Interview of the President by Rai Italian Television
|Tuesday June 1,
June 1, 2004
2:55 P.M. EDT
Q Mr. President, it will be in a few days the anniversary of the D-Day. Italy and Europe are grateful to the United States for the liberation from fascism and the Nazism. But today, Europe and America are still divided about Iraq. When you go in Europe, there will certainly be some demonstration against you. What is the responsibility of this situation?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, look, first of all, we share the same values -- we being America and Europe. And one of the values we share is the freedom for people to express themselves. So I have no problem with people saying, I disagree. Matter of fact, I think it's a healthy sign, and I think it's positive.
Secondly, there are -- there is common agreement that Iraq must be free and peaceful. We had disagreements about the decision to enforce the U.N. Security Council resolution, but there's common agreement in Europe with America that it's in the world's interest that Iraq be free and peaceful.
Today I just talked to the new Prime Minister and had a very good conversation with him. And he said, thank you for giving us a chance and thank you for standing with us. And when he said thank you, he wasn't talking just to me. He was talking to the Italian people, and the American people, and the Brits, and all the people in our coalition that are now helping in Iraq.
So I'm very upbeat and very -- as I head over to honor what happened 60 years ago, I think we're now seeing unity to work toward common good today. And I'm looking forward to it.
Q Yes, but some Europeans blame you for having kept them out of the decision to go to the war in Iraq.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Do you think this is the real reason for present difficulties?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I don't see many difficulties. You mean in Iraq?
Q In Iraq.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, in Iraq.
Q And at the U.N., as well.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think you'll see --
Q The ground and the --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. No, I think you'll see in the U.N. there's going to be common agreement. I think we'll get a new Security Council resolution. Remember, 1441 -- at the Security Council, we voted unanimously to say to Saddam Hussein, disarm or face serious consequences; then it became clear he didn't disarm and didn't disclose; and so we had a debate about the definition of serious consequences.
My attitude is, when you say something, you better do it. In other words, the world said, serious consequences, Mr. Hussein. And had there not been serious consequences, I think he would have been extremely dangerous, and the United Nations would have been viewed as very weak.
And so, the United States, along with a lot of other nations, agreed that we must enforce serious consequences. But everybody had a chance to participate, everybody had a chance, particularly on the Security Council, to say yes or no. But that is now behind us and that's what is important for the people of your great country to understand. There is a better day ahead.
Now, in terms of Iraq, it's tough. And the reason it's tough is because there are killers in that country who want to stop the march to freedom. The worst thing they fear is free elections. But they're not going to stop us. That's what you've got to understand. We are not going to be intimidated by killers in Iraq, or anywhere else, for that matter.
Q Some have said that you never admit to any shortcomings, much less failures. Looking back at the past year, do you have anything to reproach yourself regarding what has gone wrong? Did you make any mistakes?
THE PRESIDENT: Listen, any time you go to war, circumstances change. And the fundamental question is, were we flexible enough to change with the circumstances? And we have been. Could we -- this is all hypothetical, when you think about it. We are changing a country from tyranny to freedom -- a country where people were brutalized, tortured, raped, killed, maimed, to a country which is going to govern itself. And it has been hard work.
A lot of things didn't happen that we thought might happen, the oil production, for example. We thought that would be blown up, and it would cost the Iraqi citizens a lot of money. It wasn't. We thought that people would go hungry, or there would be mass refugees -- neither of which happened. What did happen is, is that we moved too quickly. Our troops stormed through to Baghdad and then it caused -- it enabled some of the Saddam loyalists, some of them, to disperse. In other words, they didn't stay and fight. They ran off. They regrouped and came back to fight. And I -- and our troops were given the flexibility on the ground to deal with that.
Now, I wish the Iraqi people had overwhelmingly said, thank you for coming. I think they will. But some didn't. Some said, let's fight them.
Q But don't you think that now this new government could been seen as a puppet government because there are a lot of elements close to America? America gives them money?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we -- look, you're talking about the current Prime Minister.
