Prime-Time News Conference
April 13, 2004
Before I take your questions, let me speak with the American
people about the situation in Iraq.
This has been tough weeks in that country. Coalition forces
have encountered serious violence in some areas of Iraq.
Our military commanders report that this violence is being
instigated by three groups. Some remnants of Saddam Hussein's
regime, along with Islamic militants, have attacked coalition
forces in the city of Fallujah. Terrorists from other countries
have infiltrated Iraq to incite and organize attacks.
In the south of Iraq, coalition forces face riots and
attacks that are being incited by a radical cleric named
al-Sadr. He has assembled some of his supporters into an
illegal militia and publicly supported the terrorist groups
Hamas and Hezbollah.
Al-Sadr's methods of violence and intimidation are widely
repudiated by other Iraqi Shia. He's been indicted by Iraqi
authorities for the murder of a prominent Shia cleric.
Although these instigations of violence come from different
factions, they share common goals. They want to run us
out of Iraq and destroy the democratic hopes of the Iraqi
The violence we have seen is a power grab by these extreme
and ruthless elements. It's not a civil war. It's not a
popular uprising. Most of Iraq is relatively stable. Most
Iraqis by far reject violence and oppose dictatorship.
In forums where Iraqis have met to discuss their political
future, and in all the proceedings of the Iraqi Governing
Council, Iraqis have expressed clear commitments. They
want strong protections for individual rights. They want
their independence. And they want their freedom.
America's commitment to freedom in Iraq is consistent
with our ideals and required by our interests. Iraq will
either be a peaceful, democratic country or it will again
be a source of violence, a haven for terror and a threat
to America and to the world.
By helping secure a free Iraq, Americans serving in that
country are protecting their fellow citizens. Our nation
is grateful to them all and to their families that face
hardship and long separation.
This weekend, at a Fort Hood hospital, I presented a Purple
Heart to some of our wounded, had the honor of thanking
them on behalf of all Americans.
Other men and women have paid an even greater cost. Our
nation honors the memory of those who have been killed,
and we pray that their families will find God's comfort
in the midst of their grief.
As I have said to those who have lost loved ones, we will
finish the work of the fallen.
America's armed forces are performing brilliantly, with
all the skill and honor we expect of them. We're constantly
reviewing their needs. Troop strength now and in the future
is determined by the situation on the ground. If additional
forces are needed, I will send them. If additional resources
are needed, we will provide them.
The people of our country are united behind our men and
women in uniform, and this government will do all that
is necessary to assure the success of their historic mission.
One central commitment of that mission is the transfer
of the sovereignty back to the Iraqi people. We have set
a deadline of June 30th. It is important that we meet that
As a proud, independent people, Iraqis do not support
an indefinite occupation, and neither does America. We're
not an imperial power, as nations such as Japan and Germany
can attest. We're a liberating power, as nations in Europe
and Asia can attest as well.
America's objective in Iraq is limited, and it is firm.
We seek an independent, free and secure Iraq.
Were the coalition to step back from the June 30th pledge,
many Iraqis would question our intentions and feel their
hopes betrayed. And those in Iraq who trade in hatred and
conspiracy theories would find a larger audience and gain
a stronger hand.
We will not step back from our pledge. On June 30th, Iraqi
sovereignty will be placed in Iraqi hands.
Sovereignty involves more than a date and a ceremony.
It requires Iraqis to assume responsibility for their own
Iraqi authorities are now confronting the security challenge
of the last several weeks.
In Fallujah, coalition forces have suspended offensive
operations, allowing members of the Iraqi Governing Council
and local leaders to work on the restoration of central
authority in that city. These leaders are communicating
with the insurgents to ensure an orderly turnover of that
city to Iraqi forces, so that the resumption of military
action does not become necessary.
They are also insisting that those who killed and mutilated
four American contract workers be handed over for trial
In addition, members of the Governing Council are seeking
to resolve the situation in the south. Al-Sadr must answer
the charges against him and disband his illegal militia.
Our coalition is standing with responsible Iraqi leaders
as they establish growing authority in their country. The
transition to sovereignty requires that we demonstrate
confidence in Iraqis. And we have that confidence. Many
Iraqi leaders are showing great personal courage, and their
example will bring out the same quality in others.
The transition to sovereignty also requires an atmosphere
of security, and our coalition is working to provide that
We will continue taking the greatest care to prevent harm
to innocent civilians, yet we will not permit the spread
of chaos and violence. I have directed our military commanders
to make every preparation to use decisive force if necessary
to maintain order and to protect our troops.
The nation of Iraq is moving toward self-rule, and Iraqis
and Americans will see evidence in the months to come.
On June 30th, when the flag of a free Iraq is raised, Iraqi
officials will assume full responsibility for the ministries
of government. On that day, the transitional administrative
law, including a bill of rights that is unprecedented in
the Arab world, will take full effect.
The United States and all the nations of our coalition
will establish normal diplomatic relations with the Iraqi
government. An American embassy will open, and an American
ambassador will be posted.
