News-wise, it wasn't exactly the ideal day for President Bush to hold a press conference. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and most cable news channels headlined reports of gloom and doom: "Al-Qaida Has Rebuilt, U.S. Intel Warns," "A Nuclear Ruse Uncovers Holes in U.S. Security" and "CIA Said Instability Seemed 'Irreversible'."
But, ever the optimist, at the press conference Bush insisted, "I believe we can succeed" in Iraq.
As he spoke, the White House released a 25-page report that details the Iraqi government's progress on 18 benchmarks, including militia disarmament, training of Iraqi forces, and reducing sectarian violence. Of those 18, eight received "satisfactory" marks, eight received "unsatisfactory" marks, and two had "mixed" progress that could not, said Bush, "be characterized one way or the other." A leak about the report earlier in the week had characterized the report as even bleaker than it ended up being, lowering expectations. Still, it was slightly different from what Congress had asked the administration to produce, and in a way that would favor the administration's position. The New York Times reported today that "The administration's decision to qualify many of the political benchmarks will enable it to present a more optimistic assessment than if it had provided the pass-fail judgment sought by Congress when it approved funding for the war this spring."
The president acknowledged that just as he looked at the report with a glass-half-full attitude, others might not:
"Those who believe that the battle in Iraq is lost will likely point to the unsatisfactory performance on some of the political benchmarks," he said. "Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism."
Bush said he relied on the judgment of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, and asked for patience.
Asked about congressional attempts to force deadlines for troop withdrawal, Bush was adamant: "I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding our troops. I'm certainly interested in their opinion. But trying to run a war through resolution is a prescription for failure, as far as I'm concerned, and we can't afford to fail."
Near the end of the press conference, Bush fell back on his trusty "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" strategy: "The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that's why what happens in Iraq matters to security here at home."
The president conceded that "there's war fatigue in America, and it's affecting our psychology," but he said he refused to let "the Gallup poll or whatever poll (sic) there are decide the fate of the country."