President Bush Says U.S. is ‘Winning’ in Iraq
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JIM LEHRER: President Bush spoke for more than an hour this morning about the war in Iraq. He did so at a White House news conference, with both policy and the midterm election — now less than two weeks away — on his and the press corps’ agenda. We’re going to begin with excerpts of what he said and then examine separately the possible policy and the political ramifications.
First, the news conference in the East Room of the White House.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: As the enemy shifts tactics, we are shifting our tactics, as well. Americans have no intention of taking sides in a sectarian struggle or standing in the crossfire between rival factions.
Our mission is to help the elected government in Iraq defeat common enemies, to bring peace and stability to Iraq, and make our nation more secure. Our goals are unchanging; we are flexible in our methods to achieving those goals.
I know the American people understand the stakes in Iraq. They want to win. They will support the war as long as they see a path to victory. The consequences in Iraq will have a decisive impact on the security of our country, because defeating the terrorists in Iraq is essential to turning back the cause of extremism in the Middle East.
If we do not defeat the terrorists or extremists in Iraq, they will gain access to vast oil reserves, and use Iraq as a base to overthrow moderate governments across the broader Middle East. They will launch new attacks on America from this new safe haven. They will pursue their goal of a radical Islamic empire that stretches from Spain to Indonesia.
I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq; I’m not satisfied, either. And that is why we’re taking new steps to help secure Baghdad, and constantly adjusting our tactics across the country to meet the changing threat.
But we cannot allow our dissatisfaction to turn into disillusionment about our purpose in this war. We must not look at every success of the enemy as a mistake on our part, cause for an investigation, or a reason to call for our troops to come home. We must not fall prey to the sophisticated propaganda by the enemy, who is trying to undermine our confidence and make us believe that our presence in Iraq is the cause of all its problems.
Progress in Iraq
JOURNALIST: Mr. President, the war in Iraq has lasted almost as long as World War II for the United States. And as you mentioned, October was the deadliest month for American forces this year -- in a year. Do you think we're winning, and why?
GEORGE W. BUSH: This war is an ideological conflict between a radical ideology that can't stand freedom and moderate, reasonable people that hope to live in a peaceful society. And it's just going to take a long time, Terry. I am confident we will succeed.
The ultimate victory in Iraq -- which is a government that can sustain itself, govern itself, and defend itself -- depends upon the Iraqi citizens and the Iraqi government doing the hard work necessary to protect their country. And our job is to help them achieve that objective. As a matter of fact, my view is the only way we lose in Iraq is if we leave before the job is done.
JOURNALIST: May I ask you, sir, following up, when you say that you're not satisfied with the way things are going in Iraq, why should that not be interpreted by some to mean that you are dissatisfied with Prime Minister Maliki's performance?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Because I know Prime Minister Maliki; I know how hard his job is; and I understand that he is working to make the decisions necessary to bring this country together.
And he's -- look, we'll push him, but we're not going to push him to the point where he can't achieve the objective.
JOURNALIST: Now you've set some benchmarks on the Maliki government. You've said that you're expecting him to make tough decisions. Can you tell the American people how you plan to measure his success in reaching those benchmarks, and what happens if he doesn't hit those benchmarks?
GEORGE W. BUSH: You'd expect us to work closely with that government to come up with, you know, a way forward that the government feels comfortable with. And there are probably going to be some bones of contention during these discussions. But nevertheless, we'll respect the fact that the Iraq government is sovereign, and they must respect the fact that, you know, we've got patience, but not unlimited patience.
Timetables to curb violence
JOURNALIST: And as you mentioned, out of Baghdad we're now hearing about benchmarks and timetables from the Iraqi government, as relayed by American officials, to stop the sectarian violence.
In the past, Democrats and other critics of the war who talked about benchmarks and timetables were labeled as defeatists, "defeatocrats," or people who wanted to cut and run. So why shouldn't the American people conclude that this is nothing from you other than semantic, rhetorical games and all politics two weeks before an election?
GEORGE W. BUSH: We're working with the Iraqi government to come up with benchmarks. Listen, this is a sovereign government. It was elected by the people of Iraq.
What we're asking them to do is to say, "When do you think you're going to get this done? When can you get this done?" So the people themselves in Iraq can see that the government is moving forward with a reconciliation plan and plans necessary to unify this government.
That is substantially different, David, from people saying, "We want a time certain to get out of Iraq." As a matter of fact, the benchmarks will make it more likely we win. Withdrawing on an artificial timetable means we lose.
Now, I'm giving this speech -- you're asking me why I'm giving this speech today, because there's -- I think I owe an explanation to the American people and will continue to make explanations. The people need to know that we have a plan for victory.
JOURNALIST: Is the coming election a referendum on Iraq? Should it be?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I think the coming election is a referendum on these two things: Which party has got the plan that will enable our economy continue -- to continue to grow? And which party has a plan to protect the American people?
And Iraq is part of the security of the United States. If we succeed and when we succeed in Iraq, our country will be more secure. If we don't succeed in Iraq, the country is less secure.
The security of the country is an issue, just like taxes are an issue. If you raise taxes, it'll hurt the economy. If you don't extend the tax cuts, if you don't make them -- in other words, if you let the tax cuts expire, it will be a tax increase on the American people.
So the two issues I see in the campaign can be boiled down to who best to protect this country and who best to keep taxes low. That's what the referendum's about.
JOURNALIST: With a Republican Congress, you failed to achieve three major goals of your second term: Social Security reform, a tax code overhaul, and a comprehensive immigration bill. Why shouldn't Americans give Democrats a chance to work with you on those issues, especially when divided governments seemed to work in the late 1990s on the budget?
GEORGE W. BUSH: That's a tricky little question there.
I -- First, I haven't given up on any of those issues. I've got two years left to achieve them. And I firmly believe it is more likely to achieve those three objectives with a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican-controlled Senate. And I believe I'll be working with a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican-controlled Senate.