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Bush: 'We're not leaving so long as I'm president'

RAW STORY
Published: Monday August 21, 2006

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US President George W. Bush has announced that the United States will not be leaving Iraq during his presidency, RAW STORY has learned.

"Either you say, 'Yes its important we stay there and get it done,' or we leave," Bush argued. "Were not leaving so long as Im the president. That would be a huge mistake."

At a news conference today, Bush also conceded that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

Bush opened his remarks at 10 AM, announcing that the nation would be offering $230 million in aid to Lebanon. The president also called for fast deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

Late in the conference, when asked what Iraq's role was in the World Trade Center attacks, the president said, "Nothing."

But he went on to suggest that by overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime, the United States could forestall future acts of terrorism by defeating resentment with hope, "and the best way to do hope is through a form of government."

A full transcript of the president's remarks follow:

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BUSH: Thank you all. Please be seated. Fancy digs we've got here. Thanks for your hospitality. It's good to visit with you. I look forward to taking some of your questions.

I do want to talk to you about the latest developments in Lebanon and what we're doing to ensure U.N. Security Council 1701 is implemented and its words are quickly put into action. Resolution 1701 authorizes an effective international force to deploy to Lebanon, which is essential to peace in the region, and it's essential to the freedom of Lebanon.

An effective international force will help ensure the cessation of hostilities' holds in southern Lebanon once the Israeli troops withdraw. An effective international force will help the Lebanese army met its responsibility to secure Lebanon's borders and stop them from acting -- and stop Hezbollah from acting as a state within a state. An effective international force will help give displaced people in both Lebanon and Israel the confidence to return to their homes and begin rebuilding their lives without fear of renewed violence and terror.

An international force requires international commitment. Previous resolutions have failed in Lebanon because they were not implemented by the international community, and in this case, did not prevent Hezbollah and its sponsors from instigating violence. The new resolution authorizes a force of up to 15,000 troops. It gives this force an expanded mandate. The need is urgent. The international community must now designate the leadership of this new international force, give it robust rules of engagement and deploy it as quickly as possible to secure the peace.

America will do our part. We will assist the new international force with logistic support, command and control, communications and intelligence. Lebanon, Israel and our allies agree that this would be the most effective contribution we can make at this time. We will also work with the leadership in the international force once it's identified to ensure that the United States is doing all we can to make this mission a success. Deployment of this new international force will also help speed delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Our nation is wasting no time in helping the people of Lebanon. In other words, we're acting before the force gets in there. We've been on the ground in Beirut for weeks and have already distributed more than half of our $50 million pledge of disaster relief to the Lebanese people who've lost their homes in the current conflict.

Secretary Rice has led the diplomatic efforts to establish humanitarian corridors so that relief convoys can get through, to reopen the Beirut airport to passenger and humanitarian aid flights, and to ensure a steady fuel supply for Lebanese power plants and automobiles.

I directed 25,000 tons of wheat be delivered in Lebanon in the coming weeks but will do even more. Today I'm announcing that America will send more aid to support humanitarian and reconstruction work in Lebanon, for a total of more than $230 million.

These funds will help the Lebanese people rebuild their homes and return to their towns and communities. Funds will help the Lebanese people restore key bridges and roads. Funds will help the Lebanese people rehabilitate schools so the children can start their school year sn time this fall.

I've directed that an oil spill response team be sent to assist the Lebanese government in cleaning up an oil slick that is endangering coastal communities. Proposing a $42 million package to help train and equip Lebanon's armed forces. I will soon be sending a presidential delegation of private-sector leaders to Lebanon to identify ways that we can tap into the generosity of American businesses and nonprofits to continue to help the people of Lebanon.

MORE NEWSCONFERENCE-BUSH PAGE 4 08/21/2002 .STX

As we take these steps, I'll also work closely with Congress to extend the availability of loan guarantees to help rebuild infrastructure in Israel -- infrastructure damaged by Hezbollah's rockets. America is making a long-term commitment to help the people of Lebanon because we believe every person delives (sic) in -- deserves to live in a free, open society that -- that respects the rights of all. We reject the killing of innocents to achieve a radical and violent agenda.

The terrorists and their state sponsors, Iran and Syria, have a much darker vision. They're working to thwart the efforts of the Lebanese people to break free from foreign domination and build their own democratic future. The terrorists and their sponsors are not going to succeed. The Lebanese people have made it clear they want to live in freedom, and now it's up to their friends and allies to help them do so.

I'll be glad to answer some questions, starting with you, Terry.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. More than 3,500 Iraqis were killed last month -- the highest civilian monthly toll since the war began. Are you disappointed with the lack of progress by Iraq's unity government in bringing together the sectarian and ethnic groups?

BUSH: No, I -- I am aware that extremists and terrorists are doing everything they can to prevent Iraq's democracy from growing stronger. That's what I'm aware of. And therefore we have a plan to help them -- them, the Iraqis -- achieve their objectives.

Part of the plan is political; that is, to help the Maliki government work on reconciliation and to work on rehabilitating the community.

