Contact: White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 202-456-2580
1:05 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for coming. I'm honored you're here. Steve, thank you for the invitation. It's a real pleasure to be with you. What I thought I would do is share some thoughts with you about a couple of subjects, primarily
Before I do, I do want to thank Steve and the Chamber of Commerce for giving me a chance to dialogue with you, and hopefully giving the students here at this high school a chance to hear from the President firsthand. I know there are students who will be listening. My mission is to not only share with you what's on my mind, and why I have made some of the decisions I have made, but another mission is to convince you that serving the public, that public service is worthwhile; that you can go into politics or you can feed the hungry or you can serve in the military, and it's a fulfilling part of a person's life, and a necessary part, in my judgment, of a country that is a complete country.
So I want to thank the high school folks. I want to thank Chuck Wray, the Principal, for greeting me. I appreciate you letting me come to this center of learning. I particularly want to thank the teachers for teaching. There is no more noble profession than to be a teacher, and I'm honored to be in your midst.
I want to thank the Mayor, George Lovett -- George L. (Laughter.) Thank you, George -- George W. (Laughter.) I'm traveling today with the leader in the House for the Republican Party, John Boehner. (Applause.) John is a -- I've found him to be a good, solid, honest person. I know he is providing strong leadership in the House of Representatives. (Applause.) And I know he cares a lot about this district. I've seen John work issues. I've heard him speak in depth about what he believes. And I appreciate his leadership, and I appreciate him joining me today.
I wish I was traveling here with Laura. The best thing about my family is my wife. (Applause.) She is a great First Lady. I know that sounds not very objective, but that's how I feel. And she's also patient. Putting up with me requires a lot of patience. But she sends her best; she's in
And I will tell you, one reason -- this may sound counterintuitive, but a good marriage is really good after serving together in
Let me say something about Virginia Tech, and I want to first thank Steve for the moment of silence. You know, it's a -- there is -- the President spends time at disasters. Part of the job of the presidency is to help people heal from hurt. And the amazing thing is, though, when you go down to a scene like Virginia Tech, you can't help but be buoyed by the spirit that out of the tragedy comes a certain sense of resolve.
One of the things I try to assure the families and the students and the faculty of that fine university was that there are a lot of people around our country who are praying for them. It's interesting here in Tipp City, the first thing that happened was a moment of silence, a moment of prayer, to provide -- at least my prayer was, please comfort and strengthen those whose lives were affected by this horrible incident. It really speaks to the strength of this country, doesn't it, that total strangers here in
My job is a job to make decisions. I'm a decision -- if the job description were, what do you do -- it's decision-maker. And I make a lot of big ones, and I make a lot of little ones. Interestingly enough, the first decision I made happened right before I got sworn in as President. I was at the Blair House, which is across the street from the White House, getting ready to give my inaugural address. And the phone rang, and the head usher at the White House said, "President-elect Bush." I said, "Yes." He said, "What color rug do you want in the Oval Office?" (Laughter.) I said, this is going to be a decision-making experience. (Laughter.)
The first lesson about decision-making is, if you're short on a subject, ask for help. So if you're a student listening and you're not very good at math, ask for help. Don't be afraid to admit that you need help when it comes to life. I wasn't afraid to admit I wasn't sure how to design a rug, so I called Laura. (Laughter.) I said, they've asked me to design a rug in the Oval Office; I don't know anything about rug designing; will you help me? She said, of course. But I said, I want it to say something -- the President has got to be a strategic thinker and I said to her, make sure the rug says "optimistic person comes to work." Because you can't make decisions unless you're optimistic that the decisions you make will lead to a better tomorrow.
And so, if you were to come in the Oval Office, what you would see is this fantastic rug that looks like the sun. And it just sets the tone for the Oval Office.
I share that with you because I make a lot of decisions, and I'm optimistic that the decisions I have made will yield a better tomorrow. The hardest decision you make is whether or not to commit troops into combat -- people like this young man, people who served our country with great distinction, people who volunteer to say, I want to serve the
My decision making was deeply affected by the attack of September the 11th, 2001. It was a -- it was a moment that defined a dangerous world to me with absolute clarity. I realized then that this country was no longer invulnerable to attack from what may be happening overseas.
