The US electorate effectively expressed its support for the war on Iraq by re-electing George W. Bush to a second term as president, Bush said, calling the election an "accountability moment" for mistakes and misjudgments in the justification and execution of the war.
In an extensive interview with the Washington Post published yesterday, days before the start of his second term, Bush was asked why no US official has been held accountable for faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or for underestimating the difficulty of winning the peace there.
"Well, we had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election," Bush said. "And the American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and they chose me, for which I'm grateful."
Bush could not say whether the number of US troops in Iraq would be significantly reduced by the end of his second four year term, and said he was "realistic" about the amount of time required for an oppressed society to make the transition to democracy.
"I am realistic about how quickly a society that has been dominated by a tyrant can become a democracy. And therefore I am more patient than some," Bush said, adding that "we've got to get the Iraqis up and running as quickly as possible, so they can defeat these terrorists."
"Success in Iraq will depend upon the Iraqis defeating the enemy," he said.
He said he did not plan to ask Congress to authorize more National Guard or regular Army units but when asked twice when US troops could be brought home from Iraq, he would not give a time frame but answered, "as quickly as possible."
"American troops will be leaving as quickly as possible, but they won't be leaving until we have completed our mission," Bush told the paper.
He acknowledged that Iraq could become a terrorist breeding ground in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, where US-led forces are battling a virulent insurgency that strikes daily, killing Iraqi civilians and security forces as well as US soldiers.
"This could happen," he said. "If we're not diligent and firm, there will be pockets of -- parts of the world that become pockets for terrorists to find safe haven and to train. And we have a duty to disrupt that."
Asked why Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, has not been caught, Bush said simply: "Because he's hiding."
He said he was pleased with efforts to try to find bin Laden, including those by other countries.
"I can't think of anybody in the world who is our ally who isn't willing to do what is necessary to try to find him. And so I am pleased about the hunt, and I am pleased that he's isolated. I will be more pleased when he is brought to justice, and I think he will be."
He said he had asked secretary of state designate Condoleezza Rice to work on "public diplomacy" in his second term to try to explain US motives and intentions in parts of the world where the US is unpopular.
"Some of the decisions I've made up to now have affected our standing in parts of the world," Bush said, citing his choice not to negotiate with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, now deceased, and his stance against the US joining the International Criminal Court.