The other part is, of course, security. And I have given our commanders all the flexibility they needed to adjust tactics to be able to help the Iraqi government defeat those who want to thwart the ambitions of the people. And that includes, you know, a very robust security plan for Baghdad. We -- you may or not know, Teri -- have moved troops from Mosul Stryker Brigade into Baghdad, all aiming to help the Iraqi government succeed.

You know, the -- I hear a lot of talk about civil war. I'm -- I'm concerned about that, of course. I -- and I've talked to a lot of people about it. And what I've found from my talks are that the Iraqis want a unified country, and that the Iraqi leadership is determined to thwart the efforts of the extremists and the radicals and al Qaeda, and that the security forces remain united behind the government. And one thing that's clear, the Iraqi people are showing incredible courage.

The United States of America must understand it's in our interests that we help this democracy succeed. As a matter of fact, it's in our interests that we help reformers across the Middle East achieve their objectives. This is the fundamental challenge of the 21st century.

A failed Iraq: would make America less secure.

A failed Iraq: in the heart of the Middle East will provide safe haven for terrorists and extremists. It will embolden those who are trying to thwart the ambitions of reformers. In this case, it would give the terrorists and extremists an additional tool besides safe haven and added revenues from oil sales.

You know, it's an interesting debate we're having in America about how we ought to handle Iraq. There's a lot of people -- good, decent people -- saying withdrawal now. They're absolutely wrong. It would be a huge mistake for this country. If you think problems are tough now, imagine what it would be like if the United States leaves before this government has a chance to defend herself, govern herself and listen to the -- and answer to the will of the people.

Patsy. We're working our way here to the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

BUSH: Give you a little warm-up. Not yet.

QUESTION: Iran has indicated that it will defy the U.N. on nuclear enrichment. It's been holding military exercises, sending weapons and money to Hezbollah. Isn't Tehran's influence in the region growing despite your efforts to curb it?

BUSH: You know, the final history in the region has yet to be written. And what's very interesting about the violence in Lebanon and the violence in Iraq: and the violence in Gaza is this: These are all groups of terrorists who are trying to stop the advance of democracy.

They're trying to thwart the will of millions who simply want a normal, hopeful life. That's what we're seeing.

And it's up to the international community to understand the threat. I remember right after Hezbollah launched its rocket attacks on Israel, I said this is a clarifying moment; it's a chance for the world to see the threats of the 21st century, the challenge we face.

And so to answer your question on Iran, Iran is obviously part of the problem. They sponsor Hezbollah. They encourage a radical brand of Islam. Imagine how difficult this issue would be if Iran had a nuclear weapon. And so therefore, it's up to the international community, including the United States, to work in concert for effective diplomacy. And that begins at the United Nations Security Council.

We have passed one Security Council resolution, demanding that Iran cease its enrichment activities. We will see what their response is. We're beginning to get some indication, but we'll wait till they have a formal response. The U.N. resolution calls for us to come back together on the 31st of August. Dates -- you know, dates are fine, but what really matters is will. And one of the things I will continue to remind our friends and allies is the danger of a nuclear- armed Iraq.

But no, you're right, this is a -- they're a central part of creating instability, trying to stop reformers from realizing dreams. And the question facing this country is do we, one, understand the threat to America? In other words, do we understand that a failed -- failed states in the Middle East are a direct threat to our country's security?

And secondly, will we continue to stay engaged in helping reformers, in working to advance liberty, to defeat an ideology that doesn't believe in freedom?

And my answer is, so long as I'm the president, we will. I clearly see the challenge. I see the challenge to -- with -- with these threats posed to our homeland, and I see the challenge these threats posed to the world.

Helen?

QUESTION: (Chuckles.)

BUSH: What's so funny about me saying "Helen"? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Israel --

BUSH: It's the anticipation of your question, I guess.

QUESTION: Israel broke its word twice on the truce. And you mentioned Hezbollah rockets, but it's Israeli bombs that destroyed Lebanon. Why do you always give them a pass? And what's your view on view on breaking of your oath for a truce?

BUSH: Hm. Yeah. Thank you.

I -- I'd like to remind people about how this started, how this whole -- how the damage to innocent life, which -- which -- which bothers me, began; what caused this.

QUESTION: Why drop bombs on -- (off mike)?

BUSH: Wait, let me finish. Let -- let -- may I -- let me -- may I -- please, let me finish the question. It was a great question to begin with. The follow-up was a little difficult, but anyway.

QUESTION: (Chuckles.)

BUSH: I know you're waiting for my answer, aren't you, with bated breath.

(Laughs.) There you go.

It's -- this never would have occurred had a terrorist organization, a state within a state, not launched attacks on a sovereign nation. From the beginning, Helen, I said that Israel, one, has a right to defend herself, but Israel ought to be cautious about how she defends herself. Israel is a democratically elected government. They make decisions on their own sovereignty. It's their decision making that is what leads to the attacks they chose. And -- but the world must understand that now is the time to come together to address the root cause of the problem, and the problem is you had a state within a state. You had people launch attacks on a sovereign nation without the consent of the government in the country in which they are lodged.

And that's why it's very important for all of us, those of us who are involved in this process, to get an international force into Lebanon to help the Lebanese government achieve some objectives. One is their ability to exert control over the entire country. Secondly is to make sure that the Hezbollah forces don't rearm, don't get armed from Syria, or Iran through Syria, to be able to continue to wreak havoc in the region.

