"Americans want our country to be safe and our troops to begin coming home from Iraq," Bush said. "Yet those of us who believe success in Iraq is essential to our security, and those who believe we should bring our troops home, have been at odds. Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home. The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together."
It was the first time Bush had outlined plans for U.S. troop reductions in Iraq. Opposition Democrats, however, said the president, in his speech, had failed to put forth a plan to end the war or to make a convincing argument for continuing it.
Petraeus told Congress in two days of testimony earlier this week that the "surge" in U.S. troops has worked and that military objectives in Iraq are being met. He said he believes U.S. forces can be drawn down by about 30,000 by the summer of 2008. Petraeus and Crocker cited a noticeable improvement of security in Iraq, thanks in large part to the increased troop levels. There are now almost 170,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Bush said U.S. forces will be withdrawn only gradually -- as many as 5,700 by the end of this year -- in order to meet what he called a "moral" duty to Iraq, and to prevent terrorists from taking over a failed Iraq and threaten the United States.
In their testimony, Petraeus and Crocker acknowledged that there has been little progress by the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to pass national legislation furthering reconciliation between the country's Sunni and Shi'a Muslims.
Bush, too, conceded this point in his Oval Office speech, but he said Iraqi leaders are finally taking the first steps necessary to unify their country.
"Iraq's national leaders are getting some things done," Bush said. "For example, they have passed a budget. They are sharing oil revenues with the provinces. They are allowing former Ba'athists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions. Local reconciliation is taking place. The key now is to link this progress in the provinces to progress in Baghdad. As local politics change, so will national politics."
Bush warned again of dire consequences if U.S. forces were to leave Iraq and the country were to be overrun by insurgents led by Al-Qaeda. Bush said the pain would be felt not only in Iraq and the Middle East, but all over the world.
"If we were to be driven out of Iraq, extremists of all strains would be emboldened," Bush said. "Al-Qaeda could gain new recruits and new sanctuaries. Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region. Extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply. Iraq could face a humanitarian nightmare. Democracy movements would be violently reversed. We would leave our children to face a far more dangerous world."
Bush said the United States has a moral imperative to protect innocent Iraqis from militants who continue to target innocent civilians.
Bush repeatedly spoke of his plan as one that can bring all Americans together, including himself and opposition Democrats in Congress. Democrats have been pressing for a more rapid withdrawal since they won a majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives in elections in November 2006.
Polls show the Democrats won those elections in large part because of the Iraq war's unpopularity with the American people. But the Democrats' majority is slim in both houses, and recently the party's leaders have spoken of moderating their efforts to end the war as a way to attract more support from members of Bush's Republican Party.
Unacceptable To Democrats
But Senator Jack Reed, giving the Democratic response to Bush's speech, said the president's plan is unacceptable. He accused the administration of neglecting the needs of Americans -- including war veterans -- while spending $10 billion a month in Iraq.
Reed said Bush evidently hasn't grasped the meaning of everything that Petraeus and Crocker said -- that is, the key to success in Iraq ultimately isn't a military victory.
"Our military can defeat any foe on the battlefield, yet as General Petraeus has repeatedly stated, Iraq's fundamental problems are not military, they are political," Reed said. "The only way to create a lasting peace in Iraq is for Iraqi leaders to negotiate a settlement of their long-standing differences."
Reed concluded that what he called "an endless and unlimited" military deployment in Iraq is unacceptable to the Democrats.