THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

28. US Efforts Defended

Two weeks before receiving a major assessment of the war in Iraq, President Bush gave a ringing defense of the war effort Tuesday in a speech that sounded like he'd already made up his mind to stay and fight.

Bush hailed security gains, defended middling progress by Iraqi leaders and argued that the future of the entire Middle East would rise or fall on the outcome.

"It's going to take time for the recent progress we have seen in security to translate into political progress," Bush told a friendly audience at the American Legion's national convention. "Leaders in Washington need to look for ways to help our Iraqi allies succeed, not excuses for abandoning them."

Bush argued that withdrawing American forces would allow the Middle East to be taken over by extremists and put the security of the United States in jeopardy. By contrast, he said, continuing to fight is "the most important and immediate way" to put the strategic, struggling region on a path to democracy, economic expansion and stability that is inhospitable to terrorists.

Democrats criticized Bush's approach.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Bush "continues to stubbornly pursue a flawed strategy" that has failed to deliver in Iraq, diverted attention from battling al-Qaida, and depleted the military's ability to respond to other crises. "A change of course in Iraq is long overdue" and will be pressed by the Democrats who control Congress, Reid said.

The Iraq report due to Congress by Sept. 15 requires Ryan Crocker, Bush's envoy in Baghdad, and the top U.S. general in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, to measure whether the 30,000 additional U.S. forces Bush ordered in January are improving security enough to create an environment for lasting political progress. The pair also is to say whether Iraqis are performing well on mutually agreed benchmarks.

The president said there is reason to be hopeful about Iraqi leaders' efforts, particularly at the local and regional levels. Many benchmarks also are being met in effect without legislation, he said, noting that oil revenues are being shared among provinces without the passage of a law to require it.

He praised a weekend pact among leading Iraqi politicians on some other issues that have blocked national reconciliation. However, the Iraqi parliament still must codify the agreements - something that has repeated fallen apart in the past. The deal was not enough to bring the main Sunni Arab political bloc back into the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The president used Iran's ambitions for increased global power as one argument for why failure in Iraq would cause the region to fall apart and the world to become more dangerous.

He accused Iran's leadership of trying to destabilize Iraq, saying, "I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities." And he said that a precipitous U.S. departure from Iraq would lead Tehran to "conclude that we were weak," accelerate its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and touch off an atomic arms race in the already volatile Middle East.

At least 3,728 military members have died in the more than four-year-old war in Iraq - by JENNIFER LOVEN, AP.