This morning President Bush and President Karzai of Afghanistan had a brief press conference at the White House. After some introductory remarks, they opened the floor for questions. You can read the full transcript here.
The first question came from our old friend old friend Jennifer Loven:
Q Thank you, sir. Even after hearing that one of the major conclusions of the National Intelligence Estimate in April was that the Iraq war has fueled terror growth around the world, why have you continued to say that the Iraq war has made this country safer?
This is when Bush announced that he had ordered the report declassified, to the extent possible. But there’s lots more to his answer:
I, of course, read the key judgments on the NIE. I agree with their conclusion that because of our successes against the leadership of al Qaeda, the enemy is becoming more diffuse and independent. I’m not surprised the enemy is exploiting the situation in Iraq and using it as a propaganda tool to try to recruit more people to their — to their murderous ways.
Some people have guessed what’s in the report and have concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake. I strongly disagree. I think it’s naive. I think it’s a mistake for people to believe that going on the offense against people that want to do harm to the American people makes us less safe. The terrorists fight us in Iraq for a reason: They want to try to stop a young democracy from developing, just like they’re trying to fight another young democracy in Afghanistan. And they use it as a recruitment tool, because they understand the stakes. They understand what will happen to them when we defeat them in Iraq.
You know, to suggest that if we weren’t in Iraq, we would see a rosier scenario with fewer extremists joining the radical movement requires us to ignore 20 years of experience. We weren’t in Iraq when we got attacked on September the 11th. We weren’t in Iraq, and thousands of fighters were trained in terror camps inside your country, Mr. President. We weren’t in Iraq when they first attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. We weren’t in Iraq when they bombed the Cole. We weren’t in Iraq when they blew up our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. My judgment is, if we weren’t in Iraq, they’d find some other excuse, because they have ambitions. They kill in order to achieve their objectives.
You know, in the past, Osama bin Laden used Somalia as an excuse for people to join his jihadist movement. In the past, they used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was a convenient way to try to recruit people to their jihadist movement. They’ve used all kinds of excuses.
This government is going to do whatever it takes to protect this homeland. We’re not going to let their excuses stop us from staying on the offense. The best way to protect America is defeat these killers overseas so we do not have to face them here at home. We’re not going to let lies and propaganda by the enemy dictate how we win this war.
Now, you know what’s interesting about the NIE — it was a intelligence report done last April. As I understand, the conclusions — the evidence on the conclusions reached was stopped being gathered on February — at the end of February. And here we are, coming down the stretch in an election campaign, and it’s on the front page of your newspapers. Isn’t that interesting? Somebody has taken it upon themselves to leak classified information for political purposes.
I talked to John Negroponte today, the DNI. You know, I think it’s a bad habit for our government to declassify every time there’s a leak, because it means that it’s going to be hard to get good product out of our analysts. Those of you who have been around here long enough know what I’m talking about. But once again, there’s a leak out of our government, coming right down the stretch in this campaign, — to create confusion in the minds of the American people, in my judgment, is why they leaked it.
And so we’re going to — I told the DNI to declassify this document. You can read it for yourself. We’ll stop all the speculation, all the politics about somebody saying something about Iraq, somebody trying to confuse the American people about the nature of this enemy. And so John Negroponte, the DNI, is going to declassify the document as quickly as possible. He’ll declassify the key judgments for you to read yourself. And he’ll do so in such a way that we’ll be able to protect sources and methods that our intelligence community uses. And then everybody can draw their own conclusions about what the report says.
President Karzai, before he went on to respond to Loven’s second question, added his own observations on what must have seemed to him to be an expression of sheer lunacy:
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Ma’am, before I go to remarks by my brother, President Musharraf, terrorism was hurting us way before Iraq or September 11th. The President mentioned some examples of it. These extremist forces were killing people in Afghanistan and around for years, closing schools, burning mosques, killing children, uprooting vineyards, with vine trees, grapes hanging on them, forcing populations to poverty and misery.
They came to America on September 11th, but they were attacking you before September 11th in other parts of the world. We are a witness in Afghanistan to what they are and how they can hurt. You are a witness in New York. Do you forget people jumping off the 80th floor or 70th floor when the planes hit them? Can you imagine what it will be for a man or a woman to jump off that high? Who did that? And where are they now? And how do we fight them, how do we get rid of them, other than going after them? Should we wait for them to come and kill us again? That’s why we need more action around the world, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, to get them defeated — extremism, their allies, terrorists and the like.
Bush also refused to be drawn into the low-class blame game that Bill Clinton played on Fox News. Asked about Clinton’s accusations, he responded, in part:
You know, look, Caren, I’ve watched all this finger-pointing and naming of names, and all that stuff. Our objective is to secure the country. And we’ve had investigations, we had the 9/11 Commission, we had the look back this, we’ve had the look back that. The American people need to know that we spend all our time doing everything that we can to protect them. So I’m not going to comment on other comments.
But there’s a difference of opinion. It will come clear during this campaign, where people will say, get out, leave before the job is done. And those are good, decent, patriotic people who believe that way — I just happen to believe they’re absolutely wrong. So I’m going to continue to work to protect this country. And we’ll let history judge — all the different finger-pointing and all that business. I don’t have enough time to finger-point. I’ve got to stay — I’ve got to do my job, which comes home every day in the Oval Office, and that is to protect the American people from further attack.
As usual, the President stands head and shoulders above his critics.