I realized that there is an enemy of the
This enemy is smart, capable, and unpredictable. They have defined a war on the
But that's how I see the world. And I made a vow that I would do everything I could, and work with members of Congress to do everything they could, to protect the
A lesson learned was that, at least in my opinion, that in order to protect us, we must aggressively pursue the enemy and defeat them elsewhere so we don't have to face them here. In other words, if what happens overseas matters to the
I've chosen a path that says we will go overseas and defeat them there. I also know full well that it's important for us if we're facing an ideology, if we're facing ideologues, if we're confronting people who believe something, that we have got to defeat their belief system with a better belief system. Forms of government matter, in my opinion. It matters how -- the nature of the government in which people live. And therefore, I have put as part of our foreign policy not only an aggressive plan to find extremists and radicals and bring them to justice before they hurt us, but also to help people live in liberty -- free societies, as the great alternative to people living under a tyrant, for example.
And so my decision making was based upon those principles. And now we're involved in -- I call it a global war against terror. You can't call it a global war against extremists, a global war against radicals, a global war against people who want to hurt
Living under a tyrant must be just brutal, and living under the reign of Saddam Hussein was incredibly brutal. A lot of innocent people were killed, a lot of people were cowed by the state. There really wasn't much in terms of a civil structure that would enable people to have a form of a representative government. People were kept apart through violence, in many ways. People were pitted against each other. A lot of people were given favored treatment.
The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was a difficult decision, I think a necessary decision. If you want to talk about that later on, we can. And what has happened since then is that we are trying to help a young democracy survive in the heart of the
Now I say that -- preventing our enemies from establishing a safe haven from which to attack us again -- because that is their stated objective in
Our objective is to deny them safe haven, is to prevent al Qaeda from being able to do in Iraq that which they did in Afghanistan, which is where they trained thousands of young men to come and kill -- to eventually kill innocent people.
Our objective also is to help a young democracy flourish in a part of the world that desperately needs liberty, in a part of the world where government -- forms of government will provide hope so as eventually to discourage the type of mentality that says 19 kids should get on airplanes and kill 3,000 people.
And it's incredibly hard work, but I have come to the conclusion, obviously, that it's necessary work. It's necessary work for peace.
In 2005, the Iraqi people went to the polls; 12 million voted. I view that as a statement that says -- by the way, I wasn't surprised that 12 million people, if given a chance to vote, voted. I was pleased, but I wasn't surprised. And the reason I wasn't surprised is because I believe in this principle: I believe liberty is universal. I don't believe freedom is just confined to
I think back, for example, right after World War II -- people might have argued after fighting the Japanese that they don't want to be free, they're the enemy; they killed a lot of people, they attacked the
And so it's a -- this country began to evolve, and it started with elections. It's easy to forget the elections because of all the violence. In 2006, I was convinced that we would be able to reposition our troops and have fewer troops in
And yet they -- and yet, the enemy -- and the enemy -- when I say, enemy, these are enemies of free societies, primarily al Qaeda inspired -- blew up the great religious shrine in '06, a year ago -- all aiming to create a sense of sectarian violence, all aiming to exacerbate the religious tensions that sometimes were exacerbated under Saddam Hussein, all aiming at preventing this young democracy from succeeding. And they succeeded. The enemy succeeded in causing there to be sectarian strife. In other words, the government wasn't ready to provide security. People started taking matters into their own hands. I'm going to protect myself, or I'm going to rely upon somebody else to protect me, they would say.
So I have a decision point to make, last fall. And the decision point was whether or not to either scale back or increase our presence in
The question was, do we increase our -- I call it, reinforce, you can call it, surge, there's all kind of words for it -- or do we pull back? As you know, I made a decision to reinforce. And I did because I believe the Iraqis want to have a peaceful society. I believe Iraqi mothers want their children to grow up in peace, just like American mothers do. I think, if given a chance, that society can emerge into a free society. I felt strongly that if violence erupted, sectarian violence erupted in the capital, it would make it impossible to achieve the objective, and that is to help this free society. Listen, there are -- or let it emerge into a free society.
And the goal is a country that is stable enough for the government to work, that can defend itself and serve as an ally in this war on terror, that won't be a safe haven, that will deny the extremists and the radicals. I happen to think there will be an additional dividend when we succeed -- remember the rug? I'm optimistic we can succeed. I wouldn't ask families to have their troops there if I didn't think, one, it was necessary, and two, we can succeed. I believe we're going to succeed. And I believe success will embolden other moderate people that said, we're going to reject extremists and radicals in their midst.
There's a good group of people in Washington, fair, decent, honorable people -- and by the way, in this political discourse, we should never question anybody's patriotism if they don't happen to agree with the President. That's not the American way. The American way is we ought to have a honest and open dialogue. There are good people, patriotic people who didn't believe that additional troops would make that big a difference, and therefore, we should not increase, but in some cases, pull out; in some cases, pull back. Either case, having weighed the options, I didn't think it was viable, and I didn't think it would work.
