Camp Liberty, Baghdad Province: This afternoon, The Long War Journal had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting with President George Bush and a group of select military bloggers, which including Matthew Burden from Blackfive, Mrs. Greyhawk from the Mudville Gazette, Ward Carroll from DefenseTech, and Mohammed from Iraq the Model. Bill Ardolino flew in from Fallujah and joined me at the 3rd Infantry Division headquarters at Camp Victory to conduct a video teleconference with the White House.
The discussion centered around the war. After President Bush stated his vision on the scope of the war and the importance of blogs in providing an additional view of the conflict not often seen in the established media, the attendees were able to conduct a question and answer session with the President.
I posed the following question to President Bush: We are fighting hot wars on two major fronts: Iraq and Afghanistan. In both conflicts, there are safe havens fueling the insurgencies in these nations. The Taliban and al Qaeda have regrouped and built redoubts in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and are attacking the Pakistani government and military, striking from their safe havens into Afghanistan. Syrian ratlines run into Iraq and feed al Qaeda and the insurgency. Iran actively arms and trains Shia terrorists, and is building Iraqi Hezbollah. Iran is also arming the Taliban in Iraq. With the current blurring of the lines between domestic politics and foreign policy, and the unwillingness of the American people to fight the current war, how do you get the American public to support the current and future conflicts?
President Bush recognized the serious problems that exist in Iraq and Afghanistan due to the outside influences of the governments of Iran and Syria, and the inherent dangers of the existing al Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan. He stated the answer to dealing with the problems lies in diplomatic pressure on the Iranian and Syrian regimes and continued engagement with Pakistani President Musharraf.
On Iran, President Bush acknowledged the theocratic regime is fomenting the Shia insurgency inside Iraq. “There is no question explosively formed projectiles are funneled from Iran to Iraq. We’re going to follow the advice of Ambassador Crocker,” who stated “you’re now on notice.”
The diplomatic approach has not halted the EFP attacks, President Bush admitted, but he believes this has given the Iranian government pause. “We will continue to pressure these regimes,” he stated. “Has it stopped the EFPs? No. Has it got their attention? Yes.” President Bush also stated US forces are aggressively pursuing Iranian-backed Shia terrorists (the Special Groups and “rogue” Mahdi Army) inside Iraq.
President Bush said US, NATO, and Afghan security forces preempted the Taliban’s much touted spring offensive in Afghanistan with aggressive combat operations. There was a “spring offensive of US and Coalition troops” that blunted the Taliban plans to establish safe havens throughout the country.
President Bush recognized the gathering strength of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan, but continued to pin hopes on President Pervez Musharraf. “Musharraf, in my judgment, is the best ally we have in Pakistan,” while noting al Qaeda’s command elements have been revitalized in the trouble nation. “Have they reconstituted in Pakistan? Yeah.”
He stated Pakistan has been a steadfast ally in the fight against al Qaeda, and has worked hard to disrupt the terror group. “If you are number three in al Qaeda, you’ve had a rough go,” President Bush said, referring to the numerous operations chiefs al Qaeda lost in Pakistan, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu al Libi. “We’ve been effective against al Qaeda’s leaders.”
The key to keeping the US public lies in national will. President Bush noted later in the interview that Americans continue to volunteer for the military, knowing the hardship the long deployments have on soldiers and their families. To continue the struggle, “We must stay engaged and not be fearful. The US must be resolved” to continue the fight against the “extremists” threatening the United States.
Read President Bush’s response to Bill Ardolino’s question about the Iraqi government’s support of the provinces, specifically Anbar.
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