According to the schedule already approved by the Governing
Council, Iraq will hold elections for a national assembly
no later than next January. That assembly will draft a
new permanent constitution, which will be presented to
the Iraqi people in a national referendum held in October
of next year.
Iraqis will then elect a permanent government by December
15, 2005 -- an event that will mark the completion of Iraq's
transition from dictatorship to freedom.
Other nations and international institutions are stepping
up to their responsibilities in building a free and secure
Iraq. We're working closely with the United Nations envoy,
Lakhdar Brahimi, and with Iraqis to determine the exact
form of the government that will receive sovereignty on
The United Nations Election Assistance Team, headed by
Karina Perelli, is in Iraq developing plans for next January's
election. NATO is providing support for the Polish-led,
multinational division in Iraq. And 17 of NATO's 26 members
are contributing forces to maintain security.
Secretary of State Powell and Secretary of State Rumsfeld
and a number of NATO defense and foreign ministers are
exploring a more formal role for NATO, such as turning
the Polish-led division into a NATO operation and giving
NATO specific responsibilities for border control.
Iraqis' neighbors also have responsibilities to make their
region more stable. So I'm sending Deputy Secretary of
State Armitage to the Middle East to discuss with these
nations our common interest in a free and independent Iraq,
and how they can help achieve this goal.
As we've made clear all along, our commitment to the success
and security of Iraq will not end on June 30th. On July
1st and beyond, our reconstruction assistance will continue
and our military commitment will continue.
Having helped Iraqis establish a new government, coalition
military forces will help Iraqis to protect their government
from external aggression and internal subversion.
The success of free government in Iraq is vital for many
A free Iraq is vital because 25 million Iraqis have as
much right to live in freedom as we do.
A free Iraq will stand as an example to reformers across
the Middle East.
A free Iraq will show that America is on the side of Muslims
who wish to live in peace, as we've already shown in Kuwait
and Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan.
A free Iraq will confirm to a watching world that America's
word, once given, can be relied upon, even in the toughest
Above all, the defeat of violence and terror in Iraq is
vital to the defeat of violence and terror elsewhere and
vital, therefore, to the safety of the American people.
Now is the time, and Iraq is the place, in which the enemies
of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized
world. We must not waver.
The violence we are seeing in Iraq is familiar. The terrorists
who take hostages or plants a roadside bomb near Baghdad
is serving the same ideology of murder that kills innocent
people on trains in Madrid, and murders children on buses
in Jerusalem, and blows up a nightclub in Bali and cuts
the throat of a young reporter for being a Jew.
We've seen the same ideology of murder in the killing
of 241 Marines in Beirut, the first attack on the World
Trade Center, in the destruction of two embassies in Africa,
in the attack on the USS Cole, and in the merciless horror
inflicted upon thousands of innocent men and women and
children on September the 11th, 2001.
None of these acts is the work of a religion. All are
the work of a fanatical political ideology. The servants
of this ideology seek tyranny in the Middle East and beyond.
They seek to oppress and persecute women.
BUSH: They seek the death of Jews and Christians and every
Muslim who desires peace over theocratic terror. They seek
to intimidate America into panic and retreat, and to set
free nations against each other. And they seek weapons
of mass destruction, to blackmail and murder on a massive
Over the last several decades, we've seen that any concession
or retreat on our part will only embolden this enemy and
invite more bloodshed. And the enemy has seen, over the
last 31 months, that we will no longer live in denial or
seek to appease them.
For the first time, the civilized world has provided a
concerted response to the ideology of terror -- a series
of powerful, effective blows.
The terrorists have lost the shelter of the Taliban and
the training camps in Afghanistan. They have lost safe
havens in Pakistan. They lost an ally in Baghdad. And Libya
has turned its back on terror.
They've lost many leaders in an unrelenting international
manhunt. And perhaps more frightening to these men and
their movement, the terrorists are seeing the advance of
freedom and reform in the greater Middle East.
A desperate enemy is also a dangerous enemy. And our work
may become more difficult before it is finished. No one
can predict all the hazards that lie ahead or the cost
that they will bring.
Yet, in this conflict, there is no safe alternative to
resolute action. The consequences of failure in Iraq would
Every friend of America in Iraq would be betrayed to prison
and murder, as a new tyranny arose. Every enemy of America
in the world would celebrate, proclaiming our weakness
and decadence, and using that victory to recruit a new
generation of killers.
We will succeed in Iraq. We're carrying out a decision
that has already been made and will not change. Iraq will
be a free, independent country, and America and the Middle
East will be safer because of it.
Our coalition has the means and the will to prevail. We
serve the cause of liberty, and that is always and everywhere
a cause worth serving.
BUSH: Now I'll be glad to take your questions. I will
start with you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Mr. President, April is turning into the deadliest month
in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad, and some people are
comparing Iraq to Vietnam and talking about a quagmire.
Polls show that support for your policy is declining and
that fewer than half of Americans now support it.
What does that say to you? And how do you answer the Vietnam
BUSH: I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think
that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops and
sends the wrong message to the enemy.
