By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
President Bush said yesterday that Iraqi forces "are beginning to show me something," while he sought to play down his apparent differences with Vice President Cheney about how well things are going in the strife-torn country.
Bush was asked in a National Public Radio interview about an Iraqi raid Sunday, backed by U.S. helicopters, on a heavily armed Shiite cult that Iraqi officials said was poised to assassinate the country's Shiite religious leadership. "This fight is an indication of what is taking place, and that is the Iraqis are beginning to take the lead," Bush said. "So my first reaction on this report from the battlefield is that the Iraqis are beginning to show me something."
The president also addressed the apparent discrepancy with Cheney over his account of the war. While Bush has gone to great lengths in recent weeks to describe his past Iraq strategy as flawed, Cheney has emphasized what he has called the "great successes" the United States has achieved since the 2003 invasion.
"I think that the vice president is a person reflecting a half-glass-full mentality," Bush told interviewer Juan Williams in a transcript posted on the NPR Web site, "and that is he's been able to look at -- as have I, and I hope other Americans have -- the fact that the tyrant was removed, 12 million people voted, there is an Iraqi constitution in place that is a model for and unique for the Middle East." Bush indicated that he sees no distance between himself and his vice president. "We both agree that something needed to change," he said. "In other words, when I made the decision to change the strategy in Iraq with a focus on Baghdad -- in other words, reinforcing our troops -- he fully understands that needed to happen and supported it."
The president repeated his warnings to Iran, telling NPR that if "Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly." He did not specify what he was talking about, though The Washington Post recently reported that he has authorized U.S. forces to capture or kill Iranian agents in Iraq.
The president said he remains hopeful that he can solve the dispute over Iran's nuclear activities through diplomacy and said he has no intention of "going into" Iran. "I don't know how anybody can then say, well, protecting the troops means that we're going to invade Iran," Bush said. "We will protect our interests in Iraq. That's what the American people expect us to do. That's definitely what our troops want to do, and that's what the families of our troops want us to do. And if we find the Iranians are moving weapons that will end up harming American troops, we'll deal with it."
Asked about the quality of U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear programs, Bush acknowledged a "certain skepticism" given the inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that he and U.S. intelligence agencies said were there. He added, however, that the skepticism needs to be "tempered" by other statements and intelligence.
"What I am trying to say," Bush said, is "that I take the Iranian nuclear threat very seriously even though the intel on Iraq was not what it was thought to be."