Bush still plans on June 30 transfer of power to new Iraqi
President Bush held a nationally-televised press conference last
night to address the worsening situation in Iraq and the intense
scrutiny his administration has come under in the past weeks over
pre-Sept. 11 intelligence.
Throughout the conference, Bush portrayed the war on Iraq as one
against the “ideology of terror,” casting those who
have inflicted casualties on coalition forces in the past month in
the same light as those who carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks. “Terrorist agents infiltrated Iraq to incite and
carry out attacks,” Bush said. Whether part of the Shiite or
Sunni Muslim sect, Bush said the resistance in Iraq has a common
goal — to run the coalition out of Iraq.
Bush named only one resistance leader, influential Shiite cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia is responsible for many coalition
deaths. “Al-Sadr must answer the charges against him and
disband his illegal militia,” he said. U.S. military
officials want al-Sadr dead or captured.
Bush dismissed the notion that the resistance in Iraq is a
popular uprising, countering that the deadly attacks of the past
month were the actions of a minority of Iraqis.
But mounting casualties have led some politicians to question
whether the United States. is dangerously undercommitted in Iraq.
Bush answered these criticisms last night. “If additional
forces are needed, I will send them. If additional resources are
needed, I will provide them,” he said. There are currently
about 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. If U.S. casualties continue to
mount at the current pace — 80 killed so far this month
— April will soon eclipse November 2003 as the deadliest
month since Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May
While Bush left open the possibility of an increased military
presence, he also reaffirmed his dedication to the June 30 deadline
for the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people and said he did
not support a military commitment of an indefinite duration.
“We’re not an imperial power. … We’re a
liberating power,” he said. “We seek an independent,
secure and free Iraq.”
But Bush later said a coalition presence will remain in Iraq
after the June 30 deadline.
A recurring theme in Bush’s remarks was Iraqi democracy as
an important precedent in the Arab world. “The Iraqi
Constitution will include a bill of rights that is unprecedented in
the Arab world,” he said. Establishing democracy overseas was
a central goal of the idealistic foreign policy Bush presented.
“We’re changing the world and the world will be better
off,” Bush said.
Bush responded to the claim he took the country to war on false
pretenses. All evidence, he said, pointed to former Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein being in possession of illicit weapons.
“That’s the assessment I made, Congress made and the
U.N. Security Council made,” he said.
Bush also addressed his personal responsibility for the events
of Sept. 11. He attributed any questionable decisions he may have
made to the quality of the information at his disposal.
He cited Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet as
his primary source of information about terrorist threats. Tenet
came under fire in 2003 when he admitted allowing faulty
intelligence — alleging Hussein attempted to buy African
uranium — to remain in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union
“Had I had any inkling that those people would fly planes
into the buildings, I would have moved heaven and earth to prevent
that,” Bush said.
Bush responded to the claim that his administration was so
focused on Iraq that it ignored warning signs of possible attacks.
“The country was not on a war footing,” he said.
Bush stressed the war on terror is not over. “Iraq is only
one theater in the war on terror,” he said. “I’m
afraid (terrorists) want to hurt us again,” he added,
suggesting additional military action may be necessary to combat
the global terrorism threat.
College Republicans chair Allison Jacobs said Bush’s
speech should help his declining approval ratings in polls.
“It will calm some of the public anger over the
war,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs also said Bush showed compassion in his speech toward
soldiers as well as a dislike of war.
“It was important how he emphasized war was not his first
reaction. It was resorted to after all doors were closed,”
Jacobs said. “He showed concern for the troops and their