TCS Daily

The Bush Press Conference I'd Like to See

By Ilya Shapiro - April 21, 2004 12:00 AM

PRESIDENT BUSH: Ladies and gentlemen of the press, and you folks watching at home, good evening. Let me begin by thanking you for being here again so soon after my last press conference. As you know, I don't do many of these, and last week it showed.

I'm here now not because I want to change any of the answers I gave before, but because I think it's important to continue the dialogue about the momentous events going on around the world and in this country. The American people deserve to understand the direction their elected government is taking, and how their President approaches the weighty issues brought before him. I want to communicate better my ideas and those of my administration.

Now, after my discussion with you last week, and my appearance here with Prime Minister Blair -- who has been so gracious as a friend of America and of freedom in the world -- there should be no doubt in anybody's mind about the future role of the United States in Iraq and in the war on terror. We will be in Iraq as long as it takes to ensure that the sweet breath of liberty will never be extinguished from that ancient land, that it may serve as a shining beacon of hope for a troubled region.

This is America's destiny, not because of some well-intentioned but misguided idealism, but because it is in America's interest -- and the interest of all peace-loving peoples -- that the world share in the freedom and prosperity with which we have been blessed.

Having said that, let me make it clear that the Coalition Provisional Authority will, at the end of June, hand over full power and sovereignty to the interim Iraqi leadership. This will mark a great step in the Iraqi people's transition to democracy, and my legal advisers assure me that the new Iraqi constitution has been well designed for the challenges that society will face in the future from competing political, religious, and social forces. They know this because nobody is completely satisfied with the new Iraqi constitution.

Let me also make clear that Iraq, though it looms large now, is but one aspect of our grand war on terror. This is a real war we are fighting, one that is no less fierce for being mainly against non-state actors -- and indeed one that could be much more bloody than the Cold War which we finally won over the Soviet Empire nearly 15 years ago.

Again, make no mistake: Just as when our rival was Communism, we are fighting an evil that will not stop trying to kill us unless and until we kill it. This is a battle to the death with the forces of an insidious and perverse ideology that oppresses its own people and attacks the rest of us.

Some intellectuals have taken to calling it "Islamo-fascism." I don't know whether that's right, but I do know that Al Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and all their network of friends and supporters, of whatever creed and nationality, will be taken out. You have my word on it.

In conclusion, my friend and ally the Prime Minister may articulate it better than this old Texas ranch hand, but he is saying the same thing: We are united and we are determined to eliminate the threats to the lives of our own people, and to shine the light of freedom on the places where those threats originate.

I'll now take your questions.

ABNBCBS: Mr. President, this has been the deadliest month in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad, and support for your policy in this country is declining. Is Iraq another Vietnam?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Look, I could stand here and list off all the ways in which Iraq is not Vietnam, starting with the fact that the number of servicemen who have given their lives numbers in the hundreds, rather than the tens of thousands. And that the Iraqi leadership collapsed in a matter of days. And that the so-called Iraqi resistance is not being supported by a superpower. But you already know those facts, and I'm not about to get into a spitball fight with those who make such absurd comparisons.

So let me instead tell you how Iraq is like Vietnam. Just like Vietnam, we're fighting a war of liberation, and are now trying to secure a just and lasting freedom. Just like Vietnam's Tet offensive, we are succeeding in stamping out insurgents and rallying civilians to our -- their own -- cause. Just like Vietnam, we are criticized both for acting as an occupying bully, and for getting bogged down in a fight we cannot win. Just like Vietnam, some in the media are trying to paint a picture of quagmire and failure, to demoralize our troops and destroy the national will.

There will be bumps along the way, but also pleasant surprises. Be patient and be objective.

THE COASTAL ELITE TIMES-POST: But haven't you made any mistakes, Mr. President, any at all? Aren't you at all remorseful about 9/11?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I thought I told you not to bring up Sammy Sosa again, but then again I didn't know that steroids were about to hit Major League Baseball...

But seriously, did F.D.R. apologize for Pearl Harbor? Did Bill Clinton apologize for Oklahoma City? Of course I'm sorry that this terrible tragedy happened, and I grieve for the innocent people who lost their lives, but the blame lies squarely at the feet of Osama bin Laden.

After 9/11, we dusted ourselves off and went to work to make sure that nothing like that could ever happen again. Sure we've made mistakes -- I've made mistakes. I overestimated the strength of Saddam's army, and underestimated the pockets of guerrillas and foreign jihadists who sprang up after we toppled Saddam. I was a reluctant nation-builder, and still hope that the Iraqis will build their own nation, one that will be more legitimate for having been built that way.

But you've got to look at the big picture: In two and a half years we've overthrown the cruel tyrannies of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, crippled Al Qaida, and disarmed Libya -- not to mention prevented any further attack on American soil. And don't forget that our actions have the support of majorities in NATO, the expanded EU, and the OAS, plus Japan and Australia.

TIMEWEEK: On the subject of domestic politics, Mr. President, your Democratic opponent laid out so eloquently on "Meet the Press" on Sunday a concrete plan to create ten million jobs over the course of his first administration. Don't you have anything to offer the American people aside from tax cuts for your rich and powerful friends?

PRESIDENT BUSH: With all due respect to Senator Kerry, the President does not create jobs. Entrepreneurs and businesses create jobs. We have a strong, growing economy that's just now picking up steam. I mean, do you know how many millions of jobs were lost during my predecessor's time in office? A few million fewer than were created. That's the beauty of American capitalism; my main job is to get out of the way and not muck it up with taxes and regulations.

Of course, I've made some mistakes in the domestic sphere when I didn't just get out of the way and let it happen. First, the No Child Left Behind Act barely dented the power of the teachers' unions and imposed rigid requirements in an area where local control is vital. I succumbed to my desire to be bipartisan and work with Senator Kennedy on that one.

Second, the steel tariffs were an unmitigated failure, costing more jobs and economic growth in steel-employing industries than in steel manufacturing. There I succumbed to narrow political calculations that didn't even benefit me politically.

Third, the recent expansion of Medicare to include a new prescription drug benefit is unfortunately an albatross I've saddled around the necks of future generations. I thought it would be a good way to reward our seniors and control health spending, but I now understand that it's much too expensive and solves the wrong problem. Again, I was just trying to promote compassionate conservatism, but this was neither good policy nor good politics.

Believe me, I won't make those mistakes again -- and I plan to go into more depth about my plans in a future press conference, now that I've decided to have more of them -- but overall I'm proud of the job we've done these past three years and I'm confident that the American people will be too come November.

Ilya Shapiro last wrote for TCS on Fallujah.


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