The entire transcript of today’s Presidential press conference is worth a read, but this question and answer stood out:
Q Mr. President, moments ago you said that al Qaeda attacked us before we were in Iraq. Since then Iraq has become much less stable; al Qaeda has used it as a recruiting tool, apparently with some success. So what would you say to those who would argue that what we’ve done in Iraq has simply enhanced al Qaeda and made the situation worse?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, so, in other words, the option would have been just let Saddam Hussein stay there? Your question is, should we not have left Saddam Hussein in power? And the answer is, absolutely not. Saddam Hussein was an enemy of the United States. He’d attacked his neighbors. He was paying Palestinian suicide bombers. He would have been — if he were to defy — and by the way, cheating on the U.N. oil for sanctions program — oil-for-food program. No, I don’t buy it. I don’t buy that this world would be a better place with Saddam Hussein in power, and particularly if — and I’m sure the Iraqis would agree with that.
See, that’s the kind of attitude — he says, okay, let’s let them live under a tyrant, and I just don’t agree. I obviously thought he had weapons, he didn’t have weapons; the world thought he had weapons. It was a surprise to me that he didn’t have the weapons of mass destruction everybody thought he had, but he had the capacity at some point in time to make weapons. It would have been a really dangerous world if we had the Iranians trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and Saddam Hussein competing for a nuclear weapon. You can imagine what the mentality of the Middle East would have been like.
So the heart of your question is, shouldn’t you have left Saddam Hussein in power? And the answer is, no. And now that we’ve —
THE PRESIDENT: — that’s really the crux of it. And — let me finish, please, here. I’m on a roll here. And so now that we have, does it make sense to help this young democracy survive? And the answer is, yes, for a variety of reasons.
One, we want to make sure that this enemy that did attack us doesn’t establish a safe haven from which to attack again. Two, the ultimate success in a war against ideologues is to offer a different ideology, one based upon liberty — by the way, embraced by 12 million people when given the chance. Thirdly, our credibility is at stake in the Middle East. There’s a lot of Middle Eastern nations wondering whether the United States of America is willing to push back against radicals and extremists, no matter what their religion base — religious bases may be.
And so the stakes are high in Iraq. I believe they’re absolutely necessary for the security of this country. The consequences of failure are immense.