The president says he is concerned about the loss of life and knows many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq.
"But we can not allow our dissatisfaction to turn into disillusionment about our purpose in this war."
During a roughly hour-long session with reporters, the president described the situation in Iraq in somber terms, highlighting both progress and setbacks. But he stressed again that the stakes are high, saying the conflict in Iraq is essential to America's security.
"If I did not think our mission in Iraq was vital to America's security, I would bring our troops home tomorrow."
I have met too many wives and husbands who have lost their partners in life, too many children who will not ever see their mom or dad again. I owe it to them and the families that still have loved ones in harms way to ensure that their sacrifices are not in vain.
Mr. Bush said timetables for a withdrawal, as suggested by many of his political opponents, are not an option. But he spoke of the importance of setting benchmarks, or goals, and striving to meet them. The president stressed there are steps the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must take to bring down the violence, making clear Iraq's fate is ultimately in the hands of its elected leaders.
"In the end, the Iraq people and their government will have to make the difficult decisions necessary to solve these problems."
Earlier, in Baghdad, Prime Minister Maliki angrily warned the United States not to dictate timetables to end the violence. The president said he understands just how tough the prime minister's job is, adding the United States will push for action, but only so far.
"We are pressing Iraq's leaders to take bold measures to save their country. We are making it clear that America's patience is not unlimited. Yet we also understand the difficult challenges Iraq's leaders face and we will not put more pressure on the Iraqi government than it can bear."
President Bush said the prime minister has the difficult task of trying to not only curb the bloodshed, but reconcile the various factions in Iraq. He said it is in America's interest to help the Iraqi leader succeed in his effort to build a unified country.
But Mr. Bush made clear America's tactics in Iraq are shifting over time, much as the tactics of the enemy have evolved over the duration of the war. The president, who used to use the term "stay the course" to describe his policy on Iraq, put the emphasis on flexibility.
"Our mission is to help the elected government in Iraq defeat common enemies, to bring peace and stability to Iraq and make our nation more secure. Our goals are unchanging. We are flexible in our methods toward achieving those goals."
The president was asked if the coming U.S. election is a referendum on Iraq. He said it is a referendum on which political party can build the economy and keep the American people safe, noting success in Iraq is central to U.S. national security.