White House

Bush plans speech to reassure Americans on war's direction

BATON ROUGE, La.—President Bush will outline a "clear strategy" for Iraq in a major speech Monday night, White House aides said Friday, even as top U.S. generals warned Congress that Bush's plan to transfer power to Iraqis by June 30 is likely to spawn more violence.

Bush's speech Monday at 8 p.m. EDT at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., is designed to reassure Americans about the war and the handoff of partial sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30. Bad news from Iraq has helped drive Bush's popularity and job-approval ratings to the lowest point in his presidency and threatens his bid for re-election.

But on Friday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, told the House Armed Services Committee that, far from calming the violence in Iraq, the June 30 turnover is likely to usher in a period of more turmoil, comments echoed by Army chief of staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker.

"The threat will continue to intensify after June 30," Myers said. "There will be those, including (Abu Musab al) Zarqawi and the foreign fighters, who will try very hard to keep us from having any political progress in Iraq. There is reason for great hope, but the situation is not without its challenges, both military and political."

The ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, asked Myers, "Are we on the brink of failure?"

"I don't think so," Myers replied. "It is going to be tough. But I think we are on the brink of success."

Bush spoke briefly about Iraq Friday during a commencement speech at Louisiana State University.

"We have an historic opportunity, the establishment of a peaceful and democratic Iraq at the heart of the Middle East, which will remove a danger, strike a blow against terrorism and make America and the world more secure," the president said. "We will complete the mission for which so many have sacrificed."

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush will speak in far greater detail Monday night about the handoff of power to a yet-to-be-identified Iraqi government, and also about infrastructure, security and humanitarian issues in Iraq, as well as international and diplomatic efforts to improve the situation.

"We are approaching a pivotal phase as we approach the June 30th transfer of sovereignty in Iraq," Duffy said. "And the president looks forward, on Monday evening, to discussing with the American people and with a global audience a clear strategy on how we need to move forward."

As of Friday afternoon, administration officials hadn't asked the networks to carry the speech live, but the White House is clearly hoping for a major television audience.

At the House Armed Services hearing, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., asked Myers if the American forces in Iraq "could get out safely if we were told we had to leave?"

"We have the authority under United Nations resolutions to stay in Iraq," Myers said. "We are NOT going to be asked to leave."

The president, a self-confessed C-student at college, also offered words of wisdom on family, moral values and honor to the graduating class of 3,162 students, and he mixed in several quips.

"Let me begin with a very valuable lesson I've learned—a lesson that has influenced my well-being—and here it is: Listen to your mother," Bush said, to laughter. "My mom has a way of speaking her mind. When I paid attention, I benefited. When I didn't, I paid the price. That's how it still works."

In counseling students to pick their friends carefully, Bush observed that he'd been happy with his choices of companions at his job—``although I wish someone had warned me about all of Dick Cheney's wild partying."