A couple of points I want to make, and then I promise to stop talking and answer your questions. People often ask me, what are we seeing on TV? What's happening with the violence? Here's my best analysis: One, the spectaculars you see are al Qaeda inspired. They claim credit for a lot of the big bombings. The bombing of the parliament was al Qaeda; the bombing of the Golden Samarra was al Qaeda. These are the Sunni extremists inspired by Osama bin Laden who attacked the
Their objective is twofold: One, shake the confidence of the average Iraqi that their government is incapable of providing security, and therefore, people will turn to militias in order to protect themselves. Their second objective is to shake our confidence. It's an interesting war, isn't it, where asymmetrical warfare is -- and that means people being able to use suicide bombers -- not only, obviously, kills a lot of innocent people, like which happened yesterday in Iraq, but also helps define whether or not we're successful.
If the definition of success in
Two of the biggest issues we face for the security of this country today and tomorrow is al Qaeda and
They have to do work. They know they have to do work. I told that to Prime Minister Maliki this week on a secure video: You have an obligation to your people, and to our people, for that matter, to do the hard work necessary, to show people that you're capable of getting your government to move forward with political reconciliation. There has to be reconstruction money spent, their reconstruction money. They've dedicated $10 billion out of their budget, and now they've got to spend that money wisely to show people that the government can be for all the people.
But if we were to leave before that were to happen, I will share a scenario that I'm fearful of. One, that the very radicals and extremists who attack us would be emboldened. It would confirm their sense that the
I didn't necessarily mean that the
Secondly, there would be a violence -- level of violence that would spill out beyond just the capital, could spill out beyond
Imagine a scenario where the oil wealth of certain countries became controlled -- came under the control of a radical, extremist group. And then all of a sudden you'd be dealing not only with safe haven for potential violent attack, you'd be dealing with the economic consequences of people who didn't share the values of the West, for example.
The scenario I'm beginning to describe to you I believe is a real scenario, a real possibility for a scenario, and I believe if this were to happen, people would look back 30 years from now, or 20 years from now, and say, what happened to them in 2007; how come they couldn't see the threat?
And so I want to share that with you -- these thoughts with you, because as a person whose job it is to make decisions, you've got to understand that I'm making them on what I believe is solid ground. These are necessary decisions for the country.
We're having an interesting debate in
First, I think it's a mistake -- and I've made it clear -- that the Congress should not have artificial timetables for withdrawal in a funding statement. I'll tell you why. (Applause.) Thank you. The reason why is, if you're a young commander on the ground, or an Iraqi soldier, and you've been tasked with a mission to help provide security for a city, and an enemy hears that you're leaving soon, it affects your capacity to do your job. It sends a signal to a dangerous part of the world that it's just a matter of time things will happen.
I think it's a mistake for Congress to tell the military how to do its job. We've got fantastic generals and colonels and captains who are trained to carry on military missions; that's their responsibility. And it's very important that they be given the resources and the flexibility necessary to carry out that which the Commander-in-Chief has asked them to do.
I fully understand the debate, and again I repeat to you, it's an important debate. I would hope it would be conducted with civil tone to bring honor to the process. Sometimes it gets a little out of hand there in
These are -- I would call these times consequential times. I believe we're in a long, ideological struggle. And I believe the struggle will determine whether or not this country is secure. People ask me -- you know, I've been reading a lot of history. People ask me, can you think of any historical parallels? Well, clearly the Cold War is an interesting parallel. There's a -- by the way, every new phase of history has its own unique features to it. For example, you've got a kid in the battlefield and he's emailing home every day. Or, four-hour [sic] news cycles. There's a lot of -- asymmetrical warfare, or $50 weapons are sometimes used to defeat expensive vehicles. In other words, these are different times.
But there are some parallels. One is, of course, the ideological standoff during the Cold War, eventually won by freedom, the forces of freedom. For some, that sounds maybe corny. But it's true. It's an historical truth. And in my judgment, it requires people to have faith in that universal principle of liberty.
I like to remind people that my dad was a 18-year-old kid when he signed up to -- for the United States Navy in World War II, and went off to combat in a really bloody war. And yet, his son becomes the President, and one of his best friends in the international scene was the Prime Minister of Japan. Prime Minister Koizumi was a partner in peace. Isn't it interesting? I think there's a historical lesson there, that liberty has got the capacity to transform enemies to allies.
I think there's a lesson in
We've got -- we face this -- we face a unique set of challenges, but I think we can learn something from history when we think about those challenges. I guess my conclusion is, I believe the decisions I have made were not only necessary to protect the country, but are laying a foundation of peace, the beginnings of laying that foundation of peace, so that generations will look back and say, thank goodness -- thank goodness, America didn't lose sight of basic principles, and thank goodness, America stayed true to her beliefs, and thank goodness, America led.
