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Bush: Congress can't stop troop increase

Story Highlights

• Bush: "Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude"
• Bush: Not worried about legacy
• Bush: This administration has been "straight" with Americans
• Bush: "Discouraged" by video of Hussein's execution
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress cannot reverse last week's decision to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq, President Bush said in an interview intended to rally popular support for his plan.

"Frankly, that's not their responsibility," Bush said in an interview on the CBS News program "60 Minutes," which aired Sunday.

"It's my responsibility to put forward the plan that I think will succeed. I believe if they start trying to cut off funds, they better explain to the American people and the soldiers why their plan will succeed," the president said.

Some Democrats, including Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, have called on Congress to block Bush from committing more troops to Iraq, either by limiting the number of troops that can be committed or by cutting off funds for further deployments. (Watch congressional reaction to plan Video)

Asked if he believes that he, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, has the authority to order troops to Iraq in the face of congressional opposition, Bush said, "In this situation, I do, yeah."

"I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it," he said. "But I made my decision, and we're going forward."

He said Iraqis should be thankful for all the United States has done for them since the invasion nearly four years ago.

"I think I am proud of the efforts we did," Bush said.

"We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude. That's the problem here in America: They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq."

As he did in his Wednesday speech, when he announced the deployment of more troops to the nearly 4-year-old war, Bush acknowledged his administration made mistakes in Iraq.

Bush allowed that low troop levels "could have been a mistake," that led to a widespread breakdown in law and order after the March 2003 invasion. The president also cited other mistakes, including the abuse of inmates at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison -- where pictures of U.S. troops mistreating prisoners led to international condemnation -- and his use of "bad language" like his July 2003 challenge to the then-budding insurgency: "Bring 'em on."

"I think history is going to look back and see a lot of ways we could have done things better. No question about it," he said. But despite the mistakes, he said he did not feel he owes the Iraqi people an apology.

"Not at all," he told CBS.

With his popularity ratings in the gutter and support for the war flagging, Bush said he recognizes that the war "hadn't gone as well as I had hoped at this point in time." But he said the dismal reviews do not affect his outlook.

"Quite the contrary. My spirits are strong, and I'm-- I'm-- I'm-- I'm blessed to be the president," he said.

"I really am not the kind of guy that sits here and says, 'Oh, gosh, I'm worried about my legacy.' I'm more worried about making the right decisions to protect the United States of America. See, we're in a war. People want to come and attack you and attack our country. I understand criticism. But I've got a pretty thick hide."

The president bridled at the suggestion that he has been less than forthcoming with the American people about such matters as the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the lack of any connection between the September 11, 2001 attacks and Iraq, and predictions that the war would cost about $50 billion -- far short of the current $400 billion price tag.

"I strongly reject that this administration hasn't been straight with the American people," he said. "The minute we found out they didn't have weapons of mass destruction, I was the first to say so."

And he rejected a growing chorus of calls for U.S. forces to leave the country to the Iraqis to sort out for themselves -- a view held by some Americans.

"I would hope they'd want us to succeed before we get out," he said. "If the government falls apart, it'll invite Iran into the Shiite neighborhoods, Sunnis, Sunni extremists into the Sunni neighborhoods, Kurdish separatist movements."

He also rejected the suggestion that the U.S. invasion created more instability in Iraq than it eliminated.

"Well, our administration took care of a source of instability in Iraq," he said. "Envision a world in which Saddam Hussein was rushing for a nuclear weapon to compete against Iran."

Both U.S. and UN officials have said since the invasion that Saddam Hussein's nuclear program was dismantled after the 1991 Gulf War.

A CIA-led survey of Iraq's weapons programs concluded in 2004 that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had halted work toward a nuclear bomb in 1991, under U.N. sanctions that ended the Persian Gulf War.

Bush said he was discouraged by video of Saddam Hussein's hanging showing the Sunni being taunted by Shiite guards moments before the execution. "They could have handled it a lot better," he said.

Bush, who has said he does not use e-mail, said he watched the video on the Internet, but turned away before the ousted dictator fell through the trap door of the gallows.


SPECIAL REPORT

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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