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clock Sep 6, 2006 5:26 pm US/Central

Katie Couric Interviews President Bush

(CBS News) The following is a transcript from Katie Couric’s exclusive interview with President Bush, Sept. 6, 2006 in Washington, D.C.:

KATIE COURIC:
First of all, thank you so much, Mr. President, for talking with us.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Glad to do it.

KATIE COURIC:
We really, really appreciate it. As you well know, Monday is the fifth anniversary of-- of 9/11. And so many Americans are thinking about that day. And I'm just wondering what your thoughts are as we approach that anniversary.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Well, you know, I-- I make a-- I approach it with mixed emotions. I remember the horror. And I remember the, you know, the loss of life. I also remember the lessons. And (UNINTEL) September the 11th affected my thinking. It basically changed my attitude about the world.

And-- I resolved around that time that I would do everything to protect the American people. And it, frankly, has defined much of how I think as the president. And so for me it's not just a moment. You know, it's really been a-- a change of life.

KATIE COURIC:
A major shift in your philosophy of the world.

BUSH:
Yeah, it really has been, it--

KATIE COURIC:
How so?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Well, it reminded me that-- that we're in-- we're in a-- a-- a major struggle with extremists. You know, when you really think about why would somebody kill 3,000 Americans? And the-- I-- I thought that, the more I learned, the more I realized that this is an enemy that-- is bound by ideology and has got desires. They want to drive us out of the region. They want to establish a caliphate, which is like a Muslim, you know, empire.

And I realized the struggle was more than just defeating an al-Qaeda. It is really an ideological war between extremism and moderation and reasonableness. And it's been a-- it was a profound moment. It was-- but-- but I-- I say that. But it was no more profound than the-- the thousands of our citizens who lost a loved one. And so the-- September the 11th is going to be a sad moment, a day of remembrance and a day of commitment.

KATIE COURIC:

You have said, Mr. President, that America is safer but we are not yet saved.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Right.

KATIE COURIC:

When you think about the threats out there, what is your biggest fear?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Well-- my biggest fear is somebody will come in and slip in this country and kill Americans. And I can't tell you how. Obviously there would be the spectacular. That would be the use of some kind of biological weapon or weapon of mass destruction. But as we learned recently from the British plots, people were, you know, going to get on airplanes and blow up airplanes with innocent people flying to America.

And-- you know, one way to look at it is we have to be right 100 percent of the time in order to protect this country, and they got to be right once. And it's just a-- just a fact of life. The-- the-- we're facing an enemy, Katie, that just doesn't care about innocent life. I mean, they really are evil people.

They-- they-- they-- they just don't care if somebody suffers in order for them to achieve a-- a mean. And-- and that makes an awfully ruthless enemy to deal with. And-- and I say we're safer because we've done a lot to protect the country. I mean, the mentality has changed a lot.

I mean, you know, the-- the matters we now recognized, we got to talk better inter-- interagency. That means the CIA and the FBI have got to share data. And Congress passed some laws that enable them to do so without, you know, violating law. We got to talk to-- we got to share intelligence with our friends.

That was one of the successes-- because of the British operation is because they knew some things and we knew some things. And our people got together and just talked about it. One of the controversial programs has been this notion about listening to people who are from outside the country, calling in or inside the country, calling out, to determine their intentions. And I-- that's a vital tool. I know it's created controversy, but nevertheless, it is a tool to make sure we get the intelligence necessary.

And then today I'm going to give a speech talking about the need to be able to interrogate people-- within the law and within our Constitution in order to get information to protect us. And so we're better. We really are. But nevertheless, the question is: Can you be perfect? And that's-- that's what we're striving to be. But the enemy's got to be right one time. And so we're working hard to protect the people.

KATIE COURIC:
Can I tick down a-- a laundry list, Mr. President--

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Sure.

KATIE COURIC:
--of-- of some of the areas?
And we can do an assessment. Airlines.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah.

KATIE COURIC:

We've spent something like $20 billion on airline security. And yet, as you mentioned, the London-- the foiled London plot showed that we still can't really figure out when dangerous liquids are being brought on an airplane. I know that a House panel said that airline security has been haphazard and the technology is outdated. How would you grade what's been accomplished vis-à-vis airline security in this country?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

Improved. Much more improved. We've got hardened cockpit doors, you know? Pilots are able to carry guns if they want to. We got air marshals. We got better screening. We got better information about who's getting on airplanes. It's much improved.

