Bush says US election 'ratified Iraq'

 

US President George W. Bush has said the American