Sometimes Vindication Requires Patience

I wonder if this reporter felt like a total imbecile after President Bush and Tony Blair totally schooled him with their answers to his question about vindication in Iraq? (Click here for the full transcript.)

It has to be one of the best exchanges of yesterday’s press conference, and it certainly reassures me that our commander in chief has a vision about our role in Iraq. Whether or not you agree with Bush on Iraq, you can’t question his passion.

Q: You both presented the Iraqi government as a substantial vindication of the conflict. Do you also accept, as a matter of harsh political reality, that the Iraq conflict has also left both of you politically weakened and, whether justly or unjustly, less able to give the kind of moral leadership that you’re discussing today?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No question that the Iraq war has created a sense of consternation here in America. I mean, when you turn on your TV screen and see innocent people die, day in and day out, it affects the mentality of our country.

But here’s what they’re asking in America. They’re asking, can we win? That’s what they want to know. Do we have a strategy for victory? And so the talk about the unity government — you might remember there was some — a lot of speculation as to whether there would even be a unity government. A couple of months ago, people were saying, well, they can’t even get a unity government going. But we have a unity government — a Kurd President, a Prime Minister who is a Shia, a Speaker who is a Sunni. These are strong leaders. It’s an indication that progress is being made.

Part of progress, of course, is on the political track. You know, we had elections in Iraq; 12 million people voted last December. Now, it seems like an eternity ago, I know, like a decade. But that’s not all that long ago in the larger scope of things. Twelve million people said, we want to be free. It was an astounding moment. And this unity government is now formed, as a result of those elections, under a constitution approved by the Iraqi people. That’s progress. It’s certainly a far sight from the days of a tyrant who killed hundreds of thousands of his own people and used weapons of mass destruction and threatened the neighborhood. I mean, that is progress.

No question, however, that the suiciders and the killers and the IEDs and the deaths have an effect on the American people. But one of the reasons that I appreciate Tony coming is that he brings a fresh perspective of what he saw, and the American people need to know we are making progress toward a goal of an Iraq that can defend itself, sustain itself and govern itself. That will deny the terrorists a safe haven.

You know, al Qaeda has made it clear what their intentions are in Iraq. I’m sure you’ve read some of the intercepts that are laid out there for people to see. And they have made it clear that it’s just a matter of time for countries like Great Britain and the United States to leave. In other words, if they make life miserable enough, we’ll leave. And they want us to leave because they want a safe haven from which to launch attacks, not only on us, but on moderate Muslim governments, as well. These people are totalitarians. They’re Islamic fascists. They have a point of view, they have a philosophy, and they want to impose that philosophy on the rest of the world. And Iraq just happens to be a — one of the battles in the war on terror.

And Tony brings up a good point: Why are they resisting so hard, what is it about democracy they can’t stand? Well, what they can’t stand about democracy is this: Democracy is the exact opposite of what they believe. They believe they can impose their will, they believe there’s no freedom of religion, they believe there’s no women’s rights. They have a — they have a dark vision of the world, and that’s why they’re resisting so mightily.

So yes, I can understand why the American people are troubled by the war in Iraq. I understand that. But I also believe the sacrifice is worth it and is necessary, and I believe a free Iraq is not only going to make ourselves more secure, but it’s going to serve as a powerful example in the Middle East.

You know, foreign policy, for awhile, just basically said, if it seems okay on the surface, just let it be. And guess what happened? There was resentment and hatred that enabled these totalitarians to recruit and to kill, which they want to continue to do to achieve their objectives. And the best way to defeat them in the long run is through the spread of liberty.

And liberty has had the capacity to change enemies to allies. Liberty has had the capacity to help Europe become whole, free, and at peace. History has proven that freedom has got the capacity to change the world for the better, and that’s what you’re seeing.

You know, the amazing thing about dealing with Prime Minister Blair is never once has he said to me on the phone, we better change our tactics because of the political opinion polls. And I appreciate that steadfast leadership. And I appreciate somebody who has got a vision, a shared vision, for how to not only protect ourselves in the war on terror, but how to make the world a better place.

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I don’t really think it’s a matter of our vindication. I think, in a way, that’s the least important part of it. But I do think that occasionally we should just take a step back and ask, why are we doing this? Why is it so important?

Saddam was removed from power three years ago. Since then, incidentally, our forces have been there with the United Nations mandate and with the consent of the Iraqi government, itself, the Iraqi government, becoming progressively more the product of direct democracy.

So whatever people thought about removing Saddam — you agree with it, you didn’t agree with it for these last three years, the issue in Iraq has not been, these people are here without any international support, because we haven’t had any United Nations resolution governing our presence there. The issue is not, you’re there, but the Iraqi people don’t want you there, because the Iraqi government, and now this directly-elected Iraqi government has said they want us to stay until the job is done.

So why is it that for three years, we have had this violence and bloodshed? Now, people have tried to say it’s because the Iraqi people — you people, you don’t understand; you went in with this Western concept of democracy and you didn’t understand that their whole culture was different, they weren’t interested in these types of freedom. These people have gone out and voted — a higher turnout, I have to say — I’m afraid to say, I think, than either your election or mine. These people have gone out and voted —

PRESIDENT BUSH: Which one? 2000 or 2004? (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I think both of them.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think you’re right. (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: They have gone out and voted despite terrorism, despite bloodshed, despite literally the prospect of death for exercising their democratic right.

So they have kept faith with the very democratic values that we say we believe in, and the people trying to wrest that democracy from them are opposed to absolutely everything we stand for and everything the Iraqi people stand for.

So what do we do in response to this? And the problem we have is very, very simple. A large part of the perspective with which we look at this is to see every act of terrorism in Iraq, every piece of ghastly carnage on our television screens, every tragic loss of our own forces — we see that as a setback and as a failure when we should be seeing that as a renewed urgency for us to rise to the challenge of defeating these people who are committing this carnage. Because over these past three years, at every stage, the reason they have been fighting is not, as we can see, because Iraqi people don’t believe in democracy, Iraqi people don’t want liberty. It is precisely because they fear Iraqi people do want democracy, Iraqi people do want liberty.

And if the idea became implanted in the minds of people in the Arab and Muslim world that democracy was as much their right as our right, where do these terrorists go? What do they do? How do they recruit? How do they say, America is the evil Satan? How do they say the purpose of the West is to spoil your lands, wreck your religion, take your wealth? How can they say that? They can’t say that.

So these people who are fighting us there know what is at stake. The question is, do we?