President Bush said Wednesday that those Americans who expect another terror attack in this country have reason for such fears. “This is a hard country to defend,” he conceded.
“Our intelligence is good. It’s just never perfect, is the problem,” Bush told executives of more than 1,500 Associated Press-member newspapers at the cooperative’s annual meeting.
The president also acknowledged that the last few violence-filled weeks in Iraq were difficult for the U.S.-led coalition and for Iraqi victims of the violence.
But he pledged not to lessen his administration’s commitment to a free and Democratic Iraq.
“The Iraqi people are looking at Americans and saying, ‘Are we going to cut and run again?’ We’re not going to cut and run while I’m in the Oval Office,” Bush said.
Questioned about an AP poll showing that two-thirds of Americans believe another attack is “somewhat likely” before the presidential election in November, Bush said: “I can understand why they think we’re going to get hit again.”
“They saw what happened in Madrid,” he said.
The March 11 train bombings in Madrid, which killed 191 people and injured more than 2,000, occurred within a week of Spain’s national elections.
President deplores latest attacks
Bush condemned terrorist attacks earlier Wednesday in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
“They attacked today in Basra. Killed innocent Iraqis. They attacked today in Riyadh. ... They attack all the time. They’d like to attack us again, by the way,” he said.
“We have to be effective to stop them,” Bush said. “There are no negotiations with these terrorists. It’s important we find them before they come here again.”
“Times are tough,” the president told the newspaper executives. “Last couple of weeks have been really rough.” He said the perpetrators “want to stop the advance of freedom.”
Five suicide attackers detonated car bombs against police buildings in British-controlled Basra in southern Iraq, killing 68 people, including 16 children. Meanwhile, a suicide car bomb blasted the Saudi national police headquarters in Riyadh Wednesday, killing at least nine people and wounding 125 others.
Of the election-year economy, Bush said: “We’re prosperous now, which is good, particularly if you’re the guy seeking the vote.”
He cited low inflation and interest rates, increased industrial production and growing home ownership.
Details on domestic issues
Bush presented the newspaper executives with a laundry list of his initiatives, ranging from his stalled energy bill, health savings accounts, medical liability overhaul and free trade agreements to a proposal that every American have access to high-speed Internet connections by 2007.
On energy, Bush said his legislation would make the nation less dependent on foreign oil by encouraging more nuclear energy, clean coal technology and more exploration for natural gas.
He was dismissive of a suggestion that he could merely “jawbone” oil-producing nations.
Several weeks ago, his Democratic rival, John Kerry complained that Bush wasn’t doing enough in leaning on OPEC nations to increase their production levels to help drive down prices.
He also called for making his tax cuts permanent.
“My job is like think beyond the immediate,” Bush said.
Bush also defended his decision to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s territorial plan in the Mideast, saying it included a major concession to the Palestinian: an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
“The whole world should have said, ‘Thank you Ariel’,” Bush said. Instead, he said, “There was kind of silence, wasn’t there.”
Bush’s move on Israel drew angry responses throughout the Arab world, including from moderate U.S. allies Jordan and Egypt.
Lighter moments at meeting
Bush bantered with the newspaper executives, jokingly referring to those at the head table as “the Politburo.” He also suggested they see the movie “Osama” to gain some insights into the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan and that government’s repression of women.
And he told entertaining stories about his meetings with Japanese leaders when he was in Tokyo last fall, including a comment by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi comparing Bush to the late actor Gary Cooper.
He was asked whether a Democratic form of government in Iraq was an option — or an imperative.
“It’s necessary. It is what will change the world, will help change the world,” he said.