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Transcript: Bush News Conference

I mean, out of this, hopefully some good will come out of the evil perpetuated on this family.

QUESTION: Mr. President, yesterday you said that Hezbollah could prove it is not a terrorist organization by laying down arms and supporting peace.

Bush Speaks to Reporters
Bush Speaks to Reporters
President Bush acknowledged to reporters Wednesday that Social Security is "a difficult issue" that may require a "tough vote." (AP Photo)

_____Bush News Conference_____
Video: Bush News Conference
Bush Vows to Press Ahead on Social Security (The Washington Post, Mar 16, 2005)

How willing and flexible, and under what conditions, are you able to, as you promote democracy in the Middle East, encourage parties like Hezbollah to discontinue the use of terrorism as a tactic?

BUSH: Yes, I think -- let me make sure that you put my answer in full context.

I first said that Hezbollah is on the terrorist list for a reason: because they have killed Americans in the past, and they are a violent organization. And the question was about Lebanon.

And let me take a step back, if I might, on this question, because it's important for the American people to understand our policy.

Our policy is this: We want there to be a thriving democracy in Lebanon. We believe that there will be a thriving democracy, but only if -- but only if Syria withdraws not only her troops completely out of Lebanon, but also her secret service organizations, intelligence organizations -- not secret service, intelligence organizations.

BUSH: I am concerned and the world should be concerned that the intelligence organizations are embedded in a lot of government functions in Lebanon. And there needs to be a complete withdrawal of those services in order for there to be a free election.

And we will -- you know, this government will work with elected leaders of a free -- truly free Lebanon, and looking forward to it.

I like the idea of people running for office. It's a positive effect when you run for office, you know. Maybe someone will run for office and say, “Vote for me, I look forward to blowing up America. “ I don't know. I don't know if that'll be their platform or not. But it's -- I don't think so. I think people generally run for office say, “Vote for me; I'm looking forward to fixing your potholes or making sure you got bread on the table. “

But Hezbollah is on the terrorist list for a reason, and remain on the terrorist list for a reason. Our position's not changed on Hezbollah.

QUESTION: President Bush, a court ruling in California this week has revived debate over same-sex marriage. You support a constitutional amendment to ban such marriages.

QUESTION: But it's not something you talk about nearly as often as Social Security and many other issues.

Will you put some muscle behind that effort this year or is it something you'd prefer not to deal with?

BUSH: No, I haven't changed my position.

And as a matter of fact, the court rulings are verifying why I took the position I took. And that is, I don't believe judges ought to be deciding this issue. I believe this is an issue of particular importance to the American people and should be decided by the people. And I think the best way to do so is through the constitutional process.

I haven't changed my mind at all. As a matter of fact, court rulings such as this strengthen my position, it seems like to me. People now understand why I laid out the position I did.

QUESTION: What are you doing to promote action on that amendment?

BUSH: Well, I -- you know, the courts are going to promote a lot of the action by their very rulings.

BUSH: People will understand that -- the logic behind the decision I make.

And that no matter what your position is on the issue, this is an issue that should be decided by the people, not by judges. And the more the judges start deciding the issue, I'm confident the more the people will want to be involved in the issue.

This is a very important issue for the country and one that, obviously, needs to be conducted with a great deal of sensitivity and concern about other people's feelings. But this is an issue I feel strongly about.

QUESTION: You faced a lot of skepticism in the run-up to the Iraq war and then a lot of criticism for miscalculating some of the challenges of postwar Iraq.

QUESTION: Now that the Iraq elections seem to be triggering signs of democratization throughout the broader Middle East, do you feel any sense of vindication?

BUSH: First of all, I fully understand that as long as I'm the president, I will face criticism. It's, like, part of the job.

Frankly, you wouldn't be doing your job if you didn't occasionally lay out the gentle criticism.

I welcome constructive ideas as to how we might do our job better, so that doesn't bother me. And therefore, since it doesn't bother me and I expect it, I don't then seek vindication.

Look, history -- shall I give you my talk on history and presidencies?

