that “any further troop reductions will be based upon commanders and conditions.”
And the unpopular president left no doubt that the US public’s lack of support for the war would not shape his decisions on troop levels — despite the potential political peril for his party ahead of November elections.
“I will be making decisions based upon success in Iraq. The temptation, of course, is for people to say, well, ‘make sure you do the politically right thing.’ That’s not my nature,” he said.
“The surge is working,” Bush said.
“Markets that were once shut down in dismal places as a result of attacks are beginning to come back and flourish, and life is improving dramatically. Baghdad, the capital, which was once subject to unbelievable sectarian violence, is improving, and life is returning — and that’s positive,” he said.
Bush had promised the crackdown would quiet sectarian violence that he blamed for thwarting Iraqi national reconciliation and that Iraqi security forces would be in charge of the whole country by November.
But 2007 proved the deadliest year for US troops since the 2003 invasion, major political progress has been elusive, and Iraqi officials have suggested that it may not be until 2012 that they can assume full control of security.
Bush said that reconciliation was working at a local level, and that the Baghdad government was sharing oil revenues with the provinces — downplaying elusive national reconciliation, and a law codifying oil revenue sharing.
White House officials say they expect to know more about troop levels after a progress report, expected in March or April, from the US ambassador in Baghdad and the commander of US forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus.