Text of Bush's Press Conference
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 guns.
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 that commitment.
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 participate.
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 the job.
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 peaceful societies.
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 free society.
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 it.
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 of Iraq.
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 it.
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 world.
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 the stakes.
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 doing.
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.
© 2004 The Associated Press