WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea to provide stability but not in a frontline combat role, the White House said on Wednesday.
The United States has had thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea to guard against a North Korean invasion for 50 years.
Democrats in control of the U.S. Congress have been pressing Bush to agree to a timetable for pulling troops from Iraq, an idea firmly opposed by the president.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush would like to see a U.S. role in Iraq ultimately similar to that in South Korea in which “you get to a point in the future where you want it to be a purely support model.”
“The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you’ve had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability,” Snow told reporters.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement he believes it is time for Bush to “recognize the reality on the ground in Iraq,” that U.S. troops are mired in an Iraqi civil war and a change in course is urgently needed.
“Democrats know that Americans demand realistic plans, not more White House rhetoric, rosy predictions and best-case scenarios. Our troops and the American people deserve better,” Reid said.
Iraq’s neighbors have raised concerns about the possibility of the United States maintaining permanent bases in Iraq, and some U.S. lawmakers have said they think the Iraqi insurgency may have been fueled by perceptions the United States wants a permanent presence in the country.
Washington has consistently denied wanting permanent bases in Iraq.
Snow said U.S. bases in Iraq would not necessarily be permanent because they would be there at the invitation of the host government and “the person who has done the invitation has the right to withdraw the invitation.”
“I think the point he’s (Bush) trying to make is that the situation in Iraq, and indeed, the larger war on terror, are things that are going to take a long time. But it is not always going to require an up-front combat presence,” Snow said.
“The president has always said that ultimately you want to be handing primary responsibility off to the Iraqis,” he said.
“You provide the so-called over-the-horizon support that is necessary from time to time to come to the assistance of Iraqis but you do not want the United States forever in the front.”