Bush rejects war protesters' calls

Withdrawal from Iraq would weaken U.S. effort against terrorists, he says

August 24, 2005|By Peter Wallsten | Peter Wallsten,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BOISE, Idaho - Stepping up their response to an antiwar movement that has gained momentum in recent weeks, President Bush and his aides said yesterday that heeding protesters' wishes to withdraw troops from Iraq would "weaken" the United States' broader efforts to combat terrorism.

Bush made his remarks in a surprise appearance during a vacation day at an Idaho mountain resort, arguing that the views espoused by Cindy Sheehan, mother of a slain soldier and the founder of an antiwar encampment near the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, did not represent the opinions of most of the military families he has met.

It was a new line of argument from Bush and coincided with an announcement that he would spend time today with National Guard families during a stop near Boise.

"There's a lot of people protesting, and there's a lot of points of view about the Iraq war," said Bush, clad in blue jeans and a fleece jacket as he spoke with a small group of reporters at the resort, about 80 miles north of the state capital. "As you know, in Crawford last weekend there were people from both sides of the issue - or from all sides of the issue - there to express their opinions."

At Fort Lewis, Wash., in June 2004, Bush met briefly with Sheehan and other members of her family - as he does regularly with families of fallen soldiers, including the meetings today - but she has demanded to see him face to face.

"I understand her anguish," Bush said. "I met with a lot of families. She doesn't represent the view of a lot of the families I have met with. And I'll continue to meet with families."

Bush's comments come amid signs that the protest movement, backed by a number of well-financed liberal organizations, is continuing to build its network and sharpen its message.

More than 1,000 opponents of the Iraq war rallied Monday in Salt Lake City, just blocks from a convention center where Bush defended his policies to 15,000 members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. A much smaller rally was held in Boise yesterday, where organizers set up more than 1,800 small wooden crosses representing dead U.S. troops and read each name aloud.

Referring to Bush's suggestion yesterday that Sheehan did not reflect the views of many families who have lost relatives in Iraq, another mother protesting in Crawford, Karen Meredith of Mountain View, Calif., said that the president was "fooling himself" and that he had met with only a small fraction of families of slain soldiers.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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