Bush: No decision on bringing more troops home from Iraq

Speaking at military base in Kuwait, US president says "hope is returning" to Iraq thanks to surge.

Bush is our hero! 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush is our hero! 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. President Bush said Saturday that he has made no decision on bringing more US troops home from Iraq, and if his top commander does not want to go beyond the reduction of forces that's already planned, "that's fine with me." "The only thing I can tell you is we're on track for what we've said was going to happen," Bush said, referring to plans to withdraw some 30,000 troops from Iraq by July. He spoke at a sprawling, dusty brown US military base here, the largest in Kuwait and home to 9,000 American troops. Bush said the build-up of US troops in Iraq that he ordered one year ago has turned the country into a place where "hope is returning." And he predicted a US force presence in Iraq that would long outlast his presidency. "We must do all we can to ensure that 2008 will bring even greater progress," Bush said. He said long-term success in Iraq in vital to stability in the Mideast, and warned that the United States should not turn its back on its friends. Bush maintained his long-held stance that a reduction in force levels will depend on conditions in Iraq, and that he would defer to the top US commander there, Gen. David Petraeus, who is scheduled to make a recommendation in March. "My attitude is if he didn't want to continue the drawdown, that's fine with me," Bush said. The top two American authorities in Iraq - Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker - are due to give Congress a new update on the war in March. After their report in September, Bush announced he would withdraw some troops from Iraq by July - essentially the 30,000 sent as part of a buildup ordered a year ago - but still keep the US level there at about 130,000. Bush said he and his top general didn't talk about specific troop levels. Instead, Bush said they discussed the parameters for continuing to assess the situation leading into the March report, including Bush's edict that "any position he recommends needs to be based upon success." "That's what happened the last time," he said. "It's that same principle that's going to guide my decision. I made that clear to the general," Bush said. He defended his decision a year to order a buildup of troops to Iraq, the one that is now scheduled to essentially phase out by this summer. "The new way forward I announced a year ago changed our approach in fundamental ways," he said. "Iraq is now a different place from one year ago." Bush also defended the progress made by the central government in Baghdad, which has lagged in passing legislative reforms seen as key to tamping down the sectarian violence that still plagues the country and hampers other progress. "What they've gone through to where they are now is good progress," Bush said, adding it still isn't enough. "I'm not making excuses for the government," he added. "They have got more work to do." Bush's comments came during an eight-day trip to the region, as he pivoted from Mideast peacemaking to the war that has defined his presidency.