Look, this is hard work. It's hard to advance freedom
in a country that has been strangled by tyranny. And yet
we must stay the course because the end result is in our
A secure and free Iraq is an historic opportunity to change
the world and make America more secure. A free Iraq in
the midst of the Middle East will have incredible change.
It's hard. Freedom is not easy to achieve. I mean, we
had a little trouble in our own country achieving freedom.
And we've been there a year. I know that seems like a
long time. It seems like a long time to the loved ones
whose troops have been overseas. But when you think about
where the country has come from, it's a relatively short
period of time.
And we're making progress. There's no question it's been
a tough, tough series of weeks for the American people.
It's been really tough for the families. I understand that.
It's been tough on this administration. But we're doing
the right thing.
And as to whether or not I made decisions based upon polls,
I don't. I just don't make decisions that way. I fully
understand the consequences of what we're doing. We're
changing the world, and the world will be better off and
America will be more secure as a result of the actions
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. What's your best prediction
on how long U.S. troops will have to be in Iraq? And it
sounds like you will have to add some troops. Is that a
BUSH: Well, first of all, that's up to General Abizaid,
and he's clearly indicating that he may want more troops.
It's coming up through the chain of command. And if that's
what he wants, that's what he gets.
Generally, we've had about a 115,000 troops in Iraq. There's
135,000 now as a result of the changeover from one division
to the next.
If he wants to keep troops there to help, I'm more than
willing to say, yes, General Abizaid.
I talk to General Abizaid quite frequently. I'm constantly
asking him does he have what he needs, whether it be in
troop strength or in equipment. He and General Sanchez
talk all the time. And if he makes the recommendation,
he'll get it.
In terms of how long we'll be there, as long as necessary,
and not one day more. The Iraqi people need us there to
help with security. They need us there to fight off these,
you know, violent few, who are doing everything they can
to resist the advance of freedom. And I mentioned who they
And as I mentioned in my opening remarks, our commanders
on the ground have got the authorities necessary to deal
with violence, and will -- will in firm fashion.
And that's what by far the vast majority of the Iraqis
want. They want security so they can advance toward a free
Once we transfer sovereignty, we'll enter into a security
agreement with the government to which we pass sovereignty,
the entity to which we pass sovereignty. And we'll need
to be there for a while.
We'll also need to continue training the Iraqi troops.
I was disappointed in the performance of some of the troops.
Some of the units performed brilliantly. Some of them didn't.
And we need to find out why. If they're lacking in equipment,
we'll get them equipment. If there needs to be more intense
training, we'll get more intense training.
But eventually, Iraq's security is going to be handled
by the Iraqi people themselves.
Oh, let's see here. Terry.
QUESTION: Mr. President, before the war, you and members
of your administration made several claims about Iraq:
that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators with sweets
and flowers; that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most
of the reconstruction; and that Iraq not only had weapons
of mass destruction but, as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld
said, we know where they are.
How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong?
And how do you answer your opponents who say that you took
this nation to war on the basis of what have turned out
to be a series of false premises?
BUSH: Well, let me step back and review my thinking prior
to going into Iraq.
First, the lesson of September the 11th is that when this
nation sees a threat, a gathering threat, we got to deal
with it. We can no longer hope that oceans protect us from
harm. Every threat we must take seriously.
Saddam Hussein was a threat. He was a threat because he
had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people.
He was a threat because he coddled terrorists. He was a
threat because he funded suiciders. He was a threat to
the region. He was a threat to the United States.
That's the assessment that I made from the intelligence,
the assessment that Congress made from the intelligence.
That's the exact same assessment that the United Nations
Security Council made with the intelligence.
I went to the U.N., as you might recall, and said, either
you take care of him, or we will. Any time an American
president says, if you don't, we will, we better be prepared
to. And I was prepared to.
BUSH: I thought it was important for the United Nations
Security Council that when it says something, it means
something for the sake of security in the world.
See, the war on terror had changed the calculations. We
needed to work with people. People needed to come together
to work. And therefore, empty words would embolden the
actions of those who are willing to kill indiscriminately.
The United Nations passed a Security Council resolution
unanimously that said, disarm or face serious consequences.
And he refused to disarm.
I thought it was very interesting that Charlie Duelfer,
who just came back -- he's the head of the Iraqi Survey
Group -- reported some interesting findings from his recent
tour there. And one of the things was, he was amazed at
how deceptive the Iraqis had been toward UNMOVIC and UNSCOM,
deceptive in hiding things.
We knew they were hiding things. A country that hides
something is a country that is afraid of getting caught,
and that was part of our calculation. Charlie confirmed
He also confirmed that Saddam had the ability to produce
biological and chemical weapons. In other words, he was
a danger. And he had long-range missiles that were undeclared
to the United Nations. He was a danger. And so we dealt
And what else was part the question? Oh, oil revenues.
Well, the oil revenues, they're bigger than we thought
they would be at this point in time. I mean, one year after
the liberation of Iraq, the revenues of the oil stream
is pretty darn significant.
