FORT BENNING, Ga. (AP) – President Bush, surrounded on Thursday by cheering soldiers in camouflage, defended his decision to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq and cautioned that the buildup will not produce quick results. “It’s going to take awhile,” he said.

With Americans overwhelmingly opposed to the increase, Bush said the U.S. commitment to the war was not open-ended – although he put no timetable on how long it would last. While more bloodshed can be expected, Bush said, Americans should give the Iraqi government time to prove its resolve to stop violence and unify the nation.

Fort Benning, south of Columbus, Ga., offered Bush a patriotic backdrop and a friendly audience in which to sell his retooled plan for Iraq, which drew heavy fire on Capitol Hill from Democrats and some Republicans. Some 4,000 members of Fort Benning’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team are being sent to Iraq earlier than planned because of the president’s decision.

“The new strategy is not going to yield immediate results. It’s going to take awhile,” Bush said. “The American people have got to understand that suicide bombings won’t stop immediately.”

Before visiting Georgia, Bush awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham of Scio, N.Y. He was only the second recipient of the nation’s highest military honor from the Iraq war.

“I’ve lost my son, but he became a part of history,” Dunham’s mother, Deb, said after the ceremony. “It still hurts as a parent, but the pride that you have from knowing he did the right thing makes it easier.”

The increase in soldiers is a hard sell. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Thursday said 70 percent of Americans oppose sending more troops. Bush’s overall job approval slumped to 32 percent, a new low in AP-Ipsos polling. Sixty percent think it is unlikely that a stable, democratic Iraqi government will be established.

Outside the gates of the military base, dozens of demonstrators protested the war.

“Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results,” said Jim Steen, an 81-year-old veteran who held a sign that read, “Surge for Peace.”

Some lawmakers have threatened to withhold financial support for an escalating the war. White House counselor Dan Bartlett said that the White House was closely monitoring sentiment in Congress, but he said those who reject the president’s plan before it has a chance to work have the burden of proposing an alternative.

Bush said his new plan has a well-defined mission – something that military leaders have insisted upon if more troops were sent.

“The mission is to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help Iraqis protect the local population, and to ensure that the Iraqi forces that are left behind will be capable of providing the security necessary in the capital city of Iraq. That’s the mission,” he said.

Bush had lunch with about 300 military personnel and their relatives, saw a paratrooper training exercise and met with relatives of 25 soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He met Dave Tainsh, a retired Marine sergeant-major, and his wife, Deb, whose son, 33-year-old Army Sgt. Patrick Tainsh, was killed by a roadside bomb near the Baghdad Airport on Feb. 11, 2004. Deb Tainsh has at least 100 e-mails from parents of fallen soldiers or parents of soldiers who are about to depart for Iraq – all pledging support for Bush.

“Every one of these letters says, ‘Mr. President, we support you,”‘ she said. “The consensus is that they … want him to do everything he can to win this war and that our prayers are with him.”

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