CBS Evening News Anchor and Managing Editor Katie Couric sat down with President Bush at the White House to ask him about the state of the war on terror five years after the 9/11 attacks. This is Part II of the transcript of the interview.
(Continued from Part I)
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?
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…
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.
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?
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.
COURIC: You've been saying that al-Qaeda's base of operation has been destroyed and many of the leaders caught or killed.
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?
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.
COURIC: Why hasn't he been caught five years later?
BUSH: Yeah, no, that's a good question. I mean, he's hiding. And – we're on the hunt, obviously. We –
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