One of the things I was concerned about, prior to going
into Iraq, was that the oil fields would be destroyed,
but they weren't. They're now up and running. And that
money is -- it will benefit the Iraqi people. It's their
oil, and they'll use it to reconstruct the country.
Finally, the attitude of the Iraqis toward the American
people -- it's an interesting question. They're really
pleased we got rid of Saddam Hussein, and you can understand
why. This guy was a torturer, a killer, a maimer. There's
I mean, he was a horrible individual that really shocked
the country in many ways, shocked it into a kind of a fear
of making decisions toward liberty. That's what we've seen
recently. Some citizens are fearful of stepping up.
And they were happy -- they're not happy they're occupied.
I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied either. They do
want us there to help with security.
And that's why this transfer of sovereignty is an important
signal to send, and it's why it's also important for them
to hear we will stand with them until they become a free
Elisabeth? Excuse me.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE), Mr. President. To move to the 9-11
commission, you yourself have acknowledged that Osama bin
Laden was not a central focus of the administration in
the months before September 11th. I was not on point, you
told the journalist Bob Woodward. I didn't feel that sense
Two and a half years later, do you feel any sense of personal
responsibility for September 11th?
BUSH: Let me put that quote to Woodward in context, because
he had asked me if I was -- something about killing bin
Laden. That's what the question was.
And I said, you know, compared to how I felt at the time,
after the attack, I didn't have that -- and I also went
on to say, my blood wasn't boiling, I think is what the
I didn't see -- I mean, I didn't have that great sense
of outrage that I felt on September the 11th. I was --
on that day, I was angry and sad. Angry that al-Qaida --
I thought at the time al-Qaida, found out shortly thereafter
it was al-Qaida -- had unleashed this attack. Sad for those
who lost their life.
Your question, do I feel -- yes?
QUESTION: Personal responsibility for September 11th?
BUSH: I feel incredibly grieved when I meet with family
members, and I do quite frequently. I grieve for, you know,
the incredible loss of life that they feel, the emptiness
There are some things I wish we'd have done, when I look
back. I mean, hindsight's easy. It's easy for a president
to stand up and say, now that I know what happened, it
would have been nice if there were certain things in place.
For example, a Homeland Security Department. And why --
I say that because that provides the ability for our agencies
to coordinate better and to work together better than it
I think the hearings will show that the Patriot Act is
an important change in the law that will allow the FBI
and the CIA to better share information together.
We were kind of stovepiped, I guess is a way to describe
it. There was, you know, kind of departments that at times
didn't communicate -- because of law, in the FBI's case.
And the other thing I look back on and realize is that
we weren't on a war footing. The country was not on a war
footing, and yet the enemy was at war with us. And it didn't
take me long to put us on a war footing.
And we've been on a war ever since.
The lessons of 9-11 -- one lesson was we must deal with
gathering threats, and that's part of the reason I dealt
with Iraq the way I did.
The other lesson is, is that this country must go on the
offense and stay on the offense. In order to secure the
country, we must do everything in our power to find these
killers and bring them to justice before they hurt us again.
I'm afraid they want to hurt us again. They're still there.
They can be right one time; we got to be right 100 percent
of the time in order to protect the country. It's a mighty
But our government has changed since the 9-11 attacks.
We're better equipped to respond. We're better at sharing
intelligence. But we've still got a lot of work to do.
QUESTION: Mr. President, I'd like to follow up on a couple
of these questions that have been asked.
One of the biggest criticisms of you is that whether it's
WMD in Iraq, postwar planning in Iraq, or even the question
of whether this administration did enough to ward off 9-11,
you never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism, and
do you believe that there were any errors in judgment that
you made related to any of those topics I brought up?
BUSH: Well, I think, as I mentioned, you know, the country
wasn't on war footing, and yet we're at war.
And that's just a reality, Dave. I mean, that was the
situation that existed prior to 9-11, because the truth
of the matter is most in the country never felt that we'd
be vulnerable to an attack such as the one that Osama bin
Laden unleashed on us.
We knew he had designs on us. We knew he hated us. But
there was nobody in our government, at least, and I don't
think the prior government that could envision flying airplanes
into buildings on such a massive scale.
The people know where I stand, I mean, in terms of Iraq.
I was very clear about what I believed. And, of course,
I want to know why we haven't found a weapon yet. But I
still know Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the world is
better off without Saddam Hussein.
I don't think anybody can -- maybe people can argue that.
I know the Iraqi people don't believe that, that they're
better off with Saddam Hussein -- would be better off with
Saddam Hussein in power.
I also know that there's an historic opportunity here
to change the world. And it's very important for the loved
ones of our troops to understand that the mission is an
important, vital mission for the security of America and
for the ability to change the world for the better.
Let's see. Ed?
QUESTION: Mr. President, good evening. I'd like to ask
you about the August 6th PDB.
QUESTION: You've mentioned it at Fort Hood on Sunday.
