(photo credit: )
President George W. Bush held up Israel as a model for defining success in Iraq, saying Thursday that the goal of the US mission in the war-ravaged Arab nation is not eliminating attacks but enabling a democracy that can function despite continuing violence.
With his Iraq policies under increasing fire from the American public and lawmakers from both parties, Bush went to the US Naval War College here to declare progress. As he pleaded for patience, his top national security aide went to Capitol Hill to meet with Republican critics.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, delivered a lengthy floor speech earlier this week contending that Bush's war strategy will not have time to work and that US troops should start leaving now.
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley met with Lugar and others including Republican Senator John Warner. Hadley would not discuss the meetings, but Warner said a defense policy bill that is expected to attract several war-related amendments in July was a main topic.
The White House thought it had until an expected September assessment by military commanders to deal with political fallout on the unpopular war.
But criticism is mounting now. A majority of senators now believes that troops should start coming home within the next few months. And House Republicans are calling to revive the independent Iraq Study Group to give the nation new options.
Bush sought in his speech to put the brakes on these efforts. He said that success in Iraq would usher in "a dawn of a Middle East where leaders are at peace with their own people, where children enjoy the opportunities their parents only dreamed of, and where America has new allies in the cause of freedom."
He characterized the fight in Iraq, where tensions between Shiite and Sunni factions have kept the country in a cycle of violence, as primarily one against al-Qaida forces and their use of grisly suicide attacks and car bombings to sow chaos and despair.
"They understand that sensational images are the best way to overwhelm the quiet progress on the ground," Bush said.
But in some of his plainest terms yet, he laid out how to define when the US presence in Iraq has achieved its goals.
"Our success in Iraq must not be measured by the enemy's ability to get a car bombing in the evening news," he said. "No matter how good the security, terrorists will always be able to explode a bomb on a crowded street."
He suggested Israel as a model.
There, Bush said, "Terrorists have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks. The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it's not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that's a good indicator of success that we're looking for in Iraq."
It was likely to be controversial - and possibly even explosive - for Bush to set out Israel as a model for a Muslim Middle Eastern nation. Israel has been locked for decades in an intractable dispute with Palestinians in the neighboring occupied territories, a conflict that is viewed as a major recruiting tool for Islamic extremist groups like al-Qaida.
What America is aiming for in Iraq, Bush said, is "the rise of a government that can protect its people, deliver basic services for all its citizens and function as a democracy even amid violence."
The president ordered 21,500 additional US combat troops to Iraq in January, as an effort to increase security in Baghdad and nearby Anbar Province to a level that would allow political reconciliation and progress. With those troops finally all deployed, Bush on Thursday ticked through the details of operations in several areas, declaring with the aid of maps and charts on screens that flanked him that progress already is being made in many places.
He said sectarian murders, after spiking up in May, are now down substantially from January levels. Car bombings and suicide attacks continue, but were down in May and June. He cited "astonishing signs of normalcy" such as soccer matches and crowded markets.
"We got them there and now we're beginning to move and there are hopeful signs," Bush said. "The fight has been tough - it's a tough fight and it's going to remain difficult. We've lost some good men and women and even as our troops are showing some success in cornering and trapping al Qaida, they face a lot of challenges."
The president asked lawmakers and the public to give the effort a chance.
"It's a well-conceived plan by smart military people," he said. "And we owe them the time, and we own them the support they need to succeed."
Afterward, Bush took a few questions, including one from a woman who asked "with all due respect" how much the president listens to military officers when making decisions about the war. "A lot," he replied.
Outside, about 100 anti-war protesters held signs saying "Shame," "Impeach," and "War is never the answer." It was Bush's first presidential visit to Rhode Island, a heavily Democratic state where opinion polls show he is extremely unpopular.
The president spent time privately after his speech with families of soldiers killed in Iraq.