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President Bush Urges Iraqis to Vote in Sunday’s Elections

January 26, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


REPORTER: Mr. President, the insurgents in Iraq are threatening to kill anyone who comes out to vote on Sunday. Do you think they’ll succeed in killing or scaring away enough people so that the elections will be rendered seriously flawed or not credible?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We anticipate a lot of Iraqis will vote. Clearly there are some who are intimidated. Surveys show that the vast majority of people do want to participate in democracy and some are feeling intimidated.

I urge all people to vote. I urge people to defy these terrorists. These terrorists do not have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. They have no positive agenda. They have no clear view of a better future. They’re afraid of a free society.

I am impressed by the bravery of the Iraqi citizens. I am heartened by the strong words of Prime Minister Allawi. I talked to him yesterday on the phone. He is determined to lead his country forward into the elections. I appreciate the hard work of the United Nations, which is providing a good leadership on the ground.

I anticipate a grand moment in Iraqi history. If we’d been having this discussion a couple of years ago and I had stood up in front of you and said the Iraqi people would be voting, you would look at me like some of you still look at me, with a kind of blank expression. People are voting, and this is a part of a process to write a constitution and then elect a permanent assembly, and it’s exciting times for the Iraqi people.

BILL PLANTE: Mr. President, in the debate over Dr. Rice’s confirmation, Democrats came right out and accused you and the administration of lying in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Republicans, in some cases, conceded that mistakes had been made. Now that the election’s over, are you willing to concede that any mistakes were made, and how do you feel about…

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me talk about Dr. Rice. You asked about her confirmation. Dr. Rice is an honorable, fine public servant who needs to be confirmed. She will be a great secretary of state. And Dr. Rice and I look forward to moving forward. We look forward to working to make sure the Iraqis have got a democracy. We look forward to continue to make sure Afghanistan is as secure as possible from potential Taliban resurgence. We look forward to spreading freedom around the world. And she is going to make a wonderful secretary of state.

REPORTER: No reaction to the lying?

REPORTER: No reaction? Sir, I’d like…

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Is that your question? The answer is no. Next.

JOHN KING: Mr. President, I want to try another way to ask you about Iraq. When you made the decision to go to war in Iraq, you clearly had majority support in the country. A string of recent polls have shown a clear majority of the American people now believe it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq.

You’ve asked for $80 billion in more money on top of the billions already spent. The army says it will probably have 100,000 or more troops in Iraq for at least another year. What would you say to the American people, including a significant number who supported you at the beginning of the war, who now say this is not what we were led to believe would happen?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: A couple of things, John. I’d say the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. A world with Saddam Hussein in power would have been a more dangerous world today.

Secondly, that we’re making progress in helping Iraq develop a democracy, and in the long term, our children and grandchildren will benefit from a free Iraq. In terms of troop levels, obviously we’re going to have the troop levels necessary to complete the mission, and that mission is to enable Iraq to defend herself from terrorists, homegrown or terrorists that come in from outside of the country.

And so our mission is focused on not only an increase in the number of Iraqis in uniform, whether it be army or national guard or border patrol or police, but to make sure the quality of their ability to fight is enhanced. And so over the next year, we’ll be advancing our plan to make sure the Iraqis are better prepared to defend themselves and to fight.

There have been some really fine units that have been stood up so far, and obviously we want to make sure there are more units that are capable of fighting. Listen, this problem will eventually be solved when the Iraqis take the initiative, and the Iraqi people see Iraqi soldiers willing to defend them.

And so — and the American people, when they see the Iraqis step up and begin to fight, will see progress being made toward an objective which will make this world a better place. The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people. I understand that. We value life.

And we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life. But it is the long-term objective that is vital, and that is to spread freedom. Otherwise the Middle East will continue to be a cauldron of resentment and hate, a recruiting ground for those who have this vision of the world that is the exact opposite of ours.

REPORTER: Mr. President, Sen. Ted Kennedy recently repeated his characterization of Iraq as a “quagmire,” and has called it your Vietnam. And the questioning of Alberto Gonzales and Condi Rice in the Senate has been largely used by Democrats to criticize your entire Iraq program, especially what you’re trying to do postwar.

I wonder if you have any response to those criticisms? And what kind of an effect do you think these statements have on the morale of our troops and of the confidence of the Iraqi people that what you’re trying to do over there is going to succeed?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I think the Iraqi people are wondering whether or not this nation has the will necessary to stand with them as a democracy evolves. The enemy would like nothing more than the United States to precipitously pull out and withdraw before the Iraqis are prepared to defend themselves.

Their objective is to stop the advance of democracy. Freedom scares them. Zarqawi said something interesting the other day, that — you know, he was talking about democracy and how terrible democracy is. We believe that people ought to be allowed to express themselves and we believe that people ought to decide the fates of their governments. They want to vote. They want to participate in democracy. They want to be able to express themselves and to me that is encouraging.