Is there more work to be done? Of course. But there's more work to be done on every front. I mean, if what you're saying is: Can we find way-- ways to improve? Yeah. We-- we can and will.

KATIE COURIC:
Let's talk about cargo.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah.

KATIE COURIC:
Let's talk about ports in this country. I know that only ten percent-- actually nine percent of the cargo that's coming into our ports is thoroughly checked. And when it comes to-- to railway security, there are about a hundred federal inspectors dedicated to passenger and freight security on our railroads throughout the entire country. Does that concern you?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
If-- if there's any-- you know, weakness, it concerns me. And it should concern anybody. But let me talk about ports. You know, one of the things we've done is we got a new-- way of inspecting cargo, and that is inspecting cargo before it leaves the port. Say like it's coming in from Singapore. We-- we understand who's likely to ship materials. We understand cargo that needs to be inspected.

And oftentimes, most the time, we're able to secure cargo and be comfortable about what's coming into the country before it comes to the ports. And that makes sense. That make-- you know, basically-- is able to-- let us focus on, as you said, the ten percent. But that doesn't mean that we're not aware of what's coming into this country.

KATIE COURIC:

Let me ask you about some of the 9/11 Commission recommendations.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Okay.

KATIE COURIC:
Because clearly, they're getting a lot of attention right now, Mr. President. Tom Kean, the chairman of the commission, recently wrote a book. And he still says that so many of the recommendations have not been implemented. For-- and some that are being implemented are not being done quickly. For example, securing nuclear materials, particularly in the former Soviet Union. He says the administration plan is going to take something like 14 years. And it has to happen in a much more timely fashion. And he notes a lot of other recommendations that just have not been put in place. What is your response to-- to those criticisms?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
My response is-- is that-- there were 37 recommendations. And we're-- we're in the process of implementing 35. Two of them we're not going to implement because it doesn't make any sense. One of them is to disclose the-- intelligence agencies' budgets. That doesn't make any sense to me.

And the other one was something Congress needs to get done. But, no, we-- we take these suggestions seriously, and we're implementing them. Look, Kate-- this is a world where-- (LAUGHTER) where, you know, back to your initial

KATIE COURIC: Are we completely secure? The answer's no, but we're working to get there. And can we ever be? I hope so. Because our most important job is to protect the people.

And I-- I believe the best way to do it, by the way, is not only secure the homeland and give our people the tools necessary to do so, but is to stay on the offense against these people and to bring them to justice before they come here to hurt us. And that's what we're doing.

KATIE COURIC:
When it comes to sharing information, Mr. President, Tom Kean continues to give the administration a D. I know that one of the recommendations was to streamline all these agencies so they could share information more because that was a major criticism following 9/11, as you mentioned, that information wasn't being shared. There were all these turf battles. Some have said that the Bush administration has added to the bureaucracy rather than streamlined it.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
(LAUGHTER) Yeah. That's what happens. You get a lot of critics around.

KATIE COURIC:
But-- but what's your response to that?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
My response is, is that we're sharing information much better than prior to September the 11th. We've got a-- a counterterrorism center where people from different agencies come and meet. And, you know, again, I repeat to you: We-- we're working to improve as best as we possibly can. But this system of ours has improved dramatically since September the 11th.


KATIE COURIC:
When you look back on the last five years, President Bush, is there anything that you wish you had done differently?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah. I mean, I wish, for example, Abu Ghraib didn't happen. That was a stain on our nation's character, and it sent a signal about who we're not to a lot of people around the world. I probably could have-- watched my language a little better, you know?

KATIE COURIC:
In-- in terms of saying--

PRESIDENT BUSH:
"Bring it on," for example.

KATIE COURIC:
Yeah.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
I might-- I-- sometimes I try to explain myself in-- in-- in plain terms. And sometimes the-- the terms are too plain.

KATIE COURIC:
You can take the boy out of Crawford, but you can't take Crawford out of the boy?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
One way to look at it. (LAUGHTER) But-- I'm-- I'm mindful that my words matter. And-- you know, I'm-- I've got a lot of constituents out there. We've got-- our own people. And my job is to explain to the American people why I make decisions and how I make them.

