Bush Meets with US Military Leaders on Iraq

President Bush met with top American military leaders Friday, two weeks before he is scheduled to send a report to Congress on progress in Iraq. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports.

President Bush went to the Pentagon Friday to meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The session was originally meant to deal primarily with issues of housing and health care for military families, but they also discussed the long-term impact of keeping 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

The progress those troops have been making will be central to the president's September 15 report to Congress more than four years after the U.S.-led invasion.

In a written statement following the Pentagon meeting, President Bush said the status report on his decision to send more troops to Iraq will assess what is going well, what can be improved, and what adjustments might be made in the coming months. As Congress asked for the assessment, Mr. Bush says legislators should withhold judgment until they have heard it.

Many opposition Democrats, and some legislators from the president's own Republican Party, say it is time to start planning for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

White House officials say President Bush will make no decisions until after hearing from U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and the top commander there, General David Petraeus.

But in remarks earlier this week to America's largest veterans' group Mr. Bush made clear that he believes withdrawing from Iraq now will make the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

"Imagine an Iraq where al-Qaida has established sanctuaries to safely plot future attacks on targets all over the world, including America," he said. "We've seen what these enemies will do when American forces are actively engaged in Iraq. And we can envision what they would do if they were emboldened by American forces in retreat."

President Bush told the American Legion Tuesday that winning the war in Iraq is central to broader peace in the Middle East and the safety of Americans at home.

"The challenge in Iraq comes down to this: either the forces of extremism succeed or the forces of freedom succeed," he said. "Either our enemies advance their interests in Iraq or we advance our interests. The most important and immediate way to counter the ambitions of al-Qaida and Iran and other forces of instability and terror is to win the fight in Iraq."

In his written statement Friday, the president said the stakes in Iraq are too high and the consequences too grave to allow politics to harm the mission of U.S. forces. He said he hopes both parties can put partisanship and politics behind them and commit to a common vision to give troops what they need to secure what he called America's vital national interests in Iraq.

While White House officials say there is no doubt the troop reinforcements have made a difference in Iraq, Congressional investigators in the Government Accountability Office say Iraq has failed to meet 15 of 18 benchmarks for political and military progress.

The White House says Congress set the bar too high and that what Americans are most interested in is not whether those benchmarks have been met, but whether there has been continuing progress toward those goals.

A CBS News poll this month shows more than two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the war. A separate survey released this week by UPI says more than half of Americans believe the United States has not lost the war in Iraq. About one-third of those surveyed in that poll believe victory is not possible.