Let's see. We'll finish the first line here. Everybody can be patient.

QUESTION: Thank you.

BUSH: It's kind of like dancing together, isn't it? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, kind of.

BUSH: If I ask for any comments from the peanut gallery, I'll call on you, Armon (sp). (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Mr. --

BUSH: Yeah. By the way, seersucker is coming back. I hope everybody gets it. (Laughter.) Never mind.

QUESTION: It's the summertime east Texas county commissioner look. (Laughter.)

BUSH: (Laughs.)

Yes. Yes, Martha. Sorry.

QUESTION: That's quite all right.

Mr. President, I'd like to go back to Iraq. You have continually cited the elections, the new government as progress in Iraq, and yet the violence has gotten worse in certain areas. You have to go to Baghdad again. Is it not time for a new strategy? And if not, why not?

BUSH: You know, Martha, you've covered the Pentagon; you know that the Pentagon is constantly adjusting tactics because they have the flexibility from the White House to do so.

QUESTION: I'm talking about the strategy.

BUSH: Well, the strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society. That's the strategy.

The tactics -- now, either you say, yes, it's important that we stay there and get it done, or we leave. We're not leaving so long as I'm the president. That would be a huge mistake. It would send an unbelievably, you know, terrible signal to reformers across the region. It would say we've abandoned our desire to change the conditions that create terror. It would give the terrorists a safe haven from which to launch attacks. It would embolden Iran. It would embolden extremists. No, we're not leaving.

The strategic objective is to help this government succeed. That's the strategic -- and not only to help the government -- the reformers in Iraq: succeed, but to help the reformers across the region succeed, to fight off the elements of extremism. The tactics are which change.

Now, if you say, are you going to change your strategic objective, it means you're leaving before the mission is complete, and we're not going to leave before the mission is complete. I -- I agree with General Abizaid: We leave before the mission is done, the terrorists will follow us here.

And so we have changed tactics. Our commanders have got the flexibility necessary to change tactics on the ground, starting with plan Baghdad, and that's when we move troops from Mosul into Baghdad and replace them with a Stryker Brigade so we're not -- we increase troops during this time of instability.

QUESTION: Sir?

BUSH: Suzanne?

QUESTION: Sir, that's not really the question. The strategy is --

BUSH: Sounded like the question to me.

QUESTION: You -- you keep -- you keep saying that you don't want to leave, but is your strategy to win working, even if you don't want to leave? You've gone into Baghdad before. These things have happened before.

BUSH: If I didn't think it would work, I would change the -- our commanders would recommend changing the strategy.

They believe it'll work. It takes time to defeat these people. The Maliki government's been in power for, you know, less than six months. And, yeah, the people spoke. I've cited that as a part of -- of -- the reason I've cited it is because it's what the Iraqi people want. And the fundamental question facing this government is whether or not we will stand with reformers across the region. It's really -- it's really the task. And we're going to stand with this government.

And, you know, obviously I wish the violence would go down, but not as much as the Iraqi citizens would wish the violence would go down. But incredibly enough, they showed great courage, and they want our help. And any sign that says we're going to leave before the job is done simply emboldens terrorists and creates a certain amount of doubt for people so they won't take the risk necessary to help a civil society evolve in the country.

And this is the campaign -- I'm sure they're watching the campaign carefully. There are a lot of good, decent people saying, get out now. Vote for me. I will do everything I can to, I guess, cut off money is what they're trying to do to get our troops out. It's a big mistake. It were to be wrong, in my judgment, for us to leave before the mission is complete in Iraq.

Suzanne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Back to Lebanon, the Lebanese prime minister over the weekend said that Israel flagrantly violated the cease-fire with its raid into Lebanon, and so far, the European allies who have committed forces, the U.N. security peacekeeping forces, have expressed reservations -- those Muslim nations who have offered troops have been shunned by Israeli officials. Why shouldn't we see this cease-fire as one that essentially is falling apart? And what makes this more than a piece of paper if you don't have the will of the international community to back it up?

BUSH: Yeah, no, listen, all the more reason why we need to help our friends and allies get the forces necessary to help the Lebanese forces, keep that -- keep the cessation of hostilities in place, intact. And that's why we're working with friends, with allies, with Security Council members to make sure the force that is committed is robust and the rules of engagement are clear. And it's -- so it's an ongoing series of conversations and discussions, and hopefully, this will happen quite quickly.

QUESTION: (Off mike) -- the French to contribute more troops?

BUSH: Well, we're pressing on all. I was asked about the French the other day at Camp David, and I -- listen, France has had a very close relationship with Lebanon. There's historical ties with Lebanon. I would hope they would put more troops in. I mean, they understand the region as well as anybody, and so we're working with, you know, a lot of folks trying to get this force up and running.

Look, like you, I mean, you sound somewhat frustrated by diplomacy. Diplomacy can be a frustrating thing. I think the strategy can work so long as the force is robust and the rules of engagement are clear.

QUESTION: Mr. President, as you mentioned, we're just 10 days from the U.N. Security Council deadline on Iran. Judging by the public comments from the Iranians, it appears at least highly unlikely that they're going to stop or suspend their enrichment program. Are you confident that the U.N. Security Council will move quickly on sanctions if Iran thumbs its nose at the world again?