We've got an enemy that's watching very carefully what I say and what we do. We've got-- people in young democracies that are wondering whether or not the United States will keep its word. And we've got soldiers on-- on the battlefield. And-- I try to do my best, telling people what's on my mind and-- and-- why I'm optimistic we're going to succeed. And-- the president-- you know, all you can do is-- is tell people what you're thinking.


KATIE COURIC:
I know that Iraq-- you can-- you consider Iraq the-- the central front in the war against terrorism. And I'm wondering, Mr. President, if sometimes in your private moments you feel incredible frustration (NOISE) that this war is not going better. And frustration that public support for it has eroded pretty significantly in recent months.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Well, first of all, I do think Iraq is a central front in the war on terror and so does Osama bin Laden. That's what he says. So does the number two man in al-Qaeda, Zawahiri, who have clearly said that their objective is to run us out of Iraq before the job is done so they can have safe haven from which to launch attacks against moderate-- moderate Muslim nations.

I'm concerned that these-- radical extremists would use oil as an economic weapon against us. And so both of us see this as a central front. And that's why it's going to be important for us to succeed. And we will succeed if we don't leave too early.

Now, there's been some good moments and some bad moments in Iraq. And there's been some highlights. Twelve million people-- nearly 12 voting for a government under a modern constitution. The unity government of Maliki, Prime Minister Maliki is-- is dedicated to-- succeeding to defeating the extremists. And our job is to help them do so. What was the other part of your question?

KATIE COURIC:
I was saying it-- are you frustrated? And you mentioned the-- the positive developments. But certainly you would acknowledge there are a lot of negative things.


PRESIDENT BUSH:
Absolutely. Starting with the death of innocent people and our soldiers. That's the hardest thing for me. I meet with a lot of the families. And-- I do the best I can to cry with them or, you know, laugh with them if they want to laugh and hug them. One thing most have said to me is "Don't leave before this job gets done." They understand the stakes and so do our soldiers.

And the stakes are these: That if we leave before the job is done, an enemy that has attacked us will be emboldened. Allies and moderate people will wonder where America's soul is. And the notion that freedom can defeat an ideology of hate will be-- dismissed.

And I'm just not going to let it happen, Katie. I understand the stakes. And-- and-- look, the key thing for the American people to understand is that we're learning. As the enemy adjusts, we're adjusting. And-- that I've given the commanders on the ground the authority necessary to do what it-- what it takes to achieve the objective, which is an Iraq that's an ally in the (UNINTEL) that can defend itself, sustain itself, and govern itself.

KATIE COURIC:
Does it concern you, as-- as we walk this corridor and see portraits of people like President Reagan, for whom your dad worked as vice-president, some of-- your father's close colleagues have criticized the war in Iraq or efforts, particularly Brent Scowcroft, his former National Security Advisor, very publicly saying in 2004: "Iraq is a failing venture."

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah. Does it bother me? Nah, not really. When you do hard things, people are going to criticize you. The American people expect me to make decisions based upon principle, to deal with the threats that face our nation-- not to worry about criticism. Of course I listen to it. That's part of the job.

KATIE COURIC:
Conversely, I guess, Mr. President, while people admire so much your ability to adhere to your principles, there is also criticism, as you say, there will always be critics--

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah. (LAUGHTER)

KATIE COURIC:
--that-- that you're inflexible and that your position doesn't change with changing circumstances.


PRESIDENT BUSH:

I am inflexible when it comes to making sure we don't get hit again. And you bet I'm going to remain strong about making sure that the world we leave behind is a more peaceful world. But I-- we're constantly changing the tactics necessary to achieve those strategic objectives. There's a difference between strategic thought and tactical action.

And, you know, if I-- if I tried to respond to every critic or made decisions based upon every opinion poll-- the decision-making process would be pathetic. And-- look, I understand people don't agree with war. I didn't want to be a wartime president. This war came to us. We didn't ask for it.

But the American people expect me to respond, and I'm going to and have and will continue to do. Our-- our most important job is to-- is to protect this country. And I think a-- an important job is to see the world the way it is, as an ideological struggle and work to leave behind a-- a better tomorrow for our children, your children.

