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Iraq Transition

Bush: More troops needed for 'long struggle'

Story Highlights

President Bush says insurgents and terrorists "can't intimidate America"
Bush waiting to hear from advisers before proposing military expansion
• Iraq must "stand up, step up and lead" for victory to be achieved, Bush says
• Defense Secretary Robert Gates meets with U.S. generals in Iraq
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The White House is considering an expansion of the U.S. Army and Marines for "the long struggle against radicals and extremists," President Bush said during a Wednesday news conference.

Bush would not elaborate on where that struggle would take place, only that he wanted to ensure that the U.S. military "stays in the fight for a long period of time."

"I'm not predicting any particular theater, but I am predicting that it's going to take a while for the ideology of liberty to finally triumph over the ideology of hate," he said. (Watch why Bush believes "we're going to win" Video)

The president has asked new Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who visited military commanders in Iraq on Wednesday, to report back on how to expand the military.

"We can be smarter about how we deploy our manpower and resources. We can ask more of our Iraqi partners, and we will," Bush said. "I believe that we're going to win. I believe that. And by the way, if I didn't think that, I wouldn't have our troops there."

Bush said that if the Iraqis "stand up, step up and lead," then the U.S. military can help them achieve victory there.

"It's their responsibility to govern their country. It's their responsibility to do the hard work necessary to secure Baghdad. And we want to help them."

The president also acknowledged that the securing of Iraq is made more difficult by the insurgent and sectarian violence there, but he insisted that the United States would not be pushed out of the region.

"I want the enemy to understand that this is a tough task, but they can't run us out of the Middle East -- that they can't intimidate America," he said. "They think they can. They think it's just a matter of time before America grows weary and leaves, abandons the people of Iraq, for example. And that's not going to happen." (Watch why Bush believes a larger Army is in order Video)

Bush rejected the idea that expanding the size of the military would contradict former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's calls for "a lighter, agile Army," saying that he was more concerned about "increasing end strength" for the Army and Marines.

Asked if he would overrule his own military commanders if they opposed a plan to increase troop levels in Iraq, Bush called the question a "dangerous hypothetical."

"Let me wait and gather all the recommendations from Bob Gates, from our military, from diplomats on the ground interested in the Iraqis' point of view and then I'll report back to you as to whether or not I support a surge or not."

Bush said he understands that the American people are troubled by the violence, but he emphasized that victory is still achievable in Iraq.

"I also don't believe most Americans want us just to get out now," he said. "A lot of Americans understand the consequences of retreat. Retreat would embolden radicals. It would hurt the credibility of the United States." (Watch how not even children can escape the violence in Iraq Video)

However, the president said, he will not propose sending more troops to Iraq without a clear purpose.

"There's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops before, you know, I agree on that strategy," he said.

Bush's remarks came as he appeared to say for the first time that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq, adopting the view of Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Bush told The Washington Post in Wednesday's editions, "I think an interesting construct that Gen. Pace uses is, 'We're not winning, we're not losing.' "

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Tony Snow said increasing troop levels was an option under consideration, but that the president had made no concrete decisions on changing his Iraq policy. (Watch how increasing troop levels must involve more than "thickening the mix" Video)

Snow also downplayed the notion that Bush was at loggerheads with the Joint Chiefs over the proposal to increase troops. According to some accounts, the White House is pushing the idea of a surge in troops and the Joint Chiefs oppose it.

"I think people are trying to create a fight between the president and the Joint Chiefs when one does not exist," Snow said at a White House briefing. "What I'm saying is this budding narrative of the president locking horns with the Joint Chiefs is totally inaccurate."

Bush said in the Post interview that he plans to expand the overall size of the U.S. military and is considering a short-term surge in troops in Iraq.

Bush has said he will reveal a new strategy for Iraq next month after considering the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and consulting with Pentagon officials and others.

The president delivered his remarks as Gates arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit to meet with military leaders and other officials. (Watch Gates' chief challenges in Iraq Video)

Gates met Wednesday with Gens. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, and George Casey, the top general in Iraq.

The defense chief was scheduled to meet Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

As he headed for Iraq, Gates said the trip's purpose was to "go out, listen to the commanders, talk to the Iraqis and see what I can learn. ... I expect to learn a lot."

President Bush: "There's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops."

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