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A living history of the Iraq war's exit strategy

What is the exit strategy from the war in Iraq?

It depends on whom you ask, and when.

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is." - George W. Bush, April 9, 1999.

Disclaimer: Some of these transcripts may not be exactly accurate. I have discovered that the White House often 'cleans up' what Mr. Bush actually says to make it more presentable and presidential, removing the 'umm's, 'uhh's, and 'you-know's.

Updated November 06, 2007

Before I turn to questions, a word about Iraq. As we replace U.S. forces serving in Iraq, beginning next year, the level of coalition and U.S. forces will depend on the security situation on the ground and also on the pace at which Iraqi forces, security forces, are able to assume additional responsibilities. But let me be clear. The goal is not to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Iraq. It's not to develop an exit strategy. Our exit strategy in Iraq is success. It's that simple.

The objective is not to leave, the objective is to succeed in our mission. That's why we remain on the offense, doing -- going after the terrorists and regime remnants, rooting them out and capturing them. And we're doing so with the help of a growing number of Iraqis, who are participating in the defense of their country.

In the period ahead, we will be accelerating the training of Iraqi forces, with the objective of going from the level today, which is 118,000 Iraqis in the Army, police, site protection, civil defense and border patrols, 118,000 Iraqis under arms, to somewhere in excess of 220,000 sometime during the year 2004.

Some have suggested that we may have moved too quickly in training and deploying Iraqi forces. It's true, they do not have the same training that coalition forces do, but they bring capabilities that coalition forces do not, capabilities that make them particularly effective.

First, they're Iraqis. They speak the language, they know the culture, they know the people, and they can gain intelligence and develop situational awareness that coalition forces serving even for a year cannot hope to achieve.

Second, because they are Iraqis, they can do things that are more difficult for coalition forces; for example, such as entering mosques and holy sites.

But their role is important in another sense. They are fighting and sacrificing for the freedom of their own country. More than 86 Iraqis have already been killed in battle in the past few months, and more than 150 have been wounded. When young Iraqis study the history of Iraq's liberation, they will read that foreign troops were not the only ones who fought and died for the liberation of the 23 million Iraqi people; that Iraqis struggled and sacrificed for their country's freedom as well. And that's important for the future of Iraq.

The Ba'athist remnants and their foreign terrorist allies are not at war just with the coalition, they are at war with their own people, and it's a war they will lose.

-Donald Rumsfeld, Foreign Press Center Briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld, November 10, 2003



"The terrorists are attacking the successes that are occurring. They are killing an increasingly large number of Iraqis -- an Iraqi woman member of the Governing Council, and Iraqis graduating from the Police Academy, and the like. But those attacks will not deter the coalition. We will stay in Iraq as long as necessary to finish the job. The president has said unambiguously that he will stay the course, and that is exactly what we will do, to the great benefit of the Iraqi people, the region and the world."

- Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on Iraq, October 30, 2003


"Iraq's dangerous, and its dangerous because terrorists want us to leave, heh, and we're not leaving." LISTEN


Q Thank you, Mr. President. You recently put Condoleezza Rice, your National Security Advisor, in charge of the management of the administration's Iraq policy. What has effectively changed since she's been in charge? And the second question, can you promise a year from now that you will have reduced the number of troops in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: The second question is a trick question, so I won't answer it.


"The terrorists rely on the death of innocent people to create the conditions of fear that, therefore, will cause people to lose their will. That's their strategy. And it's a pretty clear strategy to me. And this country will stay the course. We'll do our job. And it's to our interest that we do our job. It's in our interest we do our job for a free world. A free Iraq is essential to creating conditions of peace. See, that's what this is all about. This is, how do we achieve a peaceful tomorrow; how do we do our duty for our children and our grandchildren?"

- George W. Bush, October 28, 2003 Press Conference


'The goal of our coalition is to help the Iraqi people build a stable, just and prosperous country that poses no threat to America or the world. To reach that goal, we are following a clear strategy. First, coalition forces in Iraq are actively pursuing the terrorists and Saddam holdouts who desperately oppose freedom for the Iraqi people. Secondly, we are committed to expanding international cooperation in the reconstruction and security of Iraq. And third, we are working closely with Iraqi leaders as they prepare to draft a constitution, establish institutions of a civil society, and move toward free elections."