Now, I would equate this ideological struggle as to the Cold War. And-- the question is will we see the stakes clearly? And will we use our influence to help moderate folks defeat radical extremism? And I-- my answer is, yeah, I bet the American people and the American governments that follow me will do that. I certainly hope so.


KATIE COURIC:
Mr. President, you have recently compared Osama bin Laden to Hitler and Lenin. And some-- some have said if the situation is so dire and the situation is so serious, why not mobilize the country, call for sacrifice by raising taxes to finance this effort, by reducing our reliance on foreign oil, and by bringing in more troops to Iraq, the overwhelming force necessary to get the job done?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah. First of all, I said that-- I said that when Osama bin Laden speaks, we better listen carefully to his words. And-- and I made it clear that-- the intention of al-Qaeda is to drive us out of the Middle East so they can achieve-- objectives. And one of the objectives is, you know, control the Middle East and control oil and threaten moderate people. That's what I said.

And I said the world had an opportunity to listen to Hitler and didn't and-- had an opportunity to listen to Lenin and didn't. So I-- my point is that when somebody speaks, we'd better listen carefully. And he is a threat. The best way to defeat the man in a team is to have good intelligence, to stay on the offense to get them, dismantle their organizations, and defeat them in the long term by spreading freedom. Now, the-- the-- this is a ideological struggle that's gonna take a while. And the best way to achieve success is to have a strong economy.

The enemy hit us. They not only killed lives but they also hurt our economy. And I asked Congress to cut the taxes in order to create economic vitality so that we're prosperous, and we are prosperous. And I intend to keep us prosperous. The American people-- it's an interesting question. Why don't you get people to sacrifice?

The American people are contributing. They're contributing their hard-earned dollars. They're supporting our troops. People are involved. People want us to win. Very few people want us to leave before the job is done. The question is: Why aren't we winning? I get asked all the time about troops. Remember, this battle is going-- this series of battles is going to be fought by more than just American troops. We got NATO troops in Afghanistan. But-- and the most important troops will be those in Iraq. We-- we can't make Iraq-- the Iraqi people say this is something we want. We can help them achieve the country that can govern itself.

And this government of Prime Minister Maliki needs to have an effective Iraqi fighting force to do that. And that's what we're doing. We're training Iraqis as well as going after, you know, targets that-- that are threatening-- Americans and/or Iraqis.

KATIE COURIC:
I know that some military experts say that the Iraqi military is almost up to-- to full strength, that it's almost been fully trained.

PRESIDENT BUSH:

Right.

KATIE COURIC:
The police forces-- still have a ways to go. But when will it be time to let these Iraqi forces stand on their own?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah, that's a great question. And that's really the fundamental question that-- that our commanders are faced with. You notice I keep saying "commanders," 'cause I want-- I want people to understand that-- I'm not gonna let politics get in the way of doing what is right in Iraq so we succeed. In other-- and the best way to do that is let those generals on the ground, General Casey, who's the main man in Baghdad, to make the decisions.

And he is constantly weighing exactly your question, which is the valid KATIE COURIC: At what point-- do we say to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi forces "It's yours"? And-- the-- what you're seeing is kind of an incremental approach there. In other words, they're saying this province is now ready to be turned over or this province is ready to be turned over. And we're constantly monitoring the capacity of the Iraqi Army to-- to help this government defend itself and to provide stability.

And when that's the case, when Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down. And-- you know, all of us want there to be fewer US troops there. And the question is: How do you do that? And some in Washington say put a time table out there. I-- I just think that's a terrible mistake. And-- and so, therefore, I'm going to allow the commanders there-- advise me as to how best to achieve our objective with the-- with the right number of troops.

KATIE COURIC:

You have said we can't cut and run on more than one occasion. We have to stay until we win. Otherwise, we'll be fighting the terrorists here at home on our own streets. So what do you mean exactly by that, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Well, I mean that a defeat in Iraq will embolden the enemy and will provide the enemy-- more opportunity to train, plan, to attack us. That's what I mean. There-- it's-- you know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror. I believe it. As I told you, Osama bin Laden believes it. But the American people-- have gotta understand that a defeat in Iraq-- in other words, if this government there fails, the terrorists will be emboldened, the radicals will topple moderate governments.