You pointed out that it did not warn of a hijacking of
airplanes to crash into buildings, but that it warned of
hijacking to obviously take hostages and to secure the
release of extremists that are being held by the U.S.
Did that trigger some specific actions on your part in
the administration, since it dealt with potentially hundreds
of lives and a blackmail attempt on the United States government?
BUSH: And I asked for the briefing. And the reason I did
is because there had been a lot of threat intelligence
from overseas. And so, I -- part of it had to do with the
Genoa G-8 conference that I was going to attend. And I
asked at that point in time, let's make sure we are paying
attention here at home, as well. And that's what triggered
The report itself, I've characterized it as mainly history.
And I think when you look at it, you'll see that it was
talking about a '97 and '98 and '99.
It was also an indication, as you mentioned, that bin
Laden might want to hijack an airplane but, as you said,
not to fly into a building, but perhaps to release a person
in jail. In other words, he would serve it as a blackmail.
And of course that concerns me. All those reports concern
me. As a matter of fact, I was dealing with terrorism a
lot as the president when George Tenet came in to brief
me. I mean, that's where I got my information.
I changed the way that the relationship between the president
and the CIA director. And I wanted Tenet in the Oval Office
all the time. And we had briefings about terrorist threats.
This was a summary.
Now, in the -- what's called the PDB, there was a warning
about bin Laden's desires on America. But, frankly, I didn't
think there was anything new. I mean, major newspapers
had talked about bin Laden's desires on hurting America.
What was interesting in there was that there was a report
that the FBI was conducting field investigations. And that
was good news, that they were doing their job.
The way my administration worked, Ed, was that I met with
Tenet all the time. I obviously met with my principals
a lot. We talked about threats that had emerged. We have
a counterterrorism group meeting on a regular basis to
analyze the threats that came in. Had there been a threat
that required action by anybody in the government, I would
have dealt with it.
BUSH: In other words, had they come up and said, this
is where we see something happening, you can rest assured
that the people of this government would have responded
and responded in a forceful way.
I mean, one of the things about Elizabeth's question was,
I stepped back and I've asked myself a lot, is there anything
we could have done to stop the attacks? Of course I've
asked that question, as have many people in my government.
Nobody wants this to happen to America.
And the answer is that had I had any inkling whatsoever
that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings,
we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country,
just like we're working hard to prevent a further attack.
Let's see -- Jim?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned the
PDB and the assurance you got that the FBI was working
on terrorism investigations here. The number they had used
But we learned today in the September 11th hearings that
the acting director of the FBI at the time now says the
FBI tells him that number was wrong, that he doesn't even
know how it got into your PDB. And two of the commissioners
strongly suggested the number was exaggerated.
Have you learned anything else about that report since
that time? And do you now believe you were falsely comforted
by the FBI?
BUSH: No, I heard about that today, obviously, and my
response to that was, I expect to get valid information.
As the ultimate decision maker for this country, I expect
information that comes to my desk to be real and valid.
And I presume the 9-11 commission will find out -- will
follow up on his suggestions and his recollection, and
garner the truth. That is an important part of the 9-11
commission's job, is to analyze what went on and what could
have perhaps been done differently so that we can better
secure America for the future.
But of course I expect to get valid information. I can't
make good decisions unless I get valid information.
QUESTION: Has the FBI come back to you, sir?
BUSH: No, I haven't talked to anybody today yet. I will,
though. We'll find out.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Two weeks ago, a former counterterrorism official at the
NSC, Richard Clarke, offered an unequivocal apology to
the American people for failing them prior to 9-11. Do
you believe the American people deserve a similar apology
from you, and would you prepared to give them one?
BUSH: Look, I can understand why people in my administration
are anguished over the fact that people lost their life.
I feel the same way. I mean, I'm sick when I think about
the death that took place on that day. And as I mentioned,
I've met with a lot of family members, and I do the best
to console them about the loss of their loved one.
As I mentioned, I oftentimes think about what I could
have done differently. I can assure the American people
that had we had any inkling that this was going to happen,
we would have done everything in our power to stop the
Here's what I feel about that: The person responsible
for the attacks was Osama bin Laden. That's who's responsible
for killing Americans. And that's why we will stay on the
offense until we bring people to justice.
QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you. You mentioned that
17 of the 26 NATO members providing some help on the ground
in Iraq. But if you look at the numbers -- 135,000 U.S.
troops, 10,000 or 12,000 British troops. Then the next
largest, perhaps even the second- largest contingent of
guns on the ground are private contractors, literally hired
Your critics, including your Democratic opponents, say
that's proof to them your coalition is window dressing.
How would you answer those critics?
And can you assure the American people that, post-sovereignty,
when the handover takes place, that there will be more
burden-sharing by allies in terms of security forces?
BUSH: Yes, John, my response is I don't think people ought
to demean the contributions of our friends into Iraq. People
are sacrificing their lives in Iraq from different countries.
We ought to honor that, and we ought to welcome that.