- George W. Bush, Radio Address, October 11, 2003


"We are following a clear strategy with three objectives: Destroy the terrorists, enlist international support for a free Iraq, and quickly transfer authority to the Iraqi people. Through a series of ongoing operations, our military is taking direct action against Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists. One major effort underway right now, called Operation Longstreet, is seeking and finding our enemies wherever they hide and plot. Already, this operation has yielded hundreds of detainees and seized hundreds of weapons, and we will remain on the offensive against the terrorists.

We are expanding international cooperation in rebuilding Iraq. Today in Geneva, Secretary of State Powell is meeting with Secretary General of the United Nations and representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council. They are discussing ideas for a new resolution to encourage wider participation in this vital task.

And we're moving forward on a specific plan to return sovereignty and authority to the Iraqi people. We have created a governing council made up of Iraqi citizens. The council has selected a committee that is developing a process through which Iraqis will draft a new constitution for their country. Day to day operations of many government tasks have been turned over to ministers appointed by the Governing Council. And when a constitution has been drafted and ratified by the Iraqi people, Iraq will enjoy free and fair elections, and the coalition will yield its remaining authority to a free and sovereign Iraqi government.

We have a strategy in Iraq and a mission. We will fight and defeat the terrorists there, so we don't have to face them in America. And we will help transform Iraq into an example of progress and democracy and freedom that can inspire change and hope throughout the Middle East."

- George W. Bush, Radio Address, September 13, 2003


Q: What is the U.S. exit strategy in Iraq?

Rumsfeld: It's what I just described. It is to see that we work with the Iraqis to pass off to them political responsibility for their country -- they already have a cabinet, they already have a governing council, they already have city councils all across that country, they're working on a constitutional process -- and see that they assume more and more of that responsibility as fast as they're capable of doing it. That's our goal. And the same thing's true with respect to security. That's our exit strategy.

- Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld Remarks at National Press Club Luncheon, September 10, 2003


Copyright © 2003 by Federal News Service Inc.

In Iraq, as elsewhere, freedom and self-government are hated and opposed by a radical and ruthless few. American, British and other forces are facing remnants of a fallen regime and other extremists. Their attacks follow a pattern. They target progress and success. They strike at Iraqi police officers who have been trained to enforce order. They sabotage Iraqi power grids that we're rebuilding. They are the enemies of the Iraqi people.

Defeating these terrorists is an essential commitment on the war on terror. This is a duty we accept. This is a fight we will win. We are being tested in Iraq. Our enemies are looking for signs of hesitation. They're looking for weakness. They will find none. Instead, our forces in Iraq are finding these killers and bringing them to justice.

And we will finish the task of helping Iraqis make the challenging transition to democracy. Iraq's governing council is now meeting regularly. Soon the council will nominate ministers and propose a budget. After decades of tyranny, the institutions of democracy will take time to create. America and Britain will help the Iraqi people as long as necessary. Prime Minister Blair and I have the same goal -- the government and the future of Iraq will be in the hands of the people of Iraq.

The creation of a strong and stable Iraqi democracy is not easy, but it's an essential part on the war against terror. A free Iraq will be an example to the entire Middle East, and the advance of liberty in the Middle East will undermine the ideologies of terror and hatred. It will help strengthen the security of America and Britain and many other nations.

By helping to build and secure a free Iraq, by accepting the risks and sacrifice, our men and women in uniform are protecting our own countries, and they're giving essential service in the war on terror. This is the work history has given us, and we will complete it.

- George W. Bush, Press Conference of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, July 17, 2003


...we'll put together a force structure who meets the threats on the ground. And we've got a lot of forces there, ourselves. And as I said yesterday, anybody who wants to harm American troops will be found and brought to justice. There are some who feel like that if they attack us that we may decide to leave prematurely. They don't understand what they're talking about, if that's the case.

Let me finish. There are some who feel like -- that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring them on. We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation. Of course we want other countries to help us -- Great Britain is there, Poland is there, Ukraine is there, you mentioned. Anybody who wants to help, we'll welcome the help. But we've got plenty tough force there right now to make sure the situation is secure. We always welcome help. We're always glad to include others in. But make no mistake about it -- and the enemy shouldn't make any mistake about it -- we will deal with them harshly if they continue to try to bring harm to the Iraqi people.


