Bush says "sober judgment" dictates troops must stay in Iraq

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AP) - His war policies under siege at home, U.S. President George W. Bush said Saturday there would be no early troop withdrawal because "sober judgment" must prevail over emotional calls to end the military mission be...

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AP) - His war policies under siege at home, U.S. President George W. Bush said Saturday there would be no early troop withdrawal because "sober judgment" must prevail over emotional calls to end the military mission before Iraq is stabilized.

"We will fight the terrorists in Iraq. We will stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory that our brave troops have fought for," Bush told thousands of American troops spilling out of a cold hangar at this U.S. military installation south of Seoul. "The defense of freedom is worth our sacrifice."

The speech added the president's voice, from thousands of kilometers (miles) away, to a nasty debate in Congress over his Iraq policies and the timing of any U.S. withdrawal. It also continued a rapid-fire White House counterattack against the president's newly aggressive war critics.

Bush spoke at the end of a three-day stay in South Korea, laying over here for little more than an hour after meetings with 20 other Pacific Rim leaders in Busan, South Korea. Immediately after speaking, he left for China _ the most anticipated segment of his weeklong Asian swing.

Bush arrived in Beijing Saturday evening to good news on a difficult front in the U.S.-China relationship, a massive trade deficit that hit a record US$162 billion (?138 billion) last year. China planned to announce Sunday that it is making a large purchase _ 70 737 aircraft _ from Chicago-based Boeing Co., a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not been made.


The White House warmly welcomed China's purchase as a demonstration of success in U.S. efforts to get China to follow through on promises to reduce the trade imbalance.

"It's a very important thing, and I think it's a testament to how our approach to China is yielding real results," said Mike Green, senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council. "In this case, an order for 70 737 aircraft from Boeing."

Democrats have seized on the indictment of a top White House aide in the CIA leak case to question whether the president deceptively portrayed prewar intelligence on whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons were Bush's main justification for war, but none were found.

An AP-Ipsos poll earlier this month found a significant drop in the share of Americans saying Bush is honest. Also, with the U.S. death toll now above 2,080 in Iraq, nearly two-thirds of the country disapproves of Bush's conduct of the war.

Underscoring those worries, unwelcome news poured out of Iraq Friday. Suicide bombers detonated explosives at two Shiite mosques in Khanaqin, near the Iranian border, killing at least 74 worshippers during noon prayers. In Baghdad, a pair of car bombs targeted a hotel housing Western journalists and killed several Iraqis nearby.

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill have become willing to question Bush on Iraq _ albeit carefully _ amid fears that the public's concerns will affect next year's midterm congressional elections.

Earlier this week, the Republican-controlled Senate voted down a Democratic push for Bush to outline a withdrawal timetable, but supported telling the president to outline a strategy for "the successful completion of the mission" in Iraq.

Washington's weeklong clash over Iraq policy continued Friday, fueled by the call from prominent defense hawk and decorated Vietnam war veteran, John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, for the nearly 160,000 troops to be brought home.


Murtha introduced a resolution saying troops should be withdrawn "at the earliest practicable date." House Republican leaders countered with an alternative that, in calling for an immediate withdrawal, was designed to be soundly defeated. An overwhelming vote of 403-3 did just that in late-night session but only after an acrimonious, personal debate over the war.

The fireworks prompted Bush to insert lines into his long-planned speech to troops. The White House released them nine hours before Bush delivered his speech to ensure they would make newspaper deadlines and evening newscasts back home.

The president said a pullout from Iraq would create a home base for terrorists to launch attacks on the United States and moderate Arab nations. But he skipped the scorched-earth rhetoric against Democratic critics that he has employed in two other speeches in the last week.

"In Washington, there are some who say that the sacrifice is too great, and they urge us to set a date for withdrawal before we have completed our mission. Those who are in the fight know better," Bush said, wearing a brown leather bomber jacket over dress pants. "So long as I am the commander in chief, our strategy in Iraq will be driven by the sober judgment of our military commanders on the ground."

Before flying to the base, Bush attended the closing meetings of the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the port city of Busan. The 21 APEC leaders hoped to inject urgency into stalled global talks on a worldwide free-trade accord by pushing Europe to make key concessions. They also pledged unity in preventing a potential bird flu pandemic and combatting terrorism.

Now Bush turns to a two-day state visit in China. The communist giant is a vast and growing market for American goods, undertaking a military buildup that worries U.S. officials and using its economic might to increasingly assert itself globally.

Taking center stage in Sunday's meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao are bird flu fears _ China reported its first human cases this week _ and sticky trade issues beyond the trade deficit. The United States is demanding that China complete moves toward a market-based currency and fulfill promises to better protect copyrights of American software and movies.

Bush also planned to continue his push to maintain a unified front among all the U.S. partners in talks aimed at stripping North Korea of nuclear weapons. After sitting down with Hu, Bush will have met on this trip with all four other participants in the negotiations, which also include South Korea, Japan and Russia.


The president also was hoping to gently press for democratic advances in China. Through a pre-trip meeting in Washington with the Dalai Lama, advance interviews with foreign reporters and a speech earlier in the week in Kyoto, Japan, Bush has emphasized the need for greater religious freedom. He intends to underline that point by worshipping at a government-approved church in Beijing.


AP White House Correspondent Terence Hunt contributed to this report from Beijing.

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