I'm proud of the coalition that is there. These are people
that have got leaders that have made the decision to put
people in harm's way for the good of the world. And we
appreciate that sacrifice in America, and we appreciate
I think that one of the things you're seeing is more involvement
by the United Nations, in terms of the political process.
That's helpful. I'd like to get another U.N. Security Council
resolution out that will help other nations to decide to
One of the things I've found, John, is that, in calling
around, particularly during this week -- I spoke to Prime
Minister Berlusconi and President Kwasniewski -- there
is a resolve by these leaders that is a heartening resolve.
Tony Blair is the same way.
He understands, like I understand, that we cannot yield
at this point in time, that we must remain steadfast and
strong, that it's the intentions of the enemy to shake
our will. That's what they want to do. They want us to
leave. And we're not going to leave. We're going to do
And a free Iraq is going to be a major blow for terrorism.
It'll change the world. A free Iraq in the midst of the
Middle East is vital to future peace and security.
BUSH: Maybe I can best put it this way, why I feel so
strongly about this historic moment. I was having dinner
with Prime Minister Koizumi, and we were talking about
North Korea, about how we can work together to deal with
the threat. The North Korea leader is a threat.
And here are two friends, now, discussing what strategy
to employ to prevent him from further developing and deploying
a nuclear weapon. And it dawned on me that, had we blown
the peace in World War II, that perhaps this conversation
would not have been taking place.
It also dawned on me then that when we get it right in
Iraq, at some point in time an American president will
be sitting down with a duly elected Iraqi leader, talking
about how to bring security to what has been a troubled
part of the world.
The legacy that our troops are going to leave behind is
a legacy of lasting importance, as far as I'm concerned.
It's a legacy that really is based upon our deep belief
that people want to be free and that free societies are
Some of the debate really centers around the fact that
people don't believe Iraq can be free; that if you're Muslim,
or perhaps brown-skinned, you can't be self-governing or
free. I'd strongly disagree with that.
I reject that. Because I believe that freedom is the deepest
need of every human soul, and if given a chance, the Iraqi
people will be not only self-governing, but a stable and
Let's see here, hold on. Michael?
QUESTION: Mr. President, why are you and the vice president
insisting on appearing together before the 9-11 commission?
And, Mr. President, who will we be handing the Iraqi government
over to on June 30th?
BUSH: We'll find that out soon. That's what Mr. Brahimi
is doing. He's figuring out the nature of the entity we'll
be handing sovereignty over.
And, secondly, because the 9-11 commission wants to ask
us questions, that's why we're meeting. And I look forward
to meeting with them and answering their questions.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) I was asking why you're appearing
together, rather than separately, which was their request.
BUSH: Because it's a good chance for both of us to answer
questions that the 9-11 commission is looking forward to
asking us. And I'm looking forward to answering them.
Let's see. Hold on for a minute. Let's see. Oh, Jim.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
BUSH: I've got some must-calls. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: You have been accused of letting the 9-11 threat
mature too far, but not letting the Iraq threat mature
far enough. First, could you respond to that general criticism?
And, secondly, in the wake of these two conflicts, what
is the appropriate threat level to justify action in perhaps
other situations going forward?
BUSH: Yes. I guess there have been some that said, well,
we should've taken pre-emptive action in Afghanistan, and
then turned around and said we shouldn't have taken pre-emptive
action in Iraq.
And my answer to that question is, is that, again I repeat
what I said earlier, prior to 9-11, the country really
wasn't on a war footing. And the, frankly, mood of the
world would have been astounded had the United States acted
unilaterally in trying to deal with al-Qaida in that part
of the world.
It would have been awfully hard to do, as well, by the
way. We would have had -- we hadn't got our relationship
right with Pakistan yet. The Caucus area would have been
very difficult from which to base. It just seemed an impractical
strategy at the time. And, frankly, I didn't contemplate
I did contemplate a larger strategy as to how to deal
with al-Qaida. You know, we were shooting cruise missiles
and with little effect. And I said, if we're going to go
after al-Qaida, let's have a comprehensive strategy as
to how to deal with it, with that entity.
After 9-11, the world changed for me, and I think changed
for the country. It changed for me because, like many,
we assumed oceans would protect us from harm. And that's
not the case. It's not the reality of the 21st century.
Oceans don't protect us. They don't protect us from killers.
We're an open country. And we're a country that values
our openness. And we're a hard country to defend. And therefore,
when we see threats overseas, we've got to take them --
look at them in a new light. And I've given my explanation
Your further question was, you know, how do you justify
any other pre-emptive action?
The American people need to know my last choice is the
use of military power. It is something that -- it's a decision
that is a tough decision to make for any president, because
I fully understand the consequences of the decision.
And therefore, we'll use all other means necessary when
we see a threat to deal with a threat that may materialize.
But we'll never take the military off the table.
We've had some success, Bill, as a result of the decision
I took. Take Libya, for example. Libya was a nation that
had -- we viewed as the terrorist -- a nation that sponsored
terror, a nation that was dangerous because of weapons.
And Colonel Gadhafi made the decision, and rightly so,
to disclose and disarm for the good of the world.