BUSH: I certainly hope so. In order for the U.N. to be effective, there must be consequences if people thumb their nose at the United Nations Security Council, and we will work with people in the Security Council to achieve that objective. And the objective is that there's got to be a consequence for them basically ignoring what the Security Council has suggested through resolutions.

QUESTION: Understanding that diplomacy takes time, do you think that this could drag out for a while?

BUSH: You know, I don't know. I'm -- I certainly want to solve this problem diplomatically, and I believe the best chance to do so is for there to be more than one voice speaking clearly to the Iranians. And I was pleased that we got a resolution, that there was a, you know, a group of nations willing to come together to send a message to the Iranians; nations as diverse as China and Russia, plus the EU-3, and the United States.

Kelly.

QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. President. When you talked today about the violence in Baghdad, first you mentioned extremists, radicals and then al Qaeda. It seems that al Qaeda and foreign fighters are much less of a problem there and that it really is Iraqis versus Iraqis. And when we heard about your meeting the other day with experts and so forth, some of the reporting out of that said you were frustrated, you were surprised, and your spokesman said, "Nope, you're determined."

But frustration seems like a very real emotion. Why wouldn't you be frustrated, sir, by what's happening?

BUSH: I'm not -- I do remember the meeting; I don't remember being "surprised." I'm not sure what they meant by that.

QUESTION: About the lack of gratitude among the Iraqi people.

BUSH: Oh. No, I think -- yeah -- first of all, to the first part of your question, you know, if you look back at the words of Zarqawi before he was brought to justice, he made it clear that the intent of their tactics in Iraq: was to create civil strife. In other words, if you -- look at what he said. He said let's kill Shi'a to get Shi'a to seek revenge and therefore to create this kind of hopefully cycle of violence. Secondly, I think it's pretty clear that the -- at least the evidence indicates that the bombing of the shrine was an al Qaeda plot, all intending to create sectarian violence.

Now, al Qaeda is still very active in Iraq. As a matter of fact, some of the more -- I would guess, I would surmise that some of the more spectacular bombings are done by al Qaeda suiciders. No question there's sectarian violence as well. And the challenge is to provide a security plan such that a political process can go forward. And you know, I know -- I'm sure you all are tired of hearing me say 12 million Iraqis voted, but it's an indication about the desire for people to live in a free society. That's what that means, see. And the only way to defeat this ideology in the long term is to defeat it through another ideology, a competing ideology, one that -- where government, you know, responds to the will of the people. And that's really the fundamental question we face here in the beginning of this 21st century is whether or not we believe as a nation and others believe it is possible to defeat this ideology.

Now, I recognize some say that these folks are not ideologically -- but I strongly disagree. I think not only do they have an ideology, they have tactics necessary to spread their ideology. And it would be a huge mistake for the United States to leave the region, to concede territory to the terrorists, to not confront them.

And -- and the best way to confront them is to help those who want to leave in free society. Look, eventually Iraq: will succeed because the Iraqis will see to it that they succeed. And our job is to help them succeed. That's our job. Our job is to help their forces be better equipped, to help their police be able to deal with these extremists, and to help their government succeed.

QUESTION: But are you frustrated, sir?

BUSH: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated, rarely surprised. Sometimes I'm happy. You know, this is -- this is a -- it's -- but war's not a time of joy. These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times. And they're difficult times. And they're straining the -- the psyche of our country. I understand that. You know, nobody likes to see innocent people die. Nobody wants to turn on their TV on a daily basis and see the havoc wrought by terrorists. And our question is, do we have the -- the capacity and the desire to spread peace by confronting these terrorists and supporting those who want to live in liberty? That's -- that's -- that's the question.

And my answer to that question is, we must. We owe it to future generations to do so.

Bill.

QUESTION: Mr. President, as you have reminded us a number of times, it was Hezbollah that started -- (inaudible) -- Lebanon. But you were supportive of the holding off of any kind of cease-fire until Israel had a chance to clear out the Hezbollah weapons. By all accounts, they did not exactly succeed in doing that. And by all accounts the Lebanese army, as it moved into southern Lebanon, had a wink-and-a-nod arrangement with Hezbollah not to disturb anything, to just leave things as they are -- a situation not unknown in the Middle East.

Do you demand that the peacekeeping force, if and when it gets up and running, disarms Hezbollah?

BUSH: The truth of the matter is if 1559 -- that's a United Nations Security Council resolution number -- had been fully implemented, we wouldn't be in the situation we were in to begin with. There will be another resolution coming out of the United Nations giving further instructions to the international force. First things first is to get the rules of engagement clear so that the force will be robust to help the Lebanese.

One thing is for certain is that when this force goes in to help Lebanon, Hezbollah won't have that safe haven nor that kind of -- the freedom to run in Lebanon's southern border. In other words, there's an opportunity to create a cushion, a security cushion.

Hopefully, over time Hezbollah will disarm. You can't have a democracy with a, you know, armed political party willing to bomb its neighbor without the consent of its government, or, you know, just deciding, well, let's just create enough chaos and discord by lobbing rockets.

