MANAMA, Bahrain - President Bush said Saturday he is open to the possibility of slowing or stopping plans to bring home more U.S. troops from Iraq, defying domestic demands to speed the withdrawals. Updated on war developments, Bush said the U.S. presence in Iraq will outlast his presidency.
Bush said any decision about troop levels 'needs to be based upon success,' but that there was no discussion about specific numbers when he was briefed by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad.
The first U.S. president to visit Bahrain received a splashy welcome. Sword-waving men in flowing robes and headdresses swayed and danced to rhythmic music in a palace courtyard. The president and King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa were presented with swords and flashed them skyward.
The war, now in its fifth year, was a dominant theme during Bush's stops in Kuwait and Bahrain, two Persian Gulf nations crucial to U.S. military efforts in the region. Kuwait, invaded by Saddam and liberated by a U.S.-led war in 1991, is a major military staging area for the deployment of U.S. troops and equipment. Bahrain is headquarters of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
Bush, speaking to U.S. forces in Kuwait, gave one of his most optimistic assessments of the war. 'There is no doubt in my mind when history was written, the final page will say: Victory was achieved by the United States of America for the good of the world,' he said.
Bush began the day receiving an hourlong briefing from Petraeus and Crocker at Camp Arifjan, the largest U.S. base in Kuwait and home to about 9,000 American troops. Acting on the two men's recommendation a year ago, Bush ordered a buildup of 30,000 U.S. forces in Iraq. In September, again on their advice, Bush announced he would withdraw some troops from by July - essentially the 30,000 in the buildup - but still keep the U.S. level there at about 130,000.
With Petraeus at his side, Bush said, 'My attitude is, if he didn't want to continue the drawdown, that's fine with me, in order to make sure we succeed, see. I said to the general, 'If you want to slow her down, fine. It's up to you.'
Petraeus and Crocker are to give Congress an update on Iraq in March and make a recommendation about troop levels.
'Iraq is now a different place from one year ago,' the president said. 'Much hard work remains, but levels of violence are significantly reduced. Hope is returning to Baghdad, and hope is returning to towns and villages throughout the country.'
Polls show people in the U.S. overwhelmingly oppose the war. The Democratic-led Congress has tried for a year to force Bush to order withdrawals or set deadlines for pullbacks.