President George W Bush admitted on Wednesday that Americans are weary of the Iraq war and defended his decision to send more troops to Iraq before a number of soldiers about to deploy there.
Dozens of camouflage-wearing troops sat quietly at their lunch tables, some joined by family members, as Bush spoke during a visit to this remote base in the high desert of California, where Iraqi-American actors train soldiers to understand Iraq's cultural differences.
"It's a tough war," Bush said in a subdued tone. "The American people are weary of this war."
Bush's comments reflected recognition of the unpopularity of the war, in which more than 3,200 US troops have been killed, as he tries to persuade the Democratic-led US Congress to approve about $100 billion to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without attaching a withdrawal timetable.
Defending his decision to add about 30,000 extra troops to Iraq, Bush said he wants to bring stability to Baghdad and avoid a spread of the conflict into the region that could endanger US ally Israel.
"I had a choice to make," Bush said.
A number of the troops who listened quietly are from units about to rotate into service in Iraq.
Bush renewed his criticism of Democrats for trying to attach pullout timetable deadlines to the war funding legislation.
Democrats who are trying to impose a pullout deadline are "fine, fine people" and patriotic, he said. But "we cannot allow honest differences in Washington" to hurt the troops, he added.
Asked about the ongoing political debate in Washington, the new US commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, said there was no question that everyone wants to see progress.
"Having said that, I'm not sure that hard and fast deadlines are useful in the sense of providing the enemies out here just a time to which they have to hang tough and then know that we would be going," said Petraeus, speaking from Baghdad in a PBS interview.
A Newsweek poll released last weekend said 57 per cent of Americans support the Democrats' plan to begin withdrawing troops and 36 per cent reject it.
"Our troops, their families and the American people can no longer afford an open-ended commitment to keep our troops in the middle of a civil war," said Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Before speaking, Bush toured the base, which includes 12 mock Iraqi villages where Iraqi-Americans train US troops to understand Iraq's culture.