President Bush Monday continued to push his fantasies that the Iraq war is going well although the stubborn Republican begrudgingly admitted the U.S. still faces a long, tough road.
Bush’s approval ratings have fallen to the lowest levels of his presidency in part because of growing pessimism about Iraq. Some prominent Republicans have openly questioned whether the administration’s upbeat statements match events on the ground.
Yet Bush remains blindly adamant that things are better than they seem, statements that fly in the face of mounting American and Iraqi death tolls and increased violence in the unstable country.
Asked if he agreed with Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that the insurgency was in its “last throes,” Bush replied that he understood “how dangerous it is there,” adding: “I think about Iraq every day, every single day.
“And the report from the field is that while it’s tough, more and more Iraqis are becoming battle-hardened and trained to defend themselves. And that’s exactly the strategy that’s going to work. And we will, we will complete this mission,” Bush told a joint news conference with European Union leaders.
Lawmakers have also questioned administration assertions about the number of Iraqi troops that have been trained. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, predicted on Sunday that it will be “at least” two years before U.S. troops can pull out.
“Too often we’ve been told and the American people have been told that we’re at a turning point,” said McCain, who described Cheney’s characterization as inaccurate.
Another top Republican, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, was quoted by U.S. News and World Report as saying the White House was “disconnected from reality” in its optimism over the war.
“Things aren’t getting better; they’re getting worse… It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we’re losing in Iraq,” Hagel said.
Bush said he spoke to Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, on Monday, and will talk to Gen. George Casey, top U.S. commander in Iraq, this week to get “an assessment as to how we’re proceeding.”
“We’re making progress toward the goal, which is, on the one hand, a political process moving forward in Iraq, and on the other hand, the Iraqis capable of defending themselves,” Bush said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush’s views were based on assessments from military commanders on the ground. He defended Cheney’s “last throes” comment, saying he was referring to the “great progress made in going after the al Qaeda network in Iraq.”
Bush has begun shifting more of his focus to Iraq to try to shore up support for the war and his personal standing.
He will host Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari at the White House on June 24 and deliver a speech about Iraq on June 28 to mark the first anniversary since the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis from a U.S.-led coalition.
Fifty-one percent of Americans believe the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, according to a New York Times/CBS poll published on Friday.