And so the reality is, in order for Lebanon to succeed -- and we want Lebanon's democracy to succeed -- the process is going to -- the Lebanese government's eventually going to have to deal with Hezbollah.

QUESTION: But it's the status quo if there's no desire to.

BUSH: Not really. I mean, yeah, eventually, you're right. But in the meantime, there will be a -- you know, there's a security zone, something to -- something to -- to -- where -- where the Lebanese army and the UNIFIL force -- a more robust UNIFIL force -- can create a security zone between Lebanon and Israel. That would be helpful. But ultimately you're right; your question is, shouldn't Hezbollah disarm? And ultimately they should. And it's necessary for the Lebanese government to succeed.

The cornerstone of our policy in that part of the world is to help democracies. Lebanon's a democracy. We want the Siniora government to succeed. Part of our aid package is going to be to help strengthen the army of Lebanon so when the government speaks, when the government commits its troops, they do so in an effective way.

Knoller.

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

BUSH: How are you feeling?

QUESTION: I'm good, sir.

BUSH: Good to see you.

QUESTION: It's good to be back. Thanks.

BUSH: Yeah, it's good to see you. Sorry we didn't spend more time in Crawford. I knew you were anxious to do so.

QUESTION: Always am.

BUSH: Yes, that's good. Well, we loved seeing you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

Let me ask you about presidential pardons. Last week you issued 17 of them. That brought the number of pardons you've issued in your presidency to 97, and that's far fewer than most of your recent predecessors, except your dad.

BUSH: Mmm.

QUESTION: And I want to ask you, do you consider yourself to be stingy when it comes to pardons?

BUSH: (Laughs.)

QUESTION: What is your philosophy on granting presidential pardons?

BUSH: You know, I don't have the criterion in front of me, Mark, but we have strict criterion that we utilize, we being the Justice Department and the White House counsel. And I -- I, frankly, haven't compared the number of pardons I've given to any other president. Perhaps I should, but I -- I don't think, you know, a scorecard should necessarily, you know, be the -- you know, the guidepost for -- for pardoning people.

McKinnon.

I'm going to go to you, Josh, and kind of work our way in.

QUESTION: Thanks.

Mr. President, what do you say to people who are losing patience with gas prices at $3 a gallon? And how much of a political price do you think you're paying for that right now.

BUSH: Mmm. I -- I -- I've been talking about gas prices ever since they got high, starting with this: I -- look, I understand I understand gas prices are like a hidden tax -- not a hidden tax, just a tax.

They're taking money out of people's pockets. I know that. All the more reason for us to diversify away from crude oil. That's not going to happen overnight. If we pass law that encourage, you know, consumption through different purchasing habits like, you know, hybrid vehicles -- you buy hybrid you get a tax credit. We've encouraged the spread of ethanol as an alternative to crude oil. We have asked for Congress to pass regulatory relief so that we can build more refineries to increase the supply of gasoline, hopefully taking the pressure off of price. And so the strategy is to recognize that dependency upon crude oil is -- in a global market affects us economically here at home, and therefore we need to diversify away as quickly as possible.

Jackson.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. As you know, the one-year anniversary of Katrina is coming up and there are a lot of retrospectives about what went wrong down there last year. Specifically, what has your administration done in the past year to help the folks down there? What remains to be done?

BUSH: Thanks. You know, I went to New Orleans in Jackson Square and made a commitment that we would help the people there recover. I also want the people down there to understand that it's going to take a while to recover. This was a huge storm.

First thing that's necessary to help the recovery is money. And our government has committed over $210 billion to help. Of that a lot of money went out the door to help people adjust from, you know, having to be moved because of the storm. And then there's rental assistance, infrastructure repair, debris removal. Mississippi removed about 97 percent, 98 percent of its what they call dry debris.

We're now in the process of getting debris from the -- from -- from the waters removed.

Louisiana's slower in terms of getting debris removed. The money's available to help remove that debris. People can get -- can get after it, you know, and I would hope they would.

Let me -- let me finish. Thank you.

We've provided about $2.8 billion for education. That money's gone out the door. We want those schools up and running. As I understand, the schools are running now in New Orleans, a lot of schools are.

Flood insurance -- we're spending money on flood insurance.

There is more work to be done, particularly when it comes to housing. We've spent about -- appropriated about 16 billion (dollars), $27 billion for direct housing grants to people in the Gulf Coast and in Louisiana. I made the decision, along with the local authorities, that -- that each state ought to develop the -- a housing recovery plan. That's what they call the LRA in Louisiana. They're responsible for taking the federal money and getting it to the people. Same in -- Mississippi's developed its own plan. I thought it'd be best that there be a local plan developed and implemented by local folks. And so there's now, as I mentioned, $26 billion of direct housing grants. Each state has developed its own plan, how much money goes to each homeowner to help these people rebuild their lives.

And so, you know, I think the area that -- where people see the most effect in their lives is when they start getting this individualized CDBG grant money.

QUESTION: (Off mike) -- disappointed you about the recovery, the federal response?

BUSH: You know, I was concerned at first about how much Congress and the taxpayers would be willing to appropriate and spend. I mean, $210 billion is a strong commitment, and I'm pleased with that. Any time we -- I named a man named Don Powell to go down there and, you know, the thing that's most important is for the government to, you know, eliminate any bureaucrotic (sic) -- bureaucratic obstacles when we find something that's not moving quick enough.

