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WAR WITH IRAQ / THE PRESIDENT

Bush Tells Nation That Task May Not Be Quick and Easy

March 23, 2003|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Four days into the conflict, President Bush cautioned Americans against overconfidence Saturday, saying that the military operation against Iraq may turn out to be arduous and that rebuilding the country afterward would require "sustained commitment."

"A campaign on harsh terrain in a vast country could be longer and more difficult than some have predicted. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment," the president said in his weekly radio address to the nation. "Yet whatever is required of us, we will carry out all the duties we have accepted."

Bush also struck a defiant tone, warning Iraqis that U.S. fighting forces mean business.

"This will not be a campaign of half-measures. It is a fight for the security of our nation and the peace of the world, and we will accept no outcome but victory," he said.

The president met with his war council for 90 minutes Saturday morning at Camp David in Maryland, where he is getting a weekend's respite from the White House.

All his top national security advisors attended: Vice President Dick Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. Peter Pace and CIA Director George Tenet.

After the meeting Bush phoned British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the two leaders conferred for half an hour, the White House said. Officials did not provide additional details of the meeting or the conversation with Blair.

The president has no other meetings planned for the weekend. However, aides said he will continue to monitor events and can be in immediate contact with military commanders and advisors.

White House aides say the president has carefully reviewed the war plans and is confident that commanders can implement them without him "micromanaging."

In his brief radio address, Bush expressed concern about the potential loss of civilian life, but said the blame belongs to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"Iraqi officials have placed troops and equipment in civilian areas, attempting to use innocent men, women and children as shields for the dictator's army," the president said. "I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm."

Bush praised U.S. military men and women, saying they "face enemies who have no regard for the conventions of war or rules of morality."

"They are doing their job with skill and bravery, and with the finest of allies beside them. At every stage of this conflict the world will see both the power of our military and the honorable and decent spirit of the men and women who serve," the president said.

He reiterated that the United States had begun the conflict reluctantly, but is now resolute.

"The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force."

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