The President. Thank you all for coming. I’m pleased to welcome Secretary Rumsfeld and members of his team back to Crawford, and I’m pleased to welcome Secretary Rice and her team. We just had a meeting with the—the Vice President and I had a meeting with the defense team and earlier this morning with Condi Rice and Don Rumsfeld. We’ll have a joint luncheon, and then we’ll visit with the Secretary of State’s folks.
We discussed recent developments in Iraq, including the political progress that is taking place in that country. Despite the acts of violence by the enemies of freedom, Iraq’s elected leaders are now finishing work on a democratic constitution. And later this year, that constitution will be put before the Iraqi people for their approval.
The establishment of a democratic constitution is a critical step on the path to Iraqi self-reliance. Iraqis are taking control of their country. They’re building a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.
And we’re helping them succeed. We have a strategy to help them succeed. On the one hand, we’re hunting down the terrorists, and we’re training the Iraqi security forces so Iraqis can defend themselves. Our approach can be summed up this way: As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down. And when that mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home to a proud and grateful nation. The mission in Iraq is tough, because the enemy understands the stakes. A free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will deliver a serious blow to their hateful ideology.
The second part of our strategy is to help freedom prevail in Iraq. The recent violence in Iraq is a grim reminder of the brutal enemies we face in the war on terror. And we are a nation at war. The war arrived on our shores on September the 11th, 2001. And since that day, the terrorists have continued to kill. They have killed in Madrid and Istanbul and Jakarta and Casablanca and Riyadh and Bali and London and elsewhere, and they are determined to do more harm. And they kill indiscriminately. In other words, they don’t care who they kill.
And they kill because they’re trying to shake our will. They’re trying to drive free nations out of parts of the world, so they can topple governments across the Middle East and establish Taliban-like regimes in the Middle East and turn that region into a launching pad for attacks against free people. And they will fail.
After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people that this Nation will not wait to be attacked again, and we’re going to stay on the offense. And we’re fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere so we do not have to face them here at home.
We’re also fighting the murderous ideology, the hateful ideology of the terrorists, and we’re doing so by spreading freedom. See, our ideology is hopeful and optimistic and uplifting. I’ve got great optimism about the spread of freedom because I believe deep in everybody’s soul is the desire to be free, and I know that history has shown that peaceful societies are those that are free, that democratic neighbors don’t war, that democracies promote peace.
In these times of war, a heavy burden falls on the men and women of our Armed Forces and their families. This morning, we discussed the steps we’re taking to deal with the increased demand on our forces. For example, we’ve been working to rebalance our forces, moving about 80,000 people out of skills that are in low demand into the skills that are high demand, so we do not have to call upon the same forces repeatedly.
We’ve also taken steps to improve the call-up process for our Guard and for our reserves. We’ve provided them with earlier notifications. We’ve given them greater certainty about the length of their tours. We minimized the number of extensions and repeat mobilizations.
We’re working hard to ensure our troops and their families are treated with the dignity they deserve and the respect they’ve earned. In the war on terror, our troops are serving with courage and commitment, and their courage is inspiring others. All of our services met or exceeded their active duty recruitment goals in July. The Army, which was below its monthly recruiting targets earlier this year, exceeded its July active duty recruitment goal by nearly 10 percent, though it’s still behind for the year. The Navy, Air Force, and Marines are on track to meet or exceed their active duty recruiting goals for 2005. And the troops closest to the fight continue to reenlist in impressive numbers. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines are all on track to meet or exceed their reenlistment goals for the year. Americans can have pride and confidence in our All-Volunteer Force.
I appreciate so very much the Secretaries and their teams who’ve joined me today. I want to thank the Vice President for being here. We’ve had fruitful discussions so far, and we’ll continue to have fruitful discussions throughout the day.
With that, I’ll be glad to answer some of your questions. Deb [Deb Riechmann, Associated Press].
