RIGA - President George W. Bush, under pressure to change direction in Iraq, said Tuesday he will not be persuaded to withdraw American troops before the country is stabilized.
“There’s one thing I’m not going to do, I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete,” Bush said in a speech setting the stage for meetings with the Iraqi prime minister later this week. “We can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren.”
A bipartisan panel on Iraq is finalizing recommendations on Iraq. The group, led by former U.S. secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic representative Lee Hamilton of Indiana, is expected to present recommendations to Bush next month.
The New York Times reported Monday that the commissioners are expected to debate the feasibility of withdrawal timetables.
Recent U.S. elections added fuel to the argument from Democrats that U.S. soldiers need to withdraw. But Bush has resisted that, even while projecting the need for a different approach.
“We’ll continue to be flexible and we’ll make the changes necessary to succeed,” the president said.
Bush pushed back against skeptics of his stated goal of spreading democracy across the Middle East. “I understand these doubts but I do not share them,” he said.
In Riga to attend a NATO summit, Bush also enlisted renewed commitments from the NATO allies that have deployed 32,000 troops to Afghanistan.
He said NATO commanders must have the resources and flexibility to do the job, an apparent reference to the fact that only a handful of countries - primarily Canada, Britain, the United States and the Netherlands - are deployed in the dangerous southern provinces against a resurgent Taliban.
“Defeating them will require the full commitment of our alliance,” Bush said.
The countries fighting in the south want others, such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain, that are operating in more secure northern areas, to reduce restrictions on their forces to give NATO commanders more flexibility to use them where they’re most needed.
Bush said he hoped the alliance will be able to offer membership to Croatia, Macedonia and Albania in 2008.
Speaking from Russia’s doorstep in a former Soviet republic, he also reiterated U.S. support for future NATO membership for Georgia, as well as Ukraine if it makes the necessary democratic reforms.
“The United States believes in NATO membership for all of Europe’s democracies that seek it,” the president said.