"When you're risking your life to accomplish a mission, the last thing you want to hear is that mission being questioned in our nation's capital," he told cadets. "I want you to know that, while there may be a lot of heated rhetoric in Washington, D.C., one thing is not in dispute: The American people stand behind you."
Bush's public standing and support for the war have declined. In an AP-Ipsos poll taken in November, 62 percent said they disapproved of his Iraq policy,and his overall job approval rating dropped to 37 percent, the lowest level of his presidency.
The president spoke of "an increased focus on leadership training" to build a core of midlevel and higher ranking officers needed to guide and lead an Iraqi force that can operate on its own.
It takes years to develop a strong officer core, and the process has been a particular struggle in Iraq. The deficiency was highlighted recently when Iraqis put out a call for more former officers from Saddam Hussein's army to rejoin the armed forces. Bush did caution it would take "time and patience" to train enough Iraqi forces to carry the fight.
"As the Iraqi forces grow in number, they're helping to keep a better hold on the cities taken from the enemy," he said.
Indeed, large Shiite cities in the south now are largely controlled by Iraqi forces. But throughout central and northern Iraq, cities that are either Sunni Arab or ethnically or religiously mixed have proved more difficult to stabilize.
In Samarra, only 100 of the 700 police on the city payroll are showing up for work most days, even as U.S. soldiers prepare this week to turn over control of the inner city to Iraqi forces. The Americans tried twice before to do that in the city of 200,000 but failed when insurgents moved against police.
As he did before the invasion, Bush tied Iraq to terrorism, to make the case that a stable Iraq would make for a safer America.
He declared, "The terrorists have made it clear that Iraq is the central front in their war against humanity. And so we must recognize Iraq as the central front in the war on terror."
Iraq was not, however, the terrorists' chosen battlefield until Saddam was defeated and extremists poured across unsecured borders.
Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this story