I'm worried, Katie, strongly worried about a world if we-- if-- if we lose, you know, our confidence and don't help-- defeat this ideology, I'm worried that 50 years from now they'll look back and say, "How come-- Bush and everybody else didn't see the fact that these-- this group of people would use oil to affect our economy?"

Or, "How come he didn't confront the Iranian threat and its nuclear ambitions?" Or, "Why didn't you support the moderate governments there in the region?" And-- I-- I truly believe this is the ideological struggle of the 21st century. And the consequences for not achieving success are-- are dire.

KATIE COURIC:
You've been saying that al-Qaeda's base of operation has been destroyed and many of the leaders caught or killed.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah.

KATIE COURIC:
And yet now you're comparing Osama bin Laden to Hitler. So is this a shift in your views or perspective on Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
No, he's always been dangerous. He's always been dangerous. And, yeah, we disrupted their safe haven in Afghanistan, and they want it back. Just like they wanna have a safe haven in Iraq. That's the struggle. And-- let me repeat to you what I said about Hitler, just to make sure we get it straight here, that-- I said that when a-- a person like Osama bin Laden speaks, we better be careful about what he says, listen, pay attention to his words. And that's what we didn't do to Adolph Hitler early on.

KATIE COURIC:
Why hasn't he been caught five years later?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah, no, that's a good question. I mean, he's hiding. And-- we're on the hunt, obviously. We—


KATIE COURIC:
Does it matter?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

Yeah, it does matter. Of course. It matters. He's-- he's the head of al-Qaeda. And-- but one thing is for certain, though, he's-- he's not moving like he used to. Another thing is his-- he's, you know, not communicating like he used to. And-- and we'll get him. It's just a matter of time. We've got a unit in the CIA who is spending a lot of time thinking about these high value targets.

It's not just Osama bin Laden. It's his-- number two man, Zawahiri, and there are others. The good news for the American people is that we're-- we made a lot of progress in dismantling al-Qaeda. The al-Qaeda some command structure-- ordered the attacks not only on the USS Cole and our embassies but on-- on 9/11.


KATIE COURIC:
Is this a civil war, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

In Iraq? No, I don't think so.

KATIE COURIC:
What would constitute a-- I'm sorry.

PRESIDENT BUSH:

--diplomats and-- and our military don't think so either, nor do the Iraqi government. And-- and the reason why is the army has stayed intact, the unity government is still functioning. There is no question that part of the strategy of-- of the extremists and the radicals is to create sectarian tension. No question about it.

And no question that we have gotta work hard to prevent a civil war. But it's-- it's important for people to remember that 12 million people said, "We want a government." So the people have expressed themselves. And-- and now it's up to the Maliki government to do the things necessary to make sure that the country doesn't dissolve into civil war. But I-- I don't believe it is now, nor do the people who are there on the ground.

KATIE COURIC:
What is the significance, Mr. President, of-- of your announcement regarding-- the masterminds between 9/11? Can you explain that?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah, I will. Thanks. Your-- your-- we're talking right before I go-- about to go into the East Room and give a speech, explaining to the American people that we've had a-- that we've got Guantanamo Bay there to take people off the battlefield, people who are dangerous. And we're trying to get them back to their countries and/or give them a way forward in the justice system.

Secondly, I will be announcing that we have had a-- CIA interrogation program. Everybody knows that, but I'm now formally announcing it. And that we've moved the people in the program, all the people in the program, to Guantanamo Bay. And the reason why we're moving them there is because we want them to go through-- a military tribunal. We want them to perceive the justice that they denied other people.

Now, I'm also speaking this 'cause I want Congress to pass a bill that enables us to have military tribunals. The Supreme Court said you can have them but you must work with Congress to develop a way forward. And so that's part of my call is legislation. But the other thing is that now we gotta make sure that we have the capacity to interrogate, not torture but interrogate people to learn information. And one of the interesting things I think people will find in this speech is I'm going to reveal the data we have learned from interrogating people like Kalid Sheik Mohammad (PH) or Ramzi Ben Oshi (PH) or Abu Zabeda (PH)-- these are all three cold-blooded killers that ordered the attack on the American people-- about how that information has enabled us to protect the country better.