Q. Mr. President, on Iran again, has the U.S. intelligence sorted out what role the new Iranian President might have played in the ’79 Embassy takeover? And will he be given a visa to attend the U.N. meetings in New York early next month? And wouldn’t denying him a visa damage the EU-3 negotiations on their nuclear program and inflame the anti-American sentiment that Karen Hughes—is the very thing that Karen Hughes is trying to abate?
The President. That’s a really long question. Whew. Let me start off by saying that we’re still investigating allegations and/or this guy’s potential involvement in the hostage crisis. We’re in agreement with—we have an agreement with the United Nations to allow people to come to meet, and I suspect he will be here to meet—at the United Nations.
On Iran, I can’t remember the first four questions you asked on the question, but——
Q. Well, those are the first two and then—[laughter]——
The President. No disrespect, by the way.
Let me talk about Iran. As you know, the IAEA today issued a report that expressed serious concerns about Iranian decisions, and that’s a positive first step. You know, our strategy is to work with the EU-3, France and Great Britain and Germany, so that the Iranians hear a common voice speaking to them about their nuclear weapons ambitions. And I appreciate the IAEA’s positive first step. As you know, there will be a report back after a period of time, and we look forward to working—hearing what that report says.
But the point is that the world is coalescing around the notion that the Iranians should not have the means and the wherewithal to be able to develop a nuclear weapon.
Steve [Steve Holland, Reuters].
Q. Thank you, sir. You’re increasing U.S. troop strength in Iraq for the upcoming elections. What happens—is it possible those troops will be asked to stay on longer if needed to help improve security? And if I may, what happens if Iraq misses the deadline for drafting the new constitution?
The President. Right. As to the constitution, one of the meetings we had this morning was with Zal, our Ambassador in Baghdad. And he gave us a briefing as to the progress on the constitution. We have made it clear that we believe that constitution can be and should be agreed upon by August 15th. And so I’m operating on the assumption that it will be agreed upon by August the 15th. And Zal said that, you know, obviously there are some difficult issues—federalism being one, role of religion. Hopefully the drafters of the constitution understand our strong belief that women ought to be treated equally in the Iraqi society. But those are issues that still are out there. Although—and he did say that there seems to be a spirit of cooperation and a deep desire for people to work closely together.
As for the troops, no decision has been made yet on increasing troops or decreasing troops. I know there’s a lot of speculation and rumors about that. We did, as you might recall, increase troops for the Iraqi election and for the Afghanistan elections. It seemed to have helped create security, and I know the Secretary of Defense is analyzing that possibility.
I also know there’s a lot of folks here in the United States that are, you know, wondering about troop withdrawals. They’re concerned about the violence and the death. They hear the stories about a loved one being lost to combat. And, you know, I grieve for every death. It breaks my heart to think about a family weeping over the loss of a loved one. I understand the anguish that some feel about the death that takes place.
I also have heard the voices of those saying, “Pull out now,” and I’ve thought about their cry and their sincere desire to reduce the loss of life by pulling our troops out. I just strongly disagree. Pulling the troops out would send a terrible signal to the enemy. Immediate withdrawal would say to the Zarqawis of the world and the terrorists of the world and the bombers who take innocent life around the world, you know, the United States is weak, and all we’ve got to do is intimidate, and they’ll leave.
Pulling troops out prematurely will betray the Iraqis. Our mission in Iraq, as I said earlier, is to fight the terrorists, is to train the Iraqis. And we’re making progress training the Iraqis. Oh, I know it’s hard for some Americans to see that progress, but we are making progress. More and more Iraqi units are becoming more and more capable of fighting off the terrorists. And remember, and that’s a country where 8.5 million Iraqis went to the polls. They’ve said, “We want to be free,” and our mission is to help them have a military that’s capable of defeating those who would like to dash their ambitions to be free.
Withdrawing before the mission is complete would send a signal to those who wonder about the United States’ commitment to spreading freedom. You see, I believe and know that we’re at war, and we’re at war against a hateful ideology. And the way to defeat that ideology in the long term is to spread a hopeful ideology, one that says to young girls, “You can succeed in your society, and you should have a chance to do so,” one that says to moms and dads, “You can raise your child in a peaceful world without intimidation,” and one that says to people from all walks of life, “You have a right to express yourself in the public square.”