And so we'll stay the course in Iraq. As I said, there's people there that would like to run us out of there, create the conditions where we get nervous and decide to leave. We're not going to get nervous, and we're not leaving until we accomplish the task. And that task is going to be a free country run by the Iraqi people. And that, in turn, will help the peace in the Middle East. That, in turn, will bring stability in a part of the world that needs stability. And I am -- I'm optimistic about achieving this objective because I believe that people want to be free. I believe it's in the nature of the individual to love freedom and embrace freedom.

- George W. Bush, July 2, 2003


Q And then just on the exit strategy, what's the exit strategy in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Iraq does not fit the same category as what the President was talking about there. The President, when he began this, said to the American people that this will be a war in which we cannot predict its outcome. We can predict with certainty what the outcome will be, but not the duration of the outcome. And so the President has never put a specific timetable on it. He was very direct with the American people about that and he said it would be as long a necessary, but not a day longer.

Q But he did say that whenever he committed troops around the world, it would be in our vital national interest and there would be an exit strategy. He made the case that Iraq was in the vital national interest --

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question there's an exit strategy. The exit strategy is just as the President said today, that we will see this mission through, to complete the mission so that Iraq can be stable, that Iraq can be secure, that Iraq is on a path to democracy. Those are the criteria the President has laid out. And the President is not putting a specific timetable on it because it's such an important mission, he will see it through -- and then bring our troops home.

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer , July 2, 2003


"We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We're pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime who will be held to account for their crimes. We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated. We are helping to rebuild Iraq where the dictator built palaces for himself instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by and for the Iraqi people. The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done, and then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq."

- George W. Bush, Remarks by the President from the USS Abraham Lincoln, May 1, 2003

"Mission Accomplished"


May, 2003, Protest in Iraq. Circa May 9, 2003

May, 2003, Protest in Iraq. Circa May 1, 2003

April, 2003, Protest in Iraq. Circa April 19, 2003

"American and coalition forces are steadily advancing against the regime of Saddam Hussein. With each new village they liberate, our forces are learning more about the atrocities of that regime, and the deep fear the dictator has instilled in the Iraqi people. Yet no crime of this dying regime will divert us from our mission. We will not stop until Iraq is free"

Village by village, city by city, liberation is coming. The people of Iraq have my pledge: Our fighting forces will press on until their oppressors are gone and their whole country is free."

- George W. Bush, Radio Address, April 5, 2003


"And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people. ... All families with loved ones serving in this war can know this: Our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done....Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. This will not be a campaign of half-measures. It is a fight for the security of our nation and the peace of the world, and we will accept no outcome but victory."

- George W. Bush, Radio Address, March 22, 2003


"Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people, and once Saddam Hussein's regime is removed, we intend to see that functional and political authority is placed in the hands of Iraqis, as quickly as is possible. Coalition forces will stay only as long as necessary to finish the job, and not a day longer."

- Donald Rumsfeld, March 20, 2003


"I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm. A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment. We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people. I know that the families of our military are praying that all those who serve will return safely and soon. Millions of Americans are praying with you for the safety of your loved ones and for the protection of the innocent. For your sacrifice, you have the gratitude and respect of the American people. And you can know that our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done."

- George W. Bush, March 19, 2003, address to the nation


“We have great information. They’re going to welcome us. It’ll be like the American Army going through the streets of Paris. They’re sitting there ready to form a new government. The people will be so happy with their freedoms that we’ll probably back ourselves out of there within a month or two.”

- Vice President Dick Cheney, trying to persuade Dick Armey, the Republican House majority leader, who was skeptical about a war on Iraq, in a private meeting, September, 2002.

The Imperial Presidency, Doug Mills/The New York Times, By ANTHONY LEWIS, Published: November 4, 2007


If you know of any other instances where a top official describes the exit strategy (or non-exit strategy) from Iraq, please email the information to me.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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What is the Iraq war's official exit strategy?


Page created on February 7, 2005



"To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." - Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals - Nuremberg, Germany 1946


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, some of the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


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