President Bush, on Wednesday offered a fresh endorsement to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "Prime Minister Maliki's a good guy, good man with a difficult job and I support him,'' Bush said in a speech to military veterans.
"And it's not up to the politicians in Washington, D.C., to say whether he will remain in his position,'' Bush said. "It is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy and not a dictatorship.''
The president's comment was meant to dispel the impression he left on Tuesday that he was distancing himself from al-Maliki in advance of a new assessment of the war and political conditions in Iraq. On Tuesday, Bush expressed frustration at the lack of progress, saying it was up to the Iraqi people to decide whether to replace those in power. The remark brought an angry response from al-Maliki who said, "No one has the right to place timetables on the Iraq government. It was elected by its people.''
National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the president's words were not intended to signal a withdrawal of support for al-Maliki. Thus, Bush decided to insert a direct line of support for al-Maliki in his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference.
"Prime Minister Maliki knows where the president stands,'' Johndroe told reporters ahead of Bush's speech.
Bush's expression of support for al-Maliki came in a speech arguing the case for remaining in Iraq despite doubts and frustrations. "As long as I am commander in chief we will fight to win,'' Bush said. "I'm confident that we will prevail.''
"Our troops are seeing the progress that is being made on the ground,'' Bush said. "And as they take the initiative from the enemy, they have a question: 'Will their elected leaders in Washington pull the rug out from under them just as they are gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq?' Here's my answer: We'll support our troops, we'll support our commanders, and we will give them everything they need to succeed.