US President George W. Bush said on Tuesday that the decision about when to withdraw all US troops from Iraq will fall to future presidents and Iraqi leaders, suggesting that US involvement will continue at least through 2008.
Acknowledging the public's growing unease with the war -- and election-year skittishness among fellow Republicans -- the president nonetheless vowed to keep US soldiers in the fight.
"If I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there," Bush declared.
He also stood by embattled Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
"I don't believe he should resign. He's done a fine job. Every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy," he said.
In his second major news conference of the year, Bush confronted his political problems by addressing them directly.
"Nobody likes war. It creates a sense of uncertainty in the country," he said. "War creates trauma."
He acknowledged that Republicans are worried about their political standing in November.
"There's a certain unease as you head into an election year," Bush told a wide-ranging news conference that lasted nearly an hour.
At an Air Force base in Illinois, Vice President Dick Cheney accused some Bush administration critics on Tuesday of being too quick to argue that the Iraq war cannot be won and of underestimating a continuing threat of terrorist attacks.
Part of a broad effort to counter polls that show waning public support for the war and for Bush personally, Cheney emphasized what the administration has said is underreported evidence of improvement in Iraq. He also took on those who have been questioning Bush's approach in the three-year-old war.
"A few seem almost eager to conclude that the whole struggle is already lost," Cheney told an enthusiastic military audience. "But they're wrong."
More than 2,300 Americans have died in three years of war in Iraq. Polls show the public's support for the war and for Bush himself have dramatically declined in recent months. The public's support for the war and the president himself has declined dramatically in recent months, jeopardizing his second-term agenda.
The Bush news conference marked a new push by Bush to confront doubts about his strategy in Iraq. A day earlier, he acknowledged to a sometimes skeptical audience that there was dwindling support for his Iraq policy and that he understood why people were disheartened.
"The terrorists haven't given up. They're tough-minded. They like to kill," he said on Tuesday. "There will be more tough fighting ahead."
Bush said he did not agree with former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi, who told the BBC on Sunday: "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."
Bush said others inside and outside Iraq think the nation has stopped short of civil war.
"There are other voices coming out of Iraq, by the way, other than Mr Allawi, who I know by the way -- like. A good fellow," Bush said. "But the way I look at the situation is, the Iraqis looked and decided not to go into civil war."
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