I think, for example, about the debris removal. You know, there was the issue of whether or not the government would pay for debris removal on private property or not, so we worked out a plan with the local mayors and local county commissioners, local parish presidents to be able to designate certain property as a health hazard. And when they did so, then the government money could pay for it. In other words, we're trying to be flexible with the rules and regulations we have to deal with.

But the place where people, I'm sure, are going to be most frustrated is whether or not they're going to get the money to rebuild their homes, and my attitude is we've appropriated the money and that we'll work with the states to get the money.

April, I suspect you have a follow-up on this.

QUESTION: Yes, I do, sir, and I --

BUSH: Well, why don't you let her go?

QUESTION: And another question, sir, follow-up. Some have a concern that you've given all of this money, but the federal government has moved away to let the local governments, particularly in New Orleans, handle everything, and things are not moving like they expect. And that's one of the concerns.

And another question, if you --

BUSH: Well, let me address that, and I promise you can ask another one.

As I mentioned to you, that the strategy from the getco was to work with the local folks in Mississippi and Louisiana, and they would then submit their plans to the federal government, particularly for housing, and that, upon approval, we would then disperse the appropriated monies, in this case, about $27 billion for housing grants.

And so each state came up with a -- with a grant formula. And I can't -- I can't give you all the details, but it's, you know -- but it's -- the whole purpose is intended to get money into people's pockets to help them rebuild. And once the strategy is developed at the state and local level, it makes sense for the monies to be appropriated at the state and local level. And if there's a -- you know, if there's a level of frustration there, we will work with the LRA, in this case.

Second question?

QUESTION: I have one follow-up on that. Do you think --

BUSH: Are you trying to dominate this thing? (Scattered laughter.)

QUESTION: Sir -- no, sir, but I don't get a chance to talk to you as much as the others.

BUSH: That's not a -- wait a minute. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But a follow-up. Do you think that more needs to be done -- does the federal government need to put its hand on what's going on? Because New Orleans is not moving the --

BUSH: I think the best way to do this is for the federal government's representative, Don Powell, to continue to work with Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco to get the money into the hands of the people. The money's been appropriated, the formula's in place, and now it's time to move forward.

Now -- you have another question, I presume.

QUESTION: Yes, and this is -- it's --

BUSH: Gosh.

QUESTION: The Chinese -- Chinese officials are saying that you need to get involved in the six-party talks and that ultimately you have to be a part of the six-party talks dealing with North Korea.

BUSH: Yeah.

QUESTION: And also they're saying that you need to stop dealing with the issue of money laundering and deal with the real issue of ballistic missiles. What are your thoughts?

BUSH: Well, counterfeiting U.S. dollars is an issue that every president ought to be concerned about. And when you catch people counterfeiting your money, you need to do something about it.

We are very much involved in the six-party talks.

It's -- matter of fact, I talked to Hu Jintao this morning about the six-party talks and about the need for us to continue to work together to send a clear message to the North Korean leader that there is a better choice for him than to continue to develop a nuclear weapon.

The six-party talks are -- is an important part of our -- six- party talks are an important part of our strategy of dealing with Kim Jong Il, and the North -- the Chinese president recognized that in the phone call today. And so we talked about how we'll continue to collaborate and work together.

Jim.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned the campaign earlier Do you agree with those in your party, including the vice president, who said or implied Democratic voters emboldened al Qaeda types by choosing Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman, and then (is the ?) message that how Americans vote will send messages to terrorists abroad.

Thank you.

BUSH: You're welcome.

What all of us in this administration have been saying is that leaving Iraq: before the mission is complete will send the wrong message to the enemy and will create a more dangerous world. That's what we're saying. And it's an honest debate and it's an important debate for Americans to listen to and to be engaged in.

In our judgment, the consequences for defeat in Iraq: are unacceptable. I fully understand that some didn't think we ought to go in there in the first place. But defeat -- if you think it's bad now, imagine what Iraq: would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself and sustain itself, A -- you know, chaos in Iraq: would be very unsettling in the region.

Leaving before the job would be done would send a message that America really is no longer engaged or cares about the form of governments in the Middle East. Leaving before the job would done would be -- send a signal to our troops that the sacrifices they made were not worth it. Leaving before the job was done would be a disaster. And that's what we're saying. I will never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me. This has nothing to do with patriotism; it has everything to do with understanding the world in which we live.

It's like the other day I was critical of those who heralded the federal judge's opinion about the terrorist surveillance program. I thought it was a terrible opinion, and that's why we're appealing it. And I have no -- you know, look, I understand how democracy works. Quite a little bit of criticism in it, which is fine. That's fine. It's part of the process. But I have every right, as do my administration, to make it clear what the consequences would be of policy, and if we think somebody is wrong or doesn't see the world the way it is, we will continue to point that out to people. And therefore, those who heralded the decision not to give law enforcement the tools necessary to protect the American people simply don't see the world the way we do. They say it maybe kind of isolated incidents. These aren't isolated instances; they're tied together. There is a global war going on.