KATIE COURIC:
Can you give us any indication about what kind of information you were able to glean from these, quote/unquote, high value targets?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Right. Well, for example-- there's a-- we-- we uncovered a-- a potential anthrax attack on the United States. Or the fact that-- Kalid Sheik Mohammad had got somebody to-- to line up people to fly airlines, to-- to crash airlines on, I think, the West Coast or somewhere in America. And these would be Southeast Asians. In other words, we've uncovered cells.


And-- this-- this is pretty rich data that has been declassified so that I'm capable of telling the American people the importance of the interrogation program. And I'm gonna call upon Congress to make sure that our interrogators have the capacity to do so without breaking the law.

See, we're not-- we're not interrogating now because CIA officials-- feel like the rules are so vague that they cannot interrogate without being tried as war criminals. And that's irresponsible, particularly in a time when our country could be in danger. So I'm-- we wanna-- in other words, the point is we wanna work with Congress and clarify the rules.

KATIE COURIC:
Is this a tacit acknowledgement at all, Mr. President, that the way these detainees were handled early on was wrong?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
No, it's not at all. It's a-- it's a tacit acknowledgement that we're doing smart things to get information to protect the American people. I've said to people we don't torture. And we don't.

KATIE COURIC:
But the courts obviously, the Supreme Court, as you well know, said that the way the administration was handling detainees was unconstitutional.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
No, the-- the court said-- I beg your pardon.


KATIE COURIC:
Okay. Well, then you correct me.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Well, here's what I think the court-- said. I know the court said, "Look, you-- the president's going to set up military tribunals." And they said, "No, you can't do it alone. You've got to have congressional approval." They didn't say military tribunals were wrong. They just said it's important to work with Congress.

They also said that any detainee needs to be held with-- under what's called Article III of the Geneva Convention. And it's a vague article. And so what I'm asking Congress to do is to-- is to interpret Article III of the Geneva Convention under US law.

KATIE COURIC:
One of the things you said earlier is that you regret that Abu Ghraib ever happened.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah, yeah.

KATIE COURIC:
Do you wish that your administration had handled detainees and sort of the rules and-- and the guidelines for the treatment of these-- detainees differently?


PRESIDENT BUSH:

Well, we've-- we've-- I think if you analyze the facts down at Guantanamo Bay, for example-- the-- people will find that our-- these detainees, many of whom are violent-- killers, have been treated-- very well. International Red Cross go-- has been down there I think 30 different times. There's-- a lot. Let me put it that way.

And 30 different nations have sent people. And so there-- there's a constant review of the process. And the speech today says, okay, we're a rule of law. We-- we-- we've now got a court system in which to give people their chance to-- you know, be tried, brought to justice.

KATIE COURIC:
Yesterday I know that you were very tough on Iran, raising concerns about that country's nuclear ambitions and its ties to terrorism.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Right.

KATIE COURIC:
Do you consider Iran the next battlefield in this vast ideological war?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

I consider it-- extreme Shia as part of this ideological war. The-- al-Qaeda's extreme Sunni. Hezbollah, which un (UNINTEL) attacked Israel-- is a extreme Shia form of-- these ideologues that use terror to achieve their objectives. And Iran sponsors Hezbollah. I-- oftentimes, told people imagine how difficult a situation would be if the Iranians, who sponsored the Hezbollian attacks coming out of Lebanon and onto Israel, had a nuclear weapon. And-- and so the first objective-- Katie, is to work with Europe and Russia and China to-- to say clearly to the Iranians that, you know, it's not in your nation's interest to have a nuclear weapon.

KATIE COURIC:
I know we're almost out of time, Mr. President, and you have a very busy day ahead. But one philosophical question that many have that I'd like you to respond to, if you could, is that US policy, vis-à-vis Iraq, and the United States' close alliance with Israel, certainly highlighted in recent events between Israel and Lebanon, has galvanized terrorists worldwide. In other words, these policies have created more terrorists than they have eliminated.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Yeah.

KATIE COURIC:
How do you respond to that?

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Well-- the first thing I would tell people that-- we weren't in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001, when 19 killers killed 3,000 Americans in the most brutal attack on our-- on our soil-- ever.

