Bush: Iraqi Elections to Be 'Great Moment'
WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) said Wednesday he has no that doubt millions of Iraqis will vote in Sunday's election -- the first multiparty vote there in decades -- despite ongoing violence by insurgents trying to derail the democratic process in Iraq.
"I anticipate a grand moment in Iraqi history … the fact that their voting in itself is successful," the president told reporters in his first press conference since beginning his second term.
"Terrorists in that country have declared war against democracy itself and thereby declared war against the Iraqi people themselves -- yet the elections will go forward," Bush said. "Millions of Iraqi voters will show their bravery, their love of country and their desire to live in freedom," he continued.
Bush added that Sunday's election is a lead-up to a bigger election in the fall, when a national constitution is put in place and a permanent assembly is established.
The president listed democratic successes under his watch in places like Afghanistan, where late last year, Afghans peacefully voted to install a new president. After the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians also held elections earlier this month to install a new leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who has "renounced violence," Bush said.
Ukraine just this week inaugurated its new president, Viktor Yushchenko (search). Bush said the expansion of democracy is now working in places where it had been stamped out. He also said Iraqis can look to those countries as inspiration for their efforts.
"Across the world, freedom has deadly enemies, yet across the world, freedom has great and growing momentum," he said.
Bush also urged patience to Americans after news came of a Marine helicopter crash in Iraq that killed up to 31, pushing the U.S. death toll in that arena above 1,400.
"The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people," Bush said. "I understand that. It is the long-term objective that is vital -- that is to spread freedom."
To the Iraqis who face daily attacks from insurgents, he said: "Clearly, there are some who are intimidated. I urge people to vote. I urge people to defy these terrorists."
The face-to-face was Bush's 15th solo news conference since taking office. Last week, however, he gave an impassioned inaugural address in which he noted that he was renewing "this nation's commitment to preserving liberty at home and promoting liberty abroad ... This will require the commitment of generations, but we're seeing much progress in our own time," he said.
Political observers say the speech left no doubt that the president believes that the safety of America is contingent on the success of democracy and the spread of peace throughout the world.
When asked if that sentiment means the United States will turn a possible war focus on countries such as Iran or North Korea -- nations Bush included in his "axis of evil" in his 2001 State of the Union address -- the president reiterated that this year's inaugural address "reflected the policy of the last four years." He added that nations like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia must be constantly reminded that democracy is a work in progress and the best way for their countries to continue to grow.
"I think America is at its best when it leads toward an ideal, and certainly a world without tyranny is an ideal world," the president said. "I firmly believe that free societies are peaceful societies."
On the domestic front, Bush vowed to present a plan to Congress next month that will cut the deficit in half within the next five years, but warned that "some very difficult decisions" will have to be made to fund the budgets. The White House announced Tuesday that it expected a $427 billion deficit this year, which doesn't include the cost of prosecuting the war in Iraq or maintaining a tenable peace in Afghanistan.
The cost also does not reflect the president's vision for Social Security reform, which officials have estimated could cost $2 trillion to implement fully. Bush said Wednesday the retirement program needs to be "permanently solvent," and Congress must include in any reform plan an option for young workers to hold personal investment accounts.
"I'm open to good ideas from members of Congress. I'll work with both parties to get results," Bush said.
In his remarks, the president issued a stern statement to Congress, particularly the Senate, which has been debating his Cabinet nominations. As the president spoke, the Senate was finishing up debate on whether to confirm Condoleezza Rice as the next secretary of state. A positive vote was never in doubt, but Democrats took the opportunity to rail against Bush's foreign policies and Rice's role in them.
Also Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote whether to send the name of Alberto Gonzales (search) to the full Senate for confirmation as the next attorney general. Gonzales is currently counsel to Bush and has been the architect of many administration policies on how to treat suspected terrorists as detainees.
"I especially urge the Senate to confirm Condoleezza Rice today and to promptly act and confirm Judge Al Gonzales," Bush said. "We have a full agenda. I'm looking forward to the work ahead."