And you know, somebody said, well, this is law enforcement. No, this isn't law enforcement in my judgment. Law enforcement means kind of a simple, you know, singular response to the problem. This is a global war on terror. We're facing, you know, extremists that believe something and they want to achieve objectives. And therefore, the United States must use all our assets, and we must work with others to defeat this enemy.

That's -- that's the call. And we -- in the short run, we got to stop them from attacking us. That's why I give the Tony Blair government great credit and their intelligence officers, and our own government credit for working with the Brits to stop this attack.

But you know something? It's an amazing town, and -- you know, where they say on the one hand, you can't have the tools necessary -- we herald the fact that you won't have the tools necessary to defend the people, and sure enough, a(n) attack would occur and say, how come you don't have the tools necessary to defend the people? That's the way -- that's the way we think around this town. And so, you know, we'll -- Jim, we'll continue to speak out in a respectful way, never challenging somebody's love for America when you criticize their -- their strategies or their -- their point of view.

And, you know, for those who say that, well, all they're trying to say is we're not patriotic simply don't listen to our words very carefully, do they? What -- what matters is that in this campaign that we clarify the different points of view, and there are a lot of people in the Democrat party who believe that the best of course of action is to leave Iraq: before the job is done, period, and they're wrong. And the American people have got to understand the consequence of leaving Iraq: before the job is done. We're not going to leave Iraq: before the job is done, and we'll complete the mission in Iraq. I can't tell you exactly when it's going to be done. But I do know that it's important for us to support the Iraqi people, who have shown incredible courage in their desire to live in a free society. And if we ever give up the desire to help people who live in freedom, we will have lost our soul as a nation as far as I'm concerned.

Ann (sp).

QUESTION: Is that a make-or-break issue for you in terms of domestic politics? There's a Republican in Pennsylvania who says he doesn't think the troops should -- would you campaign for Mike Fitzpatrick? Would you campaign --

BUSH: I already have.

QUESTION: And would you campaign against Senator Joe Lieberman, whose Republican candidate may support you, but he supports you, too, on Iraq?

BUSH: I'm going to say out of Connecticut. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It's your native state, Mr. President! You were born there!

BUSH: Shhh! (Laughter.)

QUESTION: How can you stay --

BUSH: (Chuckles.) I may be the only person -- the only presidential candidate who never carried the state in which he was born.

Do you think that's right, Herman? Of course, you would have researched that and dropped it out for everybody to see, particularly since I dissed that just ridiculous-looking outfit. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Your mother raised you better than that, Mr. President.

BUSH: I did. So I'm not going to say it --

QUESTION: It was Al Gore --

BUSH: -- and I don't want anybody to know that I think it's ridiculous-looking.

I'm not through yet.

QUESTION: Make or break issue for you.

BUSH: And by the way, we're -- I'm staying out of Connecticut because the -- the -- you know, that's what the party suggested, the Republican Party of Connecticut, and plus there's a better place to spend our money, time and resources.

QUESTION: (Off mike) -- party?

BUSH: Right, I'd listen to 'em very carefully. I'm a -- I'm a thoughtful guy. I listen to people. (Scattered laughter.) I -- I'm open-minded. I'm all the things that you know I am.

The other part of your question. Look, issues are won based upon whether or not you can keep this economy strong. Elections are won based upon economic issues and national security issues, and there's a fundamental difference between many of the Democrats and -- and -- and -- and my party, and that is they want to leave before the job is completed in Iraq.

And again, I repeat, these are decent people. You know, they're -- they're -- they're just -- they're -- they're just as American as I am. I just happen to strongly disagree with them. And it's very important for the American people to understand the consequences of leaving Iraq: before the job is done. This is a global war on terror.

I repeat what our major general said -- leading general said in the region. He said if we withdraw before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here. I strongly agree with that.

And if you believe that the job of the federal government is to secure this country, it's really important for you to understand that success in Iraq: is part of securing the country.

We're -- we're -- we're talking about a long-term issue here as well, Ann (sp). In the short term, we've got to have the tools necessary to stop terrorist attack. That means good intel, good intelligence-sharing, the capacity to know whether al Qaeda's calling into this country, and why. We've got to have all those tools. The Patriot Act, the -- the -- you know, the -- tearing down those walls between intel and law enforcement are a necessary part of protecting the country.

But in the long term, the only way to defeat this terrorist bunch is through the spread of liberty and freedom. And that's a big challenge. I understand it's a challenge. It requires commitment and patience and persistence. I believe it's the challenge of this -- the challenge for this generation. I believe we owe it to our children and grandchildren to stay engaged and to help spread liberty and to help reformers.

Now, ultimately, success is going to be up to the reformers, just like in Iraq. It's going to require Iraqis -- the will of Iraqis to succeed.

I understand that, and that's why our strategy is to give them the tools necessary to defend themselves and help them defend themselves; in this case, right now, mainly in Baghdad, but as well around the country.

At home, if I were a candidate for running, I'd say look at what the economy has done. It's strong. We've created a lot of -- let me finish my question, please. These hands going up, I'm not -- I'm kind of getting old, and you know, just getting into my peroration. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

BUSH: Look it up. (Laughter.)

