Text of Bush's Press Conference
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 of them.
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 killed.
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 in time.
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 and peace.
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 American public?
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 communicate better.
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.
© 2004 The Associated Press