President Bush on Thursday dismissed two of the Iraq Study Group report’s most fundamental recommendations: pulling back combat troops over the next 15 months and engaging in direct talks with Iran and Syria. He was speaking at a White House news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
President Bush moved to distance himself Thursday from the central recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. Bush made his first extended comments on the study after meeting in the White House with his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. At a news conference afterwards, Bush tried to stress the importance of the Baker-Hamilton report.
- President Bush: "Some reports are issued and just gather dust. And truth of the matter is, a lot of reports in Washington are never read by anybody. To show you how important this one is, I read it, and our guest read it. The Prime Minister read — read a report prepared by a commission."
But President Bush seemed to dismiss two of the reports most fundamental recommendations: pulling back combat troops over the next 15 months and engaging in direct talks with Iran and Syria. The president also continued to talk about the war in the kind of sweeping ideological terms the Iraq Study Group avoided in its report. His comments came in response to a BBC reporter’s question.
- Q: "Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as grave and deteriorating. You said that the increase in attacks is unsettling. That won’t convince many people that you’re still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq, and question your sincerity about changing course."
PRESIDENT BUSH: "It’s bad in Iraq. Does that help?" (Laughter.)
Q: "Why did it take others to say it before you’ve been willing to acknowledge for the world — "
PRESIDENT BUSH: "In all due respect, I’ve been saying it a lot. I understand how tough it is. And I’ve been telling the American people how tough it is. And they know how tough it is. And the fundamental question is, do we have a plan to achieve our objective. Are we willing to change as the enemy has changed? And what the Baker-Hamilton study has done is it shows good ideas as to how to go forward. What our Pentagon is doing is figuring out ways to go forward, all aiming to achieve our objective.
“Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir. I talk to families who die. I understand there’s sectarian violence. I also understand that we’re hunting down al Qaeda on a regular basis and we’re bringing them to justice. I understand how hard our troops are working. I know how brave the men and women who wear the uniform are, and therefore, they’ll have the full support of this government. I understand what long deployments mean to wives and husbands, and mothers and fathers, particularly as we come into a holiday season. I understand. And I have made it abundantly clear how tough it is.
“I also believe we’re going to succeed. I believe we’ll prevail. Not only do I know how important it is to prevail, I believe we will prevail. I understand how hard it is to prevail. But I also want the American people to understand that if we were to fail — and one way to assure failure is just to quit, is not to adjust, and say it’s just not worth it — if we were to fail, that failed policy will come to hurt generations of Americans in the future.
“And as I said in my opening statement, I believe we’re in an ideological struggle between forces that are reasonable and want to live in peace, and radicals and extremists. And when you throw into the mix radical Shia and radical Sunni trying to gain power and topple moderate governments, with energy which they could use to blackmail Great Britain or America, or anybody else who doesn’t kowtow to them, and a nuclear weapon in the hands of a government that is — would be using that nuclear weapon to blackmail to achieve political objectives — historians will look back and say, how come Bush and Blair couldn’t see the threat? That’s what they’ll be asking. And I want to tell you, I see the threat and I believe it is up to our governments to help lead the forces of moderation to prevail. It’s in our interests.
"And one of the things that has changed for American foreign policy is a threat overseas can now come home to hurt us, and September the 11th should be a wake-up call for the American people to understand what happens if there is violence and safe havens in a part of the world. And what happens is people can die here at home."
President Bush’s meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair came just a week after a senior State Department analyst described their special relationship as "totally one-sided, with no payback, no sense of reciprocity." The official — Kendall Myers — now faces possible disciplinary action for making the comments. At Thursday’s news conference President Bush and Tony Blair appeared to be reading from the same script. Both repeatedly said they were looking for ways to go forward in Iraq. And Blair, like Bush, dismissed the idea of negotiating with Iran — a key recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton report.
- British Prime Minister Tony Blair: "The issue for me is not a question of being unwilling to sit down with people or not, but the basis upon which we discuss Iraq has got to be clear and it’s got to be a basis where we are all standing up for the right principles, which are now endorsed in the United Nations resolutions, in respect of Iraq. In other words, you support the democratic elected government; you do not support sectarians and you do not support, arm or finance terrorists.
Now, the very reason we have problems in parts of Iraq — and we know this very well down in the south of Iraq — is that Iran, for example, has been doing that, has been basically arming, financing, supporting terrorism. So we’ve got to be clear the basis upon which we take this forward. And as I say, it’s got to be clear the basis upon which we take this forward. And as I say, it’s got to be on the basis of people accepting their responsibilities."