OK, thank you.

What's interesting is George Washington is now getting a second or third or fifth or tenth look in history. I read the Ellis book, which is a really interesting book, and “His Excellency, “ it's called. McCollough's writing a book on George Washington as well.

BUSH: People are constantly evaluating somebody's standing in history -- a president's standing in history based upon events that took place during the presidency, based upon things that happened after the presidency, based upon like in my case, hopefully, the march of freedom continues way after my presidency.

And so, I just don't worry about vindication or standing.

The other thing that turns out on this job, you have a lot on your plate on a regular basis. You don't have much time to sit around and wander lonely in the Oval Office, kind of, asking different portraits, “How do you think my standing will be? “

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, I've got a lot to do, and I like to make decisions and I make a lot of them.

But, you know, look, I mean, the people who deserve the credit in Iraq are the Iraqi citizens that defied the terrorists.

BUSH: Imagine what it would be like to try to go vote thinking that there could be a suicide bomber standing next to you in line or somebody would lob a shell or a mortar at you.

The courage of the Iraqi citizens was just overwhelming, I thought.

It's easy for us to vote. The question is what it would be like to vote if you were fearful for your life. In parts of the country, people were getting, you know, messages that said, “If you vote, we'll find somebody you love and take care of them. “

And yet they defied these terrorists. And it was a powerful moment in the history of freedom.

BUSH: People in the world have got to see what it means for a group of people that've been downtrodden to rise up and say, “I want to be free. “

Now, there's a lot of work to be done. And I'm sure there will be some opinions about what takes place during the next nine months when the constitution is written, and whether or not the elections move forward as smoothly as some think they should.

Obviously, there's concern now I read about that -- I'm occasionally reading, I want you to know, in the second term, your stories that is -- that, you know, they haven't formed a government yet. But I take a different look.

First of all, obviously, there will be a government formed. But I think it is interesting to watch the process of people negotiating and worrying about this and worrying about that, and people seeking out positions as to their stands on issues that'll be relevant to the future of Iraq.

BUSH: It's a wholesome process and it's being done in a transparent way. I mean, you've got the press corps all over them, watching every move, which is a positive example for others in the region, and that's important.

It's important for people in that region to see what is possible in a free society.

And I firmly believe that the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe there will be a Palestinian state, I believe we'll be able to convince Syria to fully withdraw or else she'll be isolated, fully withdraw from Lebanon or else she'll be isolated, I believe those examples will serve as examples for others over time.

And that will lead to more peace, and that's what we want.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you also think it will lead to America's reputation being restored. Earlier this week you brought Karen Hughes back at ambassador rank to address the question of antipathy to America around the world, particularly the Muslim world.

What does that entail?

BUSH: Well, it entails a couple of things.

It entails people understanding why we do things we do.

You know, for example, I think we had the image of wanting to fight Muslims, that the United States stood squarely against a religion as opposed to a society which welcomes all religions, and in fact we're fighting a handful of people relative to the Muslim population that wanted to -- I used to say hijack the religion.

BUSH: People need to understand we're a compassionate nation and we care deeply about suffering, regardless of where people live.

You know, President Clinton and President Bush, 41, did a fine job of helping the world see the great compassion of America when they went on their trips in the areas ravaged by the tsunamis.

It is very important for us to have a message that counteracts some of the messages coming out of some of the Arab media, some of it coming out partly because of our strong and unwavering friendship with Israel.

You know, Israel is an easy target for some of the media in the Middle East, and if you're a friend of Israel, you become a target.

BUSH: And since we're not going to abandon our alliance with Israel, you know, there was some churning in the press and there was some unhelpful things being said.

And so part of that is to make sure people understand the truth. And that is, on this particular issue, you bet we're going to stand by Israel.

But we also believe the Palestinians have the capability of self- governance and a truly democratic state that will live side by side with the Israelis in peace.

And so Karen's going to -- one, I want to thank her for coming back from Austin. It's very hard, if you're a Texan, to abandon Austin for anywhere else -- or Texas for anywhere else.


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