KATIE COURIC:
But they were from Saudi Arabia.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
No, but they're-- but-- but they share the same jihadist mentality, this radicalism. See, that's the interesting thing about this war, Katie. It's-- we're not facing a nation-state. We're facing people from other nation-- around the-- around the globe, frankly, that share an ideology and the desire to-- achieve objectives through killing innocent people.

And so it's a-- and so my first answer is on Iraq, the notion that somehow defending ourselves create-- is-- it's created-- made us more vulnerable, just-- I just don't agree with it, particularly since the facts are different. In other words, they attacked us before we went to Iraq. Secondly, of course we stand with democracies and our friend Israel. If the United States ever says, "Oh, my goodness, I don't want to defend democracy because somebody might harm us," we will have lost our soul.

We have a duty to help young democracies. Israel is our ally and a democracy. And, of course, we're going to stay strong with Israel. And I want to remind people that it was an unprovoked terrorist attack on that democracy. And the world must see clearly the threats. And any time a democracy is attacked it seems like other democracies ought to rise up to the challenge and-- and help defend.

Any time there's a young democracy trying to get moving, it's in our interest to help that young democracy survive. This is a war between extremists who want to stop the advance of democracy and liberty-- versus, you know, democracies and reformers and mothers who want their children to raise up-- be raised in-- in a peaceful world.

Look-- let me just share something with you, what I strongly believe. I believe a mother in America and a mother-- a Muslim mother in the Middle East share the same concerns for their children. And that is they want peace. And they want their children to grow up in a hopeful world. That's what I believe. That's why I can say the extremists are in a minority in the Middle East.

And I strongly believe we have a duty to help those who-- who recognized that, you know, this-- this quagmire, this-- this kind of swamp of resentment can be drained by liberty. And it's hard work, but we've done it before. We've done it before.

KATIE COURIC:
Could it be drained, also, by more diplomacy?


PRESIDENT BUSH:

We're doing-- we got a lot of diplomacy going on, you know? And diplomacy-- is always the first choice for a president. The use of the military has got to be the last choice of an American president. I-- you know, committing troops is a-- is not only a tough decision, it's a painful decision 'cause I fully understand the consequences, as have other presidents who preceded me who's committed troops. And so we've used diplomacy and will continue to use diplomacy to try to achieve objectives. But sometimes diplomacy just didn't work in the end.

KATIE COURIC:
They're gonna kill me for this follow-up, but if you-- if you believe diplomacy is the first option, some might question why we're not having more unilateral talks with our enemies, say, Syria, Iran, North Korea.

PRESIDENT BUSH:

Yeah. The reason why is because you want to have there-- you want there to be effective diplomacy. Diplomacy for the sake of diplomacy doesn't achieve objectives. I-- my diplomacy, our diplomatic efforts, ably led by Condi Rice, I might add, are aimed at achieving objectives. And the objective with Iran is we want the Iranians to understand it's not just America who objects. The world objects to the idea of the Iranians having the knowledge and/or having a nuclear weapon.


And so it's a-- you know, the ideo-- you know, somebody saying, "Well, if you just would sit down to (UNINTEL)," look, we've tried that, and it didn't work with North Korea. It failed. And so the American people need to expect the president to do things that will be effective and to achieve certain results. And it-- unfortunately-- diplomacy takes-- requires a certain degree of patience. Obviously it's not going to happen overnight. And-- I-- I am a-- I am-- I am convinced that we can achieve objectives through-- diplomacy. And I certainly hope so, and we'll work that way.

KATIE COURIC:
I know you care so much about the soldiers in Iraq. And when we told some of them we had an opportunity to speak with you, almost all of them said, "Would you please ask the President of the United States when can we come home?"

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Mmm. And the answer is when the mission is done. When your commanders decide you can. You know, it's interesting you said that. It's-- I get a little different response from the soldiers I meet, you know? I-- frankly, I've never had one say that.

In fact, they've all said, "I'm honored to serve the country. I understand what we're doing. I'm proud to be a volunteer." And-- you know, I can't tell you how great the military is. It's-- it's such a proud-- group of people, dedicated to protecting this country and doing its duty.

KATIE COURIC:
Well, Mr. President, thank you so much for your time.

PRESIDENT BUSH:
Good luck.

KATIE COURIC:

I'm really grateful. Thank you. Thank you.

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