By: E&P Staff
Meeting briefly with reporters Monday aboard Air Force One, Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman subbing for Scott McClellan, said that President Bush believes that those who want the U.S. to begin to change course in Iraq do not want America to win the overall “war on terror.”
Duffy spoke on a day when a surprisingly large antiwar protest met the president during his stay in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he addressed a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.
Speaking to reporters, Duffy said that Bush “can understand that people don’t share his view that we must win the war on terror, and we cannot retreat and cut and run from terrorists, but he just has a different view. He believes it would be a fundamental mistake right now for us to cut and run in the face of terrorism, because if we’ve learned anything, especially from the 9/11 Commission Report, it is that to continue to retreat after the Cole, after Beirut and Somalia is to only empower terrorists and to give them more recruiting tools as they try to identify ways to harm Americans.
“So he believes that people have a fundamental right to express their views. That’s one of the reasons we’re fighting this war on terrorism, to protect our fundamental rights. But at the same time, he disagrees strongly.”
The briefing ended with this exchange:
Q Cindy Sheehan’s group is airing commercials in Utah, again asking the President to meet with her. And there’s going to be protests planned. Is the President — does he know about these protests, about these commercials at all, and does he have any response?
MR. DUFFY: No. I don’t have any — there are people along the side of the road wherever the President goes, supporters and others. So the President is certainly aware. But, again, he believes that Americans, obviously, have a right to express their views. That’s part of being American. That’s one of the things we’re fighting for.
Tuesday morning, President Bush briefly spoke with a few reporters in Idaho. Here are excerpts from the transcript relating to Iraq:
BUSH: I’m looking forward to my speech tomorrow, to thank the Idaho National Guard and those who are on active duty for their selfless dedication to working to make this world a more secure place for those of us who love freedom. I’ll remind the people that we’re making progress on two fronts — a political front. The Iraqi people are working hard to reach a consensus on their constitution. It’s an amazing process to work. First of all, the fact that they’re even writing a constitution is vastly different from living under the iron hand of a dictator.
As Americans watch the constitutional process unfold, as we watch people work to achieve compromise and unity, we’ve got to remember our own history. We had trouble at our own conventions writing a constitution. It took a lot of work and a lot of interest, and willingness of people to work for the common good. That’s what we’re seeing in Iraq, and that’s a positive development. The fact that Iraq will have a democratic constitution that honors women’s rights, the rights of minorities, is going to be an important change in the broader Middle East.
And on the security front, we’ll remain on the hunt. We have an obligation and a duty to protect this country. And one way to do so is to not only firm up the homeland, but to stay on the offense against the terrorists, and we’ll do so. We’ll defeat the terrorists; we’ll train Iraqi forces to defeat the terrorists. In the long run, we’ll defeat the terrorists through the spread of freedom and democracy.
Anyway, thanks for the invitation.
Q Mr. President, we know you met with Cindy Sheehan a year ago, but she says a lot has changed since then; she has more to say to you. And even some Republicans have said that you should meet with her. Why not do that when you get back to the ranch?
BUSH: Well, I did meet with Cindy Sheehan. I strongly support her right to protest. There’s a lot of people protesting, and there’s a lot of points of view about the Iraq war. As you know, in Crawford last weekend there were people from both sides of the issue, or from all sides of the issue there to express their opinions.
I sent Deputy Chief of Staff Hagin and National Security Advisor Hadley to meet with Ms. Sheehan early on. She expressed her opinion. I disagree with it. I think immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a mistake. I think those who advocate immediate withdrawal from not only Iraq but the Middle East would be — are advocating a policy that would weaken the United States. So I appreciate her right to protest. I understand her anguish. I met with a lot of families. She doesn’t represent the view of a lot of the families I have met with. And I’ll continue to meet with families.
Q Mr. President, the Sunni negotiator yesterday for the constitution said that if they do pass the constitution tomorrow, that it would cause an insurgency amongst the Sunnis. What would America do if the Sunnis did rise up and have an insurgency?
BUSH: Well, I think — you know, you’re speaking about one voice. There is more than one Sunni involved in the process. Reaching an accord on a constitution, after years of dictatorship, is not easy. And so you’re seeing people express their opinion. I don’t know if this is a negotiating position by the fellow or not. I’m not on the ground, I didn’t hear him.
But I will tell you I spoke with Secretary Rice twice this morning, who has been in touch with our ambassador on the ground. And she is hopeful that more and more Sunnis will accept the constitution. Again, I repeat to you that we’re watching an amazing event unfold, and that is the writing of a constitution which guarantees minority rights, women’s rights, freedom to worship, in a part of the world that had only — in a country that had only known dictatorship. And so you’re seeing people express their opinions and talking about a political process.
And the way forward in Iraq is for there to be a two-track strategy. One, on the one hand, there’s politics. It wasn’t all that long ago, but it seems like a long time ago, I guess, for some, that the Iraqi people expressed their interest in democracy. Eight million people voted. They said, we want to be free. They went to the polls, said, give us a chance to vote, and we will, and they did. In other words, they have made their intentions known that they want to have a free society. And now they’re writing a constitution.
The next step after the constitution will be the ratification of the constitution, and then the election of a permanent government. In other words, democracy is unfolding. And the reason why that’s important is, is that we’ve had a — we had a policy that just said, let the dictator stay there, don’t worry about it. And as a result of dictatorship, and as a result of tyranny, resentment, hopelessness began to develop in that part of the world, which became the — gave the terrorists capacity to recruit. We just cannot tolerate the status quo. We’re at war. And so this is a hopeful moment.
And you talk about Sunnis rising up. I mean, the Sunnis have got to make a choice — do they want to live in a society that’s free, or do they want to live in violence. And I suspect most mothers, no matter what their religion may be, will choose a free society, so that their children can grow up in a peaceful world.
Anyway, I’m optimistic about what’s taking place. I’m also optimistic about the fact that more and more Iraqis are able to take the fight to the enemy. And as I’ll remind the good folks of Idaho, our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down. And what that means is, as more and more Iraqis take the fight to the few who want to disrupt the dreams of the many, that the American troops will be able to pull back. We’re still going to be training Iraqis; we’ll still be working with Iraqis. But more and more Iraqis will be in the fight.
We’ve got somebody from Fox here, somebody told me?
Q Yes, Mr. President, thank you.
BUSH: There you are, kind of blending in.
Q Sorry about that. Does the administration’s goal — I’ll ask you about the Iraqi constitution. You said you’re confident that it will honor the rights of women.
Q If it’s rooted in Islam, as it seems it will be, is that still — is there still the possibility of honoring the rights of women?
THE PRESIDENT: I talked to Condi, and there is not — as I understand it, the way the constitution is written is that women have got rights, inherent rights recognized in the constitution, and that the constitution talks about not “the religion,” but “a religion.” Twenty-five percent of the assembly is going to be women, which is a — is embedded in the constitution.