It’s the spread of liberty that is laying the foundation of peace, and it’s very important for our citizens, no matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, to understand that the mission is a vital mission, and it’s one that will be—that we obviously couldn’t complete if we didn’t fulfill our goals, which was to help the Iraqis.
Q. Just to make clear, you’re referring to Mrs. Sheehan here, I think?
The President. I’m referring to any grieving mother or father, no matter what their political views may be. Part of my duty as the President is to meet with those who’ve lost a loved one. And so, you know, listen, I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan. She feels strongly about her—about her position. And I am—she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position. And I’ve thought long and hard about her position. I’ve heard her position from others, which is, “Get out of Iraq now.” And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run, if we were to do so.
But no, Steve, I’ve met with a lot of families, and I have done my best to bring comfort to the families and honor to the loved one, and get different opinions when you meet with moms and dads and sons and daughters and wives and husbands of those who have fallen. One opinion I’ve come away with universally is that, you know, we should do everything we can to honor the fallen. And one way to honor the fallen is to lay the foundation for peace. Hutch [Ron Hutcheson, Knight Ridder].
Speculation on Troop Withdrawals
Q. Mr. President, these rumors about a troop drawdown really took flight when some of your military people starting talking about drawing down in spring. What was that about? Are they out of line?
The President. I think they were rumors. I think they’re speculation. One of the things that we did announce was a joint Iraqi-U.S. commission to look at the security situation in Iraq. Clearly—my position has been clear, and the position—therefore, the position of this Government is clear, that as Iraqis stand up, we’ll stand down. And that means that there’s a—obviously, the conditions on the ground depend upon our capacity to bring troops home, and the main condition, as to whether or not the Iraqis have got the capability of taking the fight to the enemy.
And so I suspect what you were hearing was speculation based upon progress that some are seeing in Iraq as to whether or not the Iraqis will be able to take the fight to the enemy. In other words, you’ve got people—obviously, it’s important to plan. It’s important to think down the road. And you’ve got people saying, “Well, if the Iraqis are capable, if more and more units are capable of taking the fight to the enemy, it would then provide an opportunity to replace coalition troops with those Iraqis.” I think that’s what you’re seeing. I think it’s kind of what we call speculation. And the decision finally will be made by me upon the recommendation of General Casey, through Secretary Rumsfeld, to me.
Q. Does that speculation—grounded in fact, to you, given the way things have gone just recently?
The President. Well, the—I am pleased with the progress being made when it comes to training Iraqi units. One of the things I announced at Fort Bragg was our strategy to embed our troops within Iraqi units so—to better facilitate the training of those Iraqi units. And this morning, General Casey reported to me and Secretary Rumsfeld and the folks standing right back here—reported to us that more and more units are becoming more and more capable and that the embedding process is working.
Now, there’s not that many that can stand alone yet, but there are a lot more that are—have gone from raw—you know, that raw-recruit stage to plenty capable. In some cases, some units need no United States or coalition force help. In some cases, they need minimal help. But the point is, is that there is a matrix, and we’re following that matrix as more and more troops become capable and competent. And so my answer to you is that we are making progress.
And I’ve said all along, we’d like to get our troops home as soon as possible, but “soon as possible” is conditions-based. And so we’re monitoring progress. The important thing for the American people to know is we are making progress. There’s a political track on which we’re making progress and the security track on which we’re making progress. And I know it’s tough, and I know it’s hard work. But America has done hard work before, and as a result of the hard work we have done before, we have laid the foundation for peace for future generations.
And I remind people, when they think about the conflict we’re in, to think about World War II, when an enemy of ours, Japan, for example, is now a loyal friend and an ally because of the hard work we did, not only during the war but in the post-war reconstruction of Japan.
And the sacrifices that our troops are making, our family are making, are unbelievably noble, and I am incredibly proud of our military, and I know most of the American people are as well.
Listen, thank you all very much.