WASHINGTON, March 27, 2008 – U.S. strategic interests are best served by finishing the job in Iraq, President Bush said today during a visit to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. “The reality is that retreating from Iraq would carry enormous strategic costs for the United States,” Bush told an audience at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

Last year’s deployment of more than 30,000 extra U.S. forces to Iraq, known as the “surge,” achieved what it was designed to do, Bush said. U.S. military officials have said the surge was conducted to provide security and breathing space so the Iraqi government could establish itself against its enemies.

Current U.S. military plans call for the removal of most of the surge troops from Iraq by the end of July. Critics have called for even more troop reductions or even a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

A premature pullout from Iraq “would incite chaos and killing, destroy the political gains the Iraqis have made, and abandon our friends to terrorists and death squads,” Bush said. Leaving Iraq now would endanger that country’s oil industry and could disrupt the world’s economy, the president said.

Terrorists would be emboldened by a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, Bush said. A premature U.S. pullout from Iraq would result in “a propaganda victory of colossal proportions for the global terrorist movement,” he said, adding that the terrorists would conclude they could “bleed” the United States into submission.

An early withdrawing of U.S. troops from Iraq also would be a signal to the people of the Middle East that the United States doesn’t keep its word, the president said.

Conversely, staying to assist Iraqis in defeating their enemies and establishing a democracy “would be a strategic victory that would resound far beyond Iraq’s borders,” Bush declared. “If the Middle East grows in freedom and prosperity, the appeal of extremism will decline, the prospects of peace will advance, and the American people will be safer here at home,” he said.

Bush said he will carefully consider recommendations on the way ahead in Iraq provided by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military and diplomatic leaders, including Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker.

“I’ll announce my decisions soon after I have fully met with them and heard their recommendations,” Bush said. “And, as I consider the way forward, I will always remember that the progress in Iraq is real, it’s substantive, but it is reversible.”

Therefore, his presidential decision about U.S. troop levels in Iraq would be based on “ensuring that we succeed in Iraq,” Bush said.

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