For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 26, 2006
President Bush Welcomes President Karzai of Afghanistan to the White House
The East Room
11:37 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you. We'll have two questions a side. We'll start with 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?
And to President Karzai, if I might, what do you think of President Musharraf's comments that you need to get to know your own country better when you're talking about where terror threats and the Taliban threat is coming from?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Do you want to start?
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Go ahead, please. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: 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.
Q My question --
PRESIDENT BUSH: What was that question?
Q Why is that declassification not --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Because I want you to read the documents so you don't speculate about what it says. You asked me a question based upon what you thought was in the document, or at least somebody told you was in the document. And so I think, Jennifer, you'll be able to ask a more profound question when you get to look at it yourself -- (laughter) -- as opposed to relying upon gossip and somebody who may or may not have seen the document trying to classify the war in Iraq one way or the other.
I guess it's just Washington, isn't it, where, you know, we kind of -- there's no such thing as classification anymore, hardly. But, anyway, you ought to take a look at it and then you'll get to see.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Caren.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Former President Clinton says that your administration had no meetings on bin Laden for nine months after he left office. Is that factually accurate, and how do you respond to his charges?
PRESIDENT BUSH: 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 I will comment on this -- that we're on the offense against an enemy that wants to do us harm. And we must have the tools necessary to protect our country. On the one hand, if al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates are calling somebody in the country, we need to know why. And so Congress needs to pass that piece of legislation. If somebody has got information about a potential attack, we need to be able to ask that person some questions. And so Congress has got to pass that piece of legislation.
You can't protect America unless we give those people on the front lines of protecting this country the tools necessary to do so within the Constitution. And that's where the debate is here in the United States. There are some decent people who don't believe -- evidently don't believe we're at war, and therefore, shouldn't give the administration what is necessary to protect us.
And that goes back to Jennifer's question, you know. Does being on the offense mean we create terrorists? My judgment is the only way to defend the country is to stay on the offense. It is preposterous to think if we were to withdraw and hope for the best, things would turn out fine against this enemy. That was my point about, before we were in Iraq there were thousands being trained in Afghanistan to strike America and other places. The only way to protect this country is to stay on the offense, is to deal with threats before they fully materialize and, in the long-term, help democracy succeed, like Afghanistan and Iraq, and Lebanon and a Palestinian state.
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.
Now, there are some who say, well, maybe it's not going to happen. Well, they don't see what I see. All I ask is that they look at that terror plot that, along with the Brits, we helped -- helped stop -- people who were going to get on an airplane and blow up innocent lives in order to achieve political objectives. They're out there, they're mean, and they need to be brought to justice.