George Bush declared yesterday that America would not be cowed by violent resistance and mounting troop losses in Iraq, and vowed to press on to "total victory" in the war against terrorism, however long it took.
In a vigorous and uncompromising defence of his increasingly contested Iraq policies, Mr Bush said that to retreat in the face of terror would only invite further and bolder attacks. "There will be no retreat," he said. "We are on the offensive against the Saddam loyalists, the foreign fighters and criminal gangs."
Addressing American Legion veterans in St Louis, Mr Bush presented the war in Iraq as a mere chapter in the wider struggle against terrorism. Unabashed by the continuing failure to find any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, he insisted that the "liberation" of Iraq had removed a regime which "built, used and possessed" weapons of mass destruction.
Mr Bush made clear too that America would carry the fight to the terrorists, in line with the post-11 September military doctrine of pre-emptive action to eliminate a perceived threat to US security. It was facing a new kind of war, he said: "We will not wait for known enemies to strike us again." Mr Bush's trenchant, almost swaggering talk, came on the day of a grisly milestone the death of two more US soldiers, one in a roadside ambush in the suburbs of Baghdad, in which two other servicemen were seriously injured. The casualties mean more troops have now been lost since the President proclaimed an end to major combat on 1 May than during the conflict proper. The US death toll in postwar Iraq now stands at 140, two more than the total killed during the invasion itself. Of those who died since, some 66 have perished in ambushes in a growing guerrilla war.
The White House and the Pentagon insist that the resistance is the work of a tiny minority of Saddam loyalists, helped by foreign terrorists who have slipped into the country to harry the occupying Americans. But Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, insisted on Monday that the US had enough troops in Iraq, maintaining that the current violence up to a dozen attacks a day on American forces was "a spike."
Picking up the same theme, Mr Bush claimed that in most of Iraq, solid progress was being made in reconstruction and restoring civil order. The creation of a democratic Iraq in the heart of the Middle East would bring rewards akin to those from the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after the Second World War. But he warned the job would require "a substantial commitment of time and resources" and "hard and sustained effort".
Mr Bush's intransigence is reflected in the administration's unyielding diplomatic stance, despite growing demands from Democrats and others for greater UN involvement in postwar Iraq.
Faced with stiff resistance on the Security Council, Washington yesterday seemed close to abandoning its quest for a new UN resolution sanctioning the deployment of additional foreign forces in Iraq for which Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, made a powerful plea in the wake of the Baghdad car bomb attack.
John Negroponte, the US ambassador to the UN, has admitted that the Council was "nowhere near" agreeing a resolution, while Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, hinted yesterday that the administration might drop the idea entirely.
The dispute is over the role of the UN in any expanded international peace-keeping force in Iraq. Many countries are unwilling to commit troops to occupation without the blessing of the UN, which Washington ignored in the build-up to the war that began on 20 March. Despite the growing difficulties, Washington insists it must remain in charge, even after a UN resolution. If American commanders asked for more troops they would be sent, Mr Rumsfeld said, but no request had been made.
Meanwhile, two other humanitarian groups, Oxfam and Save the Children UK, followed the Red Cross yesterday in announcing cuts in their operations in Iraq, blaming inadequate security.