THE PRESIDENT: And you bet we supported a group that he headed. We didn't support him; we supported his group. You know why? Because he wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And the reason why he did is not because of America. He wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein because Saddam Hussein killed and tortured his fellow citizens. You remember what Saddam Hussein is like. He was a tyrant. He was brutal. He had torture rooms. There was mass graves we discovered.
I had the other day in the Oval Office seven men whose hands had been cut off by Saddam Hussein.
Q We have shown this picture.
THE PRESIDENT: Have you? Good.
Q Yes, we have.
THE PRESIDENT: A very touching moment.
Q Are you happy with this new government in Iraq?
THE PRESIDENT: I am happy that Mr. Brahimi did what he said he would do. The government was picked by the United Nations. Mr. Brahimi went under very difficult circumstances, and consulted with a lot of people, and came up with what appears to be a very diverse government. Now, I have just spoken to the Prime Minister and the new President. And I told them two things: One, thank you for taking on a very difficult assignment, thank you for leading; and, two, America and our coalition will help you succeed, but it's up to you to succeed. You're in charge. And we will work with you to succeed.
Q How much has the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib damaged the American moral authority and credibility?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Well, that's a very good question. Obviously, it was a shameful moment when we saw on our TV screens that soldiers took it upon themselves to humiliate Iraqi prisoners -- because it doesn't reflect the nature of the American people, or the nature of the men and women in our uniform. And what the world will see is that we will handle this matter in a very transparent way, that there will be rule of law -- which is an important part of any democracy. And there will be transparency, which is a second important part of a democracy. And people who have done wrong will be held to account for the world to see.
That will stand -- this process will stand in stark contrast to what would happen under a tyrant. You would never know about the abuses in the first place. And if you did know about the abuses, you certainly wouldn't see any process to correct them.
Q You will visit the Pope, as well, on June 4th.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
Q The Vatican opposed the war, and now recommends: Look forward and pay more attention to the religious and moral sensitivity of the Iraqi people. What's your opinion about this recommendation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I can understand. Look, a lot of people didn't like the war. I understand that completely. And I don't like war. But I'm the guy who has to decide, for our case, whether or not a Saddam Hussein would be a threat to peace, and made a very difficult decision. After having tried all diplomacy, war was the last option.
Secondly, I will tell the -- His Holy Father I appreciate his positions -- he is a great man -- and that I look forward to working with the Iraqis to put in place the conditions so that human rights prevail; something that didn't happen under Saddam Hussein. Looking forward to the development of a society in which boys and girls can go to schools and not be filled with hateful propaganda, but with knowledge. I look forward to working with the health care workers in Iraq so that people can get decent health care. I will assure His Holy Father that we will do everything we can to elevate the human condition so that people can live in peace and freedom, and remind him that a free Iraq in the midst of the Middle East will serve as a great moment of change, will serve as an example for others to follow. You see, when the people in the Middle East see that a free society can exist in the Muslim world, they'll demand the same thing. And free societies are peaceful societies. Free societies are hopeful societies. And in the long run, the best way to defeat terror is to promote freedom, and that's what we're going to do.
Q Last question.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q If you cannot succeed with the United Nations, do you have a plan B as an exit strategy in Iraq?
THE PRESIDENT: We will succeed -- we will succeed with the United Nations.
Q It's sure?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm confident. I'm an optimist. I've talked to most of the leaders on the Security Council. I've talked to the Russians, the Chinese, the Germans, the French, of course the Brits; and I know there is a consensus that we must work together for the good of the Iraqi people. This isn't about America. This is about Iraq, and the citizens of Iraq who suffered under tyranny for so long. And now we have a chance to work together to promote a free society in a part of the world, by the way, that is desperate for free societies. And I know we'll succeed. I've got great faith in the future. And having talked to the new leadership -- some of the new leadership in Iraq -- I can tell you they share that same sense of destiny, the same great hope for their people.
Q Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Good to see you, sir.
END 3:05 P.M. EDT
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