I'd be telling people that the Democrats will raise your taxes. That's what they've said. I'd be reminding people that tax cuts have worked in terms of -- in terms of stimulating the economy. I'd be reminding people there's a philosophical difference between those who want to raise taxes and have the government spend the money, and those of us who say, "You get to spend the money the way you want to see fit; it's your money." I'd remind people that pro-growth economic policies have helped us cut that deficit faster than we thought.

I'd also remind people, if I were running, that the long-term problem facing the budget is Social Security and Medicare. And they look -- Republican or Democrat ought to say, "I look forward to working with the president to solve the problem." People expect us to come here to solve problems, and thus far, the attitude has been "Let's just kind of ignore what the president's said and just hope somebody else comes and solves it for us." And that's what I'd be running on.

I'd be running on the economy, and I'd be running on national security. But since I'm not running, I can only serve as an adviser to those who are.

Yeah, Herman.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Go ahead. (Laughter.)

BUSH: I don't need to now that you've stood up, and everybody can clearly see for themselves. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Mr. President, polls continue to show sagging support for the war in Iraq. I'm curious as to how you see this developing. Is it your belief that long-term results will vindicate your strategy, and people will change their mind about it?

Or is the kind of thing you're doing because you think it's right and you don't care if you ever gain public support for it?

BUSH: Thank you. Yeah, look -- look, I mean, presidents care about whether people support their policies. I don't -- (inaudible) -- think that I don't care. Of course I care. But I understand why people are discouraged about Iraq. I can understand that. There is -- we live in, you know, a world in which people hope things happen quickly. And this is a situation where things don't happen quickly because there's, you know, a very tough group of people using tactics, mainly the killing of innocent people, to achieve their objective, and they're skillful about how they do this and they also know the impact of what it means on the "conscienceness" of those of us who live in the free world. They know that. And so I care. I really do. I wish -- you know, and so therefore I must spend a lot of time trying to explain as best I can, you know, why it's important for us to succeed in Iraq. And --

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

BUSH: Let me finish. On the other hand, Ken, I don't think you've ever heard me say -- and you now have been covering me for quite a while, 12 years -- I don't think -- 12 years?

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

BUSH: Exactly, yeah. I don't think you've ever heard me say gosh, I better change positions because the polls say this or that. I've been here long enough to understand you cannot make good decisions if you're trying to chase a poll.

And so the second part of your question is, look, I'm going to do what I think is right. And if -- you know, if people don't like me for it, that's just the way it is, because --

QUESTION: A quick follow-up. A lot of the consequences you mention for pulling out seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn't gone in. How do you square all of that?

BUSH: I square it because imagine a world in which you had a Saddam Hussein who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who would -- who had relations with Zarqawi. Imagine what the world would be like with him in power. The idea is to try to help change the Middle East.

Now, look, I -- part of the reason we went into Iraq: was -- the main reason we went into Iraq: at the time was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn't, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction.

But I also talked about the human suffering in Iraq, and I also talked the need to advance a freedom agenda. And so my question -- my answer to your question is, is that imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of a world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.

You know, I've heard this theory about, you know, everything was just fine until we arrived and, you know, kind of -- the "stir up the hornet's nest" theory. It just doesn't hold water as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East. They were --

QUESTION: What did Iraq: have to do with that?

BUSH: What did Iraq: have to do with what?

QUESTION: The attack on the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq: was a -- Iraq: -- the lesson of September the 11th is take threats before they fully materialize, Ken.

Nobody's ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill to achieve an objective. I have made that case. And one way to defeat that -- you know, defeat resentment, is with hope. And the best way to do hope is through a form of government.

Now, I said going into Iraq: we got to take these threats seriously before they fully materialized. I saw a threat. I fully believe it was the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein, and I fully believe the world was better off without him. Now, the question is, how do we succeed in Iraq? And you don't succeed by leaving before the mission is complete, like some in this political process are suggesting.

Last question.

Stretch. Who you working for, Stretch?

QUESTION: The Washington Examiner.

BUSH: Oh, yeah. I'm glad you found work.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. (Laughter.) Mr. President, some pro- life groups are worried that your choice of FDA commissioner will approve over-the-counter sales of Plan B, a pill that they say essentially can cause early-term abortions. Do you stand by this choice? And how do you feel about Plan B in general?

BUSH: I believe that Plan B ought to be -- ought to require a prescription for minors. That's what I believe. And -- and -- and I support Andy's decision.

Thanks for letting me come by the new digs here. They may be a little too fancy for you.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

BUSH: Huh?

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

BUSH: No, I'd be happy to go back.

QUESTION: Tell her when she can go back.

QUESTION: Are we coming back?

QUESTION: Ever?

BUSH: Absolutely, you're coming back.

QUESTION: Can we hold you to --

BUSH: Coming back to the bosom of the White House. (Laughter.) I'm looking forward to hugging you when you come back, everybody. (Soft laughter.) When are you coming back?

QUESTION: As soon as you tell us.

QUESTION: May.

BUSH: May? Is that when it is scheduled? May?

QUESTION: They've sealed off the door. You know --

QUESTION: The decision will be made by commanders on the ground, sir. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: There's no timetable.

QUESTION: We want to withdraw --

BUSH: What do you think this is, a correspondents' dinner or something? (Laughter.)

Thank you all.