Thursday, July 12, 2007
Bush was speaking at a White House press conference on the same day an interim progress report on his troop surge in Iraq was released. Asked for proof of the connection between insurgents in Iraq and the 9/11 hijackers, Bush said both had pledged their allegiance to Osama bin Laden.
"The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq are the ones who attacked us on Sept. 11," Bush said.
The president was responding to a question from NBC correspondent David Gregory, who asked why Americans shouldn't believe he is "stubborn or in denial." Gregory was referencing a report in Thursday's Washington Post that indicated CIA Director Michael Hayden saw as "irreversible" the lack of progress in Iraq.
Facing a new report out today on the progress of his troop surge, Bush downplayed the fact that the report shows Iraqi lawmakers are making "satisfactory" progress on less than half of the 18 benchmarks that are required related to the troop buildup. The president reminded reporters that the buildup was just completed within the last month, and he tried to urge more patience in the war's fifth year.
Bush said the report shows the Iraqi government has made satisfactory progress on eight benchmarks, unsatisfactory progress on eight more and mixed results on two.
Democrats used the occasion of the progress report's release to criticize Bush's war policy.
"Does this White House think that we don't know how to turn on our televisions?" asked Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate, in a prepared statement. "Don't tell us we're making progress in Iraq when the last three months have been some of the deadliest since this war began for our brave troops who have sacrificed so much. And don't tell us it's progress when the Iraqi leadership has done nothing – nothing – to take the political steps necessary to end their civil war."
During the press conference, Bush acknowledged that public opinion is turning against the war in Iraq, but he continued to insist that he believed the fight was winnable.
"There's war fatigue in America," Bush said. "It's affecting our psychology ... it's an ugly war."
Bush insisted progress was being made in Iraq, several times invoking Anbar Provence, before continuing to try to tie the Iraq war to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Al Qaeda in Iraq has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden," Bush said. "We need to take al Qaeda in Iraq seriously just like we need to take al Qaeda anywhere in the world seriously."
Bush also refused to rule out committing more troops to Iraq in the future, saying he would not publicly speculate about what he will do when Gen. David Petraeus delivers a final report on the surge's progress in September.
"I'm not going to answer your question," Bush told a reporter who asked about the possibilty of sending more troops to Iraq.
As Bush tried to leave the press conference, a reporter called out a question about a new intelligence report that shows al Qaeda is gaining strength and is stronger now than at any time since 2001.
Bush said it "is simply not the case" that al Qaeda is stronger now than it was before the Sept. 11 attacks, although he asserted the terror group to defend some of his more controvercial programs.
"No question al Qaeda is dangerous ... that's why we need terrorist surveillance programs," Bush said, in an apparent reference to his warrantless wiretapping program.
Bush's double-take was a one-time deal, though. As he left a second time, a reporter tried to get in one last question.
"Is bin Laden alive?" the reporter asked, as Bush continued to leave the room without offering an answer.
The following video is from MSNBC's News Live broadcast on July 12, and contains clips from press conference edited by David Edwards: