Ottawa, Ontario (CNSNews.com) - President Bush for the first time on Tuesday voiced frustration with the progress being made by the Iraqi government, but he remained optimistic that democracy can thrive in the Middle East.
"Clearly, the Iraqi government has got to do more through its parliament to help heal the wounds of years -- having lived years under a tyrant," Bush said in a news conference in Montebello, Quebec, during his trilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
Bush was responding to criticism of the war launched Monday by Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who told reporters after his weekend trip to Iraq that "there is a deepening consensus that the only hope of ending that violence is political compromise between the leaders of the feuding groups."
Levin called the government run by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "non-functional" and said it "cannot produce a political settlement because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders."
"So, I hope that the Iraqi assembly, when it reconvenes in a few weeks, will vote the Maliki government out of office, and it will have the wisdom to replace it with a less sectarian and a more unifying prime minister and government," Levin said.
"I think there's a certain level of frustration with the leadership in general," Bush said, criticizing the Iraqi government's "inability to work, to come to get, for example, an oil revenue law passed or provincial elections."
"And if the government doesn't demand, respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government," Bush added. But he said the American government wouldn't require that changes be made. "That's up to the Iraqis to make that decision, not American politicians. The Iraqis will decide."
Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer, in discussing the Maliki government, told Fox News Channel on Monday: "Well, if you get it coming from the mouth of Senator Levin, who's a Democrat, has been a real critic of the war, it's very important. It shows that the perceptions here are beginning to catch up with the realities on the ground. The reality on the ground is that there has been a change. The surge has had some success.
"Levin is right about the Maliki government, and I would agree with him that it would be good if the assembly would change the government - perhaps, either by rearranging it and having a new coalition, or by having new elections," he added.
Levin is wrong, however, to conclude that the next step is for U.S. troops to withdraw, said Krauthammer. "It's mistaking ends and means," he said. "The reason that we want reconciliation out of the government in Baghdad is as a way to tamp down the Sunni insurgency and to defeat al Qaeda."
Bush remained optimistic that political progress will be made in Iraq, noting that "it's not easy to go from a tyrannical society where the tyrant brutalized his people and created deep suspicions into one in which people are willing to work more closely together."
Bush also pointed to progress already made. "The Iraqi people made a great step toward reconciliation when they passed the most modern constitution in the Middle East, and now their government has got to perform," he said, adding that "the Iraqi parliament has met and passed 60 different pieces of legislation."
Bush reinforced his commitment to seeing democracy stabilized in Iraq because of the positive effects it could have on the broader region. He suggested critics of the process are not interested in protecting American interests.
"Does it matter whether or not this young democracy survives? Is it in our national interests that this difficult experiment with democracy in the Middle East work?" Bush asked. "It's in our interests, because a failed Iraq could easily yield a safe haven from which the extremists and radicals who once attacked us could attack us again."
"[I]f you don't believe it's in American interests to be there, you won't find any political reconciliation that is, that is worth defending," Bush said. "If you do think it's in our interests, our security interests, then you'll be able to see political reconciliation taking place, some at the top and some at the bottom."
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