By JOHN HOLUSHA Published: March 21, 2006 Declaring that the war in Iraq can still be won, President Bush continued his effort today to convince the public that the war was necessary and worth the sacrifices involved.
He acknowledged that the war was cutting into the "political capital" that he claimed after his re-election in 2004. "I'd say I'm spending that capital on the war," he said.
During an hourlong televised news conference at the White House, Mr. Bush asserted that terrorist groups still wanted to use Iraq as a safe haven to launch attacks on the United States and that the continuing attacks on American troops and Iraqi security forces were part of an effort to drive the United States out of the country before a stable government could be established.
"If I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there," Mr. Bush said. "I wouldn't put those kids there."
Vice President Dick Cheney echoed Mr. Bush's basic themes in remarks to a military audience at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. "Progress has not come easily, but it has been steady, and we can be confident going forward."
Mr. Cheney said American troops and Iraqi forces trained by Americans "played a vital role in maintaining public order" following the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra last month.
"There is no doubt that the situation in Iraq is still tense," he said.
Mr. Bush acknowledged that the length of the war, now entering its fourth year and the number of American deaths over 2,300, had contributed to his falling approval ratings and made Republican members of Congress nervous as the fall midterm elections approach.
"Nobody likes war, he said. "It creates as sense of uncertainty in the country. War creates trauma."
Mr. Bush once again refused to set any timetable for the full withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, saying any such decision will fall to "future presidents and future governments of Iraq." This seemed to suggest that American forces would be in the country until 2009.
Mr. Bush defended Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, even though some critics have called for his resignation, citing his performance in handling the military occupation of Iraq. "I don't believe he should resign. He's done a fine job," he said noting that Mr. Rumsfeld had directed that fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan while reforming the structure of the military.
He denied suggestions that his administration came in office spoiling for a war in the Middle East as a way of stabilizing the region by injecting democracy. "I didn't want a war," he said. "To assume I wanted a war is just flat wrong."
Mr. Bush said he had sent a message to the leaders of Iran not to interfere with events in Iraq. He said the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, had initiated contact with Iranian officials at his instruction.
"He asked whether or no it made sense for him to be able to talk to a representative in Baghdad," Mr. Bush said. "I said absolutely. You make it clear to them that attempts to spread sectarian violence or to maybe move parts that could be used for I.E.D. is unacceptable to the United States."
Roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D., have been responsible for many American casualties in Iraq, and there have been charges that insurgents using them were supplied from Iran.
The news conference came a day after Mr. Bush traveled to Cleveland to give a speech and answer questions about the war and other issues. Today, he said, "I can understand how Americas are worried about whether or not we can win."
He said most Americans wanted to see a victory, "but they are concerned about whether or not we can win."
The president again said he did not believe that Iraq was sliding into sectarian civil war, as a former Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, said over the weekend.
"We all recognized that there is violence, that there is sectarian violence," Mr. Bush said. "But the way I look at the situation is, the Iraqis looked and decided not to go to civil war."
He said an Iraqi government of national unity was in the process of being formed.
Mr. Bush also commented on domestic issues, acknowledging that his plan to revamp Social Security "didn't get done." He said that Congress was reluctant to address an issue of such political sensitivity and that it had to be addressed on a bipartisan basis.
He also rejected suggestions that amnesty be granted to illegal immigrants who have been working in this country for a long time and raised families here. Those people, he said, "have to get in line" to apply for legal status.