By the way, they found, I think, 50 tons of mustard gas,
I believe it was, in a turkey farm, only because he was
willing to disclose where the mustard gas was. But that
made the world safer.
The A.Q. Khan bust, the network that we uncovered thanks
to the hard work of our intelligence-gathering agencies
and the cooperation of the British, was another victory
in the war against terror.
BUSH: This was a shadowy network of folks that were willing
to sell state secrets to the highest bidder. And that,
therefore, made the world more unstable and more dangerous.
You've often heard me talk about my worry of weapons of
mass destruction ending up in the hands of the wrong people.
Well, you can understand why I feel that way, having seen
the works of A.Q. Khan. It's a dangerous -- it was a dangerous
network that we unraveled, and the world is better for
And so what I'm telling you is, is that sometimes we use
military as a last resort, but other times we use our influence,
diplomatic pressure and our alliances to unravel, uncover,
expose people who want to do harm against the civilized
We're at war. Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It
is not the war on terror; it is a theater in the war on
terror. And it's essential we win this battle in the war
on terror. By winning this battle, it will make other victories
more certain in the war against the terrorists.
Let's see here. Judy?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Sir, you've made it very clear tonight that you're committed
to continuing the mission in Iraq, yet, as Terry pointed
out, increasing numbers of Americans have qualms about
it. And this is an election year.
QUESTION: Will it have been worth it, even if you lose
your job because of it?
BUSH: I don't plan on losing my job. I plan on telling
the American people that I've got a plan to win the war
on terror. And I believe they'll stay with me. They understand
Look, nobody likes to see dead people on their television
screens. I don't. It's a tough time for the American people
to see that. It's gut-wrenching.
One of my hardest parts of my job is to console the family
members, who've lost their life. It's a chance to hug and
weep and to console, and to remind the loved ones that
the sacrifice of their loved one was done in the name of
security for America and freedom for the world.
One of the things that's very important, Judy, at least
as far as I'm concerned, is to never allow our youngsters
to die in vain. And I made that pledge to their parents.
Withdrawing from the battlefield of Iraq would be just
that, and it's not going to happen under my watch.
The American people may decide to change. That's democracy.
I don't think so. I don't think so. And I look forward
to making my case. I'm looking forward to the campaign.
Now's the time to talk about winning this war on terror.
Now's the time to make sure that the American people understand
the stakes and the historic significance of what we're
And no matter where they may stand on this war, the thing
I appreciate most about our country is the strong support
given to the men and women in uniform. And it's vital support.
It's important for those soldiers to know America stands
with them, and we weep when they die, and we're proud of
the victories they achieve.
One of the things I'm also proud of is what I hear from
our soldiers. As I mentioned, I pinned the Purple Heart
on some of the troops at the hospital there at Fort Hood,
Texas. A guy looks at me and says, I can't wait to get
back to my unit and fulfill the mission, Mr. President.
The spirit is incredible. Our soldiers who have volunteered
to go there understand the stakes, and I'm incredibly proud
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
In the last campaign, you were asked a question about
the biggest mistake you'd made in your life, and you used
to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa.
You've looked back before 9-11 for what mistakes might
have been made. After 9-11, what would your biggest mistake
be, would you say, and what lessons have learned from it?
BUSH: I wish you'd have given me this written question
ahead of time so I could plan for it.
John, I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh,
he could've done it better this way or that way. You know,
I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here
in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure
of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn't yet.
I would've gone into Afghanistan the way we went into
Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles
of weapons, I still would've called upon the world to deal
with Saddam Hussein.
See, I'm of the belief that we'll find out the truth on
the weapons. That's why we sent up the independent commission.
I look forward to hearing the truth as to exactly where
they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden,
like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm.
One of the things that Charlie Duelfer talked about was
that he was surprised of the level of intimidation he found
amongst people who should know about weapons and their
fear of talking about them because they don't want to be
You know, there's this kind of -- there's a terror still
in the soul of some of the people in Iraq.
BUSH: They're worried about getting killed, and therefore
they're not going to talk. But it'll all settle out, John.
We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point
However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them
bothers me today just like it would have bothered me then.
He's a dangerous man. He's a man who actually not only
had weapons of mass destruction -- the reason I can say
that with certainty is because he used them.
And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have
inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained
people to inflict harm, on America, because he hated us.
I hope -- I don't want to sound like I have made no mistakes.
I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me
under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet
as I should be in coming up with one.
QUESTION: Looking forward about keeping United States
safe, a group representing about several thousand FBI agents
today wrote to your administration begging you not to split
up the law enforcement and the counterterrorism ...
QUESTION: ... because they say it ties their hands, it
gives them blinders, that they're partners.
Yet you mentioned yesterday that you think perhaps the
time has come for some real intelligence reforms. That
can't happen without real leadership from the White House.
Will you? And how will you?
BUSH: Well, you're talking about one aspect of possible
-- I think you're referring to what they call the MI5.
