[Continued from part 1]
Secondly, I feel very strongly -- wait a minute -- (applause) -- this is a sober forum -- or a forum of sober people, I hope. (Laughter.) There is a -- there is -- I have a fundamental problem with a -- look, a lot of people didn't like the strategy. In other words, people said, you shouldn't have done that, Mr. President. And I fully understand that aspect of it. I also found it quite ironic that the general I asked to lead the strategy, a counterinsurgency expert, David Petraeus, gets approved by the United States Senate 81 to nothing, and then, on his way over, they begin to micromanage his ability to follow through on the strategy.
So we have just a policy difference. When it's all said and done, I believe these troops will get the money they need. I think you're going to see there to be a continual debate on this subject. Interestingly enough, I said in a forum yesterday in Ohio and I'll share with you now, I thought at this point this year, I would be announcing troop reductions in Iraq, because I felt -- this is, again, a year ago -- I felt that the Iraqi government was better prepared to be able to handle their own security. And by the way, they want to handle their own security. The Prime Minister is constantly saying, let me do more of it. We just believe he's not quite ready to do so, and that it's in our interest to be able to help him to be able to take on more of the security challenges. And I thought we'd be reducing troops.
And then what happened was, the
I liked what James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton suggested. I thought that was a good suggestion. And that is to be in a position at some point in time where our troops are embedded with the Iraqi units -- in other words, there's Iraqi units providing security with a handful of
I made the judgment, along with our military commanders, we could not get there until we provided enough security. And I fully understand this is a rough war. As I mentioned in my speech -- let me put it more bluntly: The enemy has got an advantage. They know that a spectacular bombing is going to make it on the news, and it shakes people's conscience, and it should. Ours is a nation that has deep compassion for human life and human dignity.
But they also know it makes people question whether or not we can succeed in
And, you know, as I say, it is tempting to think, well, just pull out of there and everything is going to be fine. I firmly believe, however, that one of the lessons of September the 11th is that if we were to concede
THE PRESIDENT: No, thank you. His question was, one, the relationship with Tony Blair; two, they have reduced their troops in
First, I have found Tony Blair to be a stand-up man. He's the kind of person who keeps his word. He's a strategic thinker. He thinks beyond the moment, to be able to try to project out beyond the current, so that the decisions that we have made jointly are decisions that end up yielding a long-term peace.
He, of course, like a good ally, informed me of his government's intentions to reduce their presence in
He also knows what I know, that we have got to work really closely and share intelligence, and that's one of the reasons I appreciate Pete so much. He understands the intelligence business as a key component of keeping the country safe. We've got to share intelligence. This is -- Tony Blair is the Prime Minister of a country which has been attacked; so has ours. And -- no, I appreciate you bringing him up, he's solid. And in my judgment, the world needs courageous leadership, people like Tony Blair.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. What's the next step for the
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, thank you. Excellent question. You go to school here? No. (Laughter.) I was going to say, give the man an "A."
First of all, you do understand
The Iranians have defied international organizations in an attempt to enrich uranium – and, we believe, because they want to have a nuclear weapon. And I believe this challenge is one of the most significant challenges we face -- "we," the free world, face. There's a lot of reasons why.
One, just as an example, you really don't want a regime that funds terrorist organizations like Hezbollah to have a nuclear weapon as a part of their capacity to create the conditions, for example, of diplomatic blackmail. Secondly, the current leader of
Third, it's ironic, isn't it, that any time a democracy begins to take hold in the
So our objective is to rally the world to make it clear to the current regime that if they continue their practices they will continue to be isolated. And we're making interesting progress. We've passed several U.N. Security Council resolutions, the primary benefit of which is to say to the Iranian regime, and equally importantly the Iranian people, that countries as diverse as the
The choice is up to the Iranian government as to whether or not they will be accepted into the family of nations, all aimed at promoting peace and economic prosperity. They've made a bad choice up to now. And so we'll continue to work hard with the rest of the world, all aiming at solving this very difficult problem diplomatically.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q I think that's a great idea. I was wondering, we did have a group -- a commission, I believe, here, that was discussing how to solve our
THE PRESIDENT: Baker-Hamilton.
Q -- Baker-Hamilton commission. I was wondering how we were going to be able to convince the countries that participate in this conference in
THE PRESIDENT: That's a good question. First, there was a couple of aspects of Baker-Hamilton -- a lot of it had to do with troop posture. And Baker-Hamilton recommended that, as I described, a troop presence to help keep the territorial integrity of
By the way, with the advice of a lot of people -- and just so you know, I spend a lot of time listening to our military. I trust our military, I like our military, I'm impressed by our military. I spend a lot of time talking to Condi Rice. I spend a lot of time talking to allies in the Congress, and I spend a lot of time listening to and talking to people who have a different point of view.
