By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2007 – Failure in Iraq would threaten America’s security and create entrenched instability in the Middle East, President Bush said in an interview that aired last night on the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”
“If we do not succeed in Iraq, we will leave behind a Middle East which will endanger America in the future,” Bush said during the interview held at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md. The interview was his first since his Jan. 10 announcement he plans to deploy more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to help improve the security situation there.
Bush told CBS correspondent Scott Pelley that accepting the status quo or withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq would only embolden terrorists who are intent on harming Americans and making their vision for the world a reality. “And they intend to use murder to enact their vision,” the president said.
Failure in Iraq also would empower Iran, which the president said poses a major threat to world peace. He said Iran must not be allowed to meddle in Iraqi affairs and must be prevented from attacking U.S. troops there.
In a direct statement to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bush said Iranian- backed violence in Iraq would not be tolerated. “If we catch your people inside the country (Iraq) harming U.S. citizens or Iraqi citizens, we will deal with them,” he said.
A unified and democratic Iraq will provide the bedrock for stability in the Middle East, so Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and his government must be more diligent in providing security and thwarting sectarian violence, he said. “I told him (Maliki) he’s got to provide the troops he said he would provide inside of Baghdad. And we’ll help him,” Bush said.
Politics should not hinder Iraqi government officials and armed forces from going after those responsible for killing innocent people, he said. “A killer is a killer, and we expect them to go after both Shia and Sunni murderers in order to provide the security for Baghdad,” he said.
Bush admitted his administration has made some mistakes regarding Iraq, but said people should not blame U.S. troops for the problems there. “We’ve got a bunch of good military people out there doing what we asked them to do. The temptation is to find scapegoats,” he said. “Well if the people want a scapegoat they’ve got one right here in me.”
Last week Bush visited Fort Benning, Ga., to explain his new strategy for the war in Iraq and to thank soldiers there—many who will deploy early to Iraq under the president’s new plan-- for their service. “It’s an extraordinary country to have men and women volunteer in the face of danger,” he said.
Iraqis should be thankful for the effort American troops have made in their country, the president said. “We liberated that country from a tyrant,” he said.
Removing Saddam Hussein from power will ultimately make the world a safer place, he said. “Envision a world in which Saddam Hussein was rushing for a nuclear weapon to compete against Iran,” he said. “My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the correct decision in my judgment.”
Bush said he saw portions of Saddam’s execution video on the Internet. He said he was glad Saddam received the justice that was due, but didn’t like the manner in which the execution took place. “I thought it was discouraging,” he said. “Obviously they could have handled this thing a lot better.”
The hardest part of his presidency, Bush said, is meeting the families who lost loved ones in Iraq. One mother told him about how her 6-foot-5-inch son was killed when his Humvee struck a roadside bomb. His large size shielded four fellow troops from death, she told him. Bush said he asked her if she met the four surviving servicemembers. “They’re like my family now,” she told him.
Bush said he spent a lot of time listening to many people and laboring over the idea of sending more troops to Iraq before he came to his decision. “I fully understand the decisions I make could affect the life of some kid who wears the uniform, or could affect the life of some child growing up in America 20 years from now,” he said.
He said he spends much less time worrying about his legacy. “I’m more worried about making the right decisions to protect the United States of America,” he said.