And I heard a summary of that from Director Mueller, who
feels strongly that we -- and he'll testify to that effect,
I guess tomorrow. I shouldn't be prejudging his testimony.
But my point was that I'm open for suggestions. I look
forward to seeing what the 9-11 commission comes up with.
I look forward to seeing what the Silberman-Robb commission
comes up with. I'm confident Congress will have some suggestions.
What I'm saying is, let the discussions begin, and I won't
prejudge the conclusion. As the president, I will encourage
and foster these kinds of discussions, because one of the
jobs of the president is to leave behind a legacy that
will enable other presidents to better deal with the threat
that we face.
We are in a long war. The war on terror is not going to
end immediately. This is a war against people who have
no guilt in killing innocent people. That's what they're
willing to do. They kill on a moment's notice, because
they're trying to shake our will, they're trying to create
fear, they're trying to affect people's behaviors. And
we're simply not going to let them do that.
And my fear, of course, is that this will go on for a
while, and therefore, it's incumbent upon us to learn from
lessons or mistakes, and leave behind a better foundation
for presidents to deal with the threats we face. This is
the war that other presidents will be facing as we head
into the 21st century.
One of the interesting things people ask me, now that
we're asking questions, is, can you ever win the war on
terror? Of course you can.
That's why it's important for us to spread freedom throughout
the Middle East. Free societies are hopeful societies.
A hopeful society is one more likely to be able to deal
with the frustrations of those who are willing to commit
suicide in order to represent a false ideology.
A free society is a society in which somebody is more
likely to be able to make a living. A free society is a
society in which someone is more likely to be able to raise
their child in a comfortable environment and see to it
that that child gets an education.
That's why I'm pressing the Greater Middle East Reform
Initiative to work to spread freedom, and we will continue
on that. So long as I'm the president, I will press for
freedom. I believe so strongly in the power of freedom.
You know why I do? Because I've seen freedom work right
here in our own country. I also have this belief, strong
belief, that freedom is not this country's gift to the
world. Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and
woman in this world.
And as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we
have an obligation to help the spread of freedom. We have
an obligation to help feed the hungry. I think the American
people find it interesting that we're providing food for
the North Korea people who starve.
We have an obligation to lead the fight on AIDS, on Africa.
And we have an obligation to work toward a more free world.
That's our obligation. That is what we have been called
to do, as far as I'm concerned.
And my job as the president is to lead this nation and
to making the world a better place. And that's exactly
what we're doing.
Weeks such as we've had in Iraq make some doubt whether
or not we're making progress. I understand that. It was
a tough, tough period. But we are making progress.
And my message today to those in Iraq is, we'll stay the
course, we'll complete the job.
My message to our troops is, we'll stay the course and
complete the job, and you'll have what you need.
And my message to the loved ones who are worried about
their sons, daughters, husbands, wives is, your loved one
is performing a noble service for the cause of freedom
BUSH: Let's see. Last question here. Hold on for a second.
Those who yell will not be ask -- I tell you a guy who
I have never heard from.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.
BUSH: This was -- it's a well-received ...
QUESTION: Following on both Judy and John's questions,
and it comes out of what you just said in some ways, with
public support for your policies in Iraq falling off the
way they have, quite significantly over the past couple
of months, I guess I'd like to know if you feel, in any
way, that you have failed as a communicator on this topic.
BUSH: Gosh, I don't know. I mean ...
QUESTION: Well, you deliver a lot of speeches, and a lot
of them contain similar phrases and may vary very little
from one to the next. And they often include a pretty upbeat
assessment of how things are going, with the exception
of tonight. It's pretty somber.
BUSH: A pretty somber assessment today, Don, yes.
QUESTION: But I guess I just wonder if you feel that you
have failed in any way. You don't have many of these press
conferences where you engage in this kind of exchange.
Have you failed in any way to really make the case to the
BUSH: You know, that's, I guess, if you put it into a
political context, that's the kind of thing the voters
will decide next November. That's what elections are about.
They'll take a look at me and my opponent and say, let's
see, which one of them can better win the war on terror?
Who best can see to it that Iraq emerges a free society?
And, Don, you know, if I tried to fine-tune my messages
based upon polls, I think I'd be pretty ineffective. I
know I would be disappointed in myself.
I hope today you've got a sense of my conviction about
what we're doing. If you don't, maybe I need to learn to
I feel strongly about what we're doing. I feel strongly
it's the course this administration is taking will make
America more secure and the world more free and, therefore,
the world more peaceful. It's a conviction that's deep
in my soul. And, you know, I will say it as best I possibly
can to the American people.
I look forward to the debate in the campaign. I look forward
to helping -- for the American people to hear, you know,
what is the proper use of American power. Do we have an
obligation to lead, or should we shirk responsibility?
That's how I view this debate.
And I look forward to making it. Don, I'll do it the best
I possibly can. I'll give it the best shot. I'll speak
as plainly as I can.
One thing is for certain, though, about me, and the world
has learned this: When I say something, I mean it. And
the credibility of the United States is incredibly important
for keeping world peace and freedom.
Thank you all very much.
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