It was after this considered judgment that I made that decision, all aiming at some point in time. Now, the problem is, the Congress, many of whom think that it's a good idea, however are unwilling to allow conditions on the ground to make the decisions as to when we can ever get there. I don't have that luxury. I must allow conditions on the ground to dictate our position in order to make decisions.
Now, a lot of what Baker-Hamilton talked about was -- or some of what they talked about was the diplomatic initiatives. There were -- they talked about a regional conference, and we're happy to participate. They also suggested that the
And the reason I do is because -- now, there's a difference between a regional conference, in my judgment, and -- I'll tell you what I hope we can gain out of it -- but I do want to address why it's -- I think it would be counterproductive at this point to sit down with the Syrians, because Syria knows exactly what it takes to get better relations with the United States. It's not as if they haven't heard what we're for. And we're for making sure they leave the Lebanese democracy alone. They have undermined
Secondly, there's a man who was assassinated, named Hariri. It's very important that there be a full investigation of the Hariri murder. And they know we expect them to support that investigation. We believe they're hindering that investigation right now. Thirdly, they're providing safe haven for -- I'll just say they've got -- Hamas and Hezbollah have got centers of influence in
I asked our security folks, the national security folks to give me a list of all the foreign advisors and foreign secretaries of state, and all the people that have gone to see Bashar Assad. And every time they send one in there, we say, why, why are you sending somebody there, what is your intention, what have you asked them to do? They all say basically what I just said, and nothing has happened. And my attitude is, is that I think talks would be counterproductive. I'm interested not in process, I'm interested in results. I'm interested in this leader turning
As I said in my talk here, and I'm speaking to you -- I'm also speaking to the Iranian people. They must know that our beef with
Now, what do we hope to gain out of the regional conference? It's very important for us, first of all, for the Iraqi democracy to gain acceptance. This is a new government. Remember, these folks were run by a tyrant for years, and now we're watching the emergence of a new government that has not been in office for a year yet, by the way. We've been there for more than a year, but the constitution was passed in '05, late '05, the new government was seated in June of '06, so Prime Minister Maliki -- and it's important, I think, for the world to recognize, or the region to recognize that he was duly elected by the people of Iraq, and represents the will of the Iraqi citizens. It's important for people to express their support for this new government.
Let me just talk about a couple of countries.
I will tell you, however, that His Majesty is skeptical about the Shia government in
The oil revenue sharing is a very interesting aspect, and this is what people are watching for, because most of the oil is in Shia land or with the Kurds. And, therefore, an equitable sharing agreement of the people's resources throughout society will send a signal that this government is not going to take unnecessary retribution against peaceful Sunnis. And so the benchmarks that I described are important for
And so I -- I talked to Condi about this last night -- as a matter of fact, this very subject, about what constitutes success. And first of all, it's successful to have people come to the table and discuss
Q Mr. President, thanks for coming to the west coast, first.
THE PRESIDENT: Looking for the surfboard. (Laughter.)
Q You mentioned in your comments, sir, about the American patience. What's the Prime Minister's take on that? What is his understanding of American patience?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, he is -- I don't know, I think he's concerned about his own country's patience, first and foremost. He's having a tough time. I will give you my take on patience. I think that if the American people fully understand the stakes of failure, they'll understand why we're doing what we're doing. And my own view of patience is that a President -- and I believe Tony Blair agrees with this -- must make decisions on certain principles, and not try to chase opinion polls. If you make decisions based upon the latest opinion poll, you won't be thinking long-term strategy on behalf of the American people. (Applause.)
And Tony Blair understands that, as well. At least that's what I get from him. That's -- when I talk to him, that's the impression I get.
There weren't opinion polls when Abraham Lincoln was the President. Believe me, I'm not comparing myself to him, but I just don't think a President like Abraham Lincoln made a decision about whether all men were created equal based upon an opinion poll. (Laughter.) Nor do I make an opinion about my strong belief that freedom is universal, and there's no debate. I believe in the universality of liberty, and I believe liberty has got the capacity to help transform parts of the world into peaceful parts of the world.
That's what I described to you at the end of -- what happened at the end of World War II and at the end of the Korean conflict. I firmly believe in the power of freedom, and I firmly believe that everybody wants to be free. As a matter of fact, to take it a step further, I believe there's an Almighty, and I believe a great gift to each man, woman and child in this world is freedom. That's what I believe. It is a principle from which I will not deviate.
