At the White House Tuesday, veteran correspondent Helen Thomas took President Bush to task on his reasons for invading Iraq. It was the first time Bush had called on Thomas, known as the "First Lady of the American Press", in three years. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to President Bush’s news conference. Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas asked President Bush what some analysts called the most direct questioning he’s ever received on his reasons for invading Iraq.
HELEN THOMAS: I’d like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet — your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth — what was your real reason? You have said it wasn’t oil — quest for oil, it hasn’t been Israel, or anything else. What was it?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I think your premise, in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist, is that, you know, I didn’t want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect —
HELEN THOMAS: Everything —
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Hold on for a second, please.
HELEN THOMAS: —- everything I’ve heard -—
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Excuse me, excuse me. No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it’s just simply not true. My attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. We — when we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people. Our foreign policy changed on that day, Helen. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy, but we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life. And I’m never going to forget it. And I’m never going to forget the vow I made to the American people that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.
Part of that meant to make sure that we didn’t allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy. And that’s why I went into Iraq —- hold on for a second -—
HELEN THOMAS: They didn’t do anything to you or to our country.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Look —- excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al-Qaeda. That’s where al-Qaeda trained -—
HELEN THOMAS: I’m talking about Iraq —
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Helen, excuse me. That’s where — Afghanistan provided safe haven for al-Qaeda. That’s where they trained. That’s where they plotted. That’s where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.
I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That’s why I went to the Security Council; that’s why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, 'Disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences' —
HELEN THOMAS: —- go to war -—
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: — and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush answering Helen Thomas at the White House on Tuesday. Commonly referred to as the "First Lady of the Press, Helen Thomas is the most senior member of the White House Press Corps. She has served as a White House correspondent for some 57 years and has covered every president since John F. Kennedy. It was the fist time President Bush has called on Helen Thomas in three years.