So thanks for letting me share some thoughts with you. And now I'll be glad to answer some questions. (Applause.)
Okay, thank you. Probably a nerve-wracking experience to think about asking -- it's not a nerve-wracking experience. Go ahead.
Q -- what is your view of the opposing party --
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks. He asked the question about, prior to the meeting yesterday, there was some concern that I wouldn't listen, that I'd made up my mind, and therefore, discussions weren't necessary. And I will tell you we had a very cordial meeting. The Speaker and the Leader, and Minority Leader and Senator McConnell all came down, along with others.
Clearly, there's different points of view, and that's fine. That's the greatness about our society. In my discussions with the leaders, I said, you have the authority to pass the funding legislation. That's your authority, not mine. I submitted what the Pentagon thinks it needs. In other words, the process works where I ask the Pentagon, how much do you need? What do you need to do the job? And they submitted their request, and then we, on behalf of the Pentagon, sent it up to Congress. And they have the authority to pass the -- pass the bill any way they see fit.
I have the authority, in our Constitution, to veto the bill if I don't think it meets certain criteria. They, then, have the authority to say, well, we don't agree with the President's veto, and now we're going to override the veto so that that which they passed becomes law. And here's where we are. I said, get a bill to me as quickly as you can. And I believe they committed to a bill late next week, or a week from next Monday, I think is what they're aiming for. And therefore, we will sit back and hope they get it done quickly. Time is of the essence. We need to get money to the troops. It's important for them to get the money.
However, I did make it clear that in exercising your authority, if you put timetables, or if you micro manage -- or artificial deadlines, or micro manage the war, or insist upon using a war supplemental to load up with items that are not related to the global war on terror, I will exercise my constitutional authority, and then you will have the opportunity to override my veto if you so choose.
My point to the leaders, and it was a very cordial meeting yesterday, by the way, and people -- the positive news is that we don't -- the negative thing is we don't agree 100 percent. That's not -- you shouldn't be surprised. The positive news is that there was a cordial discussion. The discussion was dignified, like you would hope it would be, and people were free to express their minds.
And so my attitude is if they feel they've got to send this up there with their strings, like they said, please do it in a hurry so I can veto it and then we can get down to the business of getting the troops funded. (Laughter and applause.)
Q Mr. President, how would you respond to the rather mistaken idea that the war in
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, thank you. There's a lot of differences. First, the Iraqi people voted for a modern constitution, and then set up a government under that constitution. Secondly, the -- that's as opposed to two divided countries: north and south. In my judgment, the vast majority of people want to live underneath that constitution they passed. They want to live in peace. And what you're seeing is radical on the fringe creating chaos in order to either get the people to lose confidence in their government, or for us to leave.
A major difference as far as here at home is concerned is that our military is an all-volunteer army, and we need to keep it that way. By the way, the way you keep it that way is to make sure our troops have all they need to do their job, and to make sure their families are happy. (Applause.)
There are some similarities, of course -- death is terrible. Another similarity, of course, is that
Americans, rightly so, are concerned about whether or not we can succeed in
It's interesting, I met with some congressman today, and one person challenged that. He said, I don't necessarily agree with that. In other words, I have told people that this is a unique war where an enemy will follow us home, because I believe that. But if you give al Qaeda a safe haven and enough time to plan and plot, I believe the risk is they will come and get us. And I freely admit that much of my thinking was affected on September the 11th, 2001, and the aftermath of September the 11th, 2001. I wanted to share that with you and the American people so that they understand that when I make decisions, why I'm making decisions. I can assure you I'm not going to make any decisions in regard to anybody's life based upon a poll or a focus group. (Applause.)
Sir. They don't want you to ask the question. They silenced you. Go ahead and yell.
Q Would you speak, please, a little bit about --
THE PRESIDENT: Now you can use it.
Q Would you speak a little bit about the support, or lack of support that we're getting from other countries, particularly those countries surrounding Iraq --
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir. First, our mission is getting a lot of support from the Iraqis. That's the place to first look. Are the Iraqis willing to make sacrifices necessary for their own country? I think there's a lot of Americans who wonder whether or not the Iraqis want to live in a free society, and are willing to do that which is necessary to help their country succeed. If I felt they weren't, I would not have our troops in harm's way. Just so you know.
I believe they are. They have suffered unbelievable death and destruction. Yesterday's bombing -- we don't have the intel on it; I suspect it's al Qaeda. Al Qaeda convinces the suiciders to show up; al Qaeda understands the effects of this kind of warfare on the minds of not only people in
[Continued, see part 2 of 2]