People said to me -- the guy asked a question the other day, you don't like the opinion polls and all that stuff -- I said, any politician who says they don't want to be popular, you know -- you can't win if, like, 50-plus-one don't like you for a moment. (Laughter.) You can't make your decisions, however, based on something that just changes; it just, poof. And when it's all said and done, I fully understand that some of the decisions I have made have created a lot of national debate. But I want you to know something, that when I go home and look in the mirror in Crawford, Texas, after my time, I will be able to have said, he didn't change his principles to be the popular guy, you know, he stood for what he believed. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, I really appreciate your emphasis on the universality of freedom. I'm wondering if and how the United States can promote liberal democratic reform in countries like Saudi Arabia, and whether you could address specifically whether it is, perhaps, American support for these autocratic regimes that are creating such an Islamic backlash against the United States?
THE PRESIDENT: That is a -- boy, I don't want to be Mr. Gratuitous, say, fabulous question, but it's really one of the fundamental questions that has caused a lot of debate in
There are some who say that promoting democracy and liberty in the
I believe it is the only realistic way to protect ourselves in the long-term, and that is to address the conditions that create hatred, envy, and violence.
The other thing that's important to note is that societies, depending upon their past, take a while to achieve freedom as we define it. In other words, some move at snail's pace, some move, obviously, quicker. And all the societies will reflect their own traditions and histories. So when you hear me talk about the freedom agenda, it's not like, I expect
Secondly, friendship with leaders makes it easier to have a frank and candid discussion in a way that doesn't offend. And my friend -- I do have a good, very close relationship with King Abdullah of
And so there is progress being made toward more liberty, in a part of the world that most people said had no chance to be a place for democracy to take hold. I will give you the -- in
And the fundamental question facing the country is, will we be engaged in the Middle East helping moderates defeat and fight off radicals -- hopefully not militarily every single time, hopefully rarely militarily -- but by defeating an ideology with forms of government. And it's really going to be an interesting debate. I have staked my claim for the first part of the 21st century. I will tell you, I am worried about our country becoming isolationist and protectionist. We have been through isolationist and protectionist spells in our history. One of my concerns is that people say, it is not worth it to be engaged as heavily as we are in parts of the world, particularly the
I was criticized by some that upon insisting that the Palestinian elections go forward. I believe elections are the beginning of the reform process, not the end. I believe elections have the capacity to show the elite what's right and what's wrong. And I believe the Hamas elections in the
I wasn't happy with the outcome of the election -- sometimes that happens, you're not happy with the outcome of elections. (Laughter.) But I was inspired by the fact that the Palestinians went to the polls and said, in the fairest way possible, we're sick of it. Arafat has let us down; no peace. We want to live in peace. Where's the prosperity? Let's get us another bunch in there and see if they can do the job. The problem is, is that the new crowd they have in there refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, which runs contrary to our policy. And, therefore, we will continue to take the posture we're taken, because we're interested in peace.
I'm interested in helping the Palestinians develop a Palestinian state. It's all along the same agenda, by the way, which is the freedom agenda. I believe the only way for
And hopefully, at some point in time, the situation will get clarified, if the people have another right to express themselves, and that right ought to be, are you for a state or not for a state? Are you going to have people that prevent a better future for emerging from you? By the way, this all started with the elections. And they said, oh, you shouldn't have elections, you shouldn't have been fighting against them. Why would I fight against elections? I'm for elections. I think elections are important for society. I think -- and I think they're equally important here as they are in the
And the fundamental question, really, facing in the long-term on this is, will the
The other question is on trade. And by the way, I happen to believe isolationism and protectionism go hand in hand. As you know, I'm an open-market trader. I believe in free trade. I think competition and trade not only helps the
But I'm concerned about people saying, well, it's just not worth it, shut her down, let's make it harder to trade. There's going to be some interesting trade votes coming up in front of the Congress here -- free trade agreement with
We're in the middle of negotiations on the
I want to share with you one other thing, then I've got to get out of here. You know, Laura says, you get up there and all you do is talk and you love to hear yourself talk. (Laughter.) I want to share one other aspect of our foreign policy. I believe to whom much is given, much is required. And I want to share something about this great, generous nation, for which you deserve a lot of credit.
Whether it be on HIV/AIDS or malaria, the
Foreign policy is more than military. It is more than just spreading freedom. It's also, in my judgment, in our interest to base it upon that admonition, if you're blessed, you ought to help others. And as a result of the American people, we spread antiretrovirals or got antiretrovirals to 850,000. That's up from 50,000 in three years.
We're all interconnected in this world. What happens overseas matters here at home, from a security perspective, but I also believe it matters here at home from the perspective of keeping our spirits strong. It's in the interest of this country that we be engaged in freeing people from tyranny, the tyranny of government and the tyranny of disease and hunger.
I appreciate you giving me a chance to come and visit with you. God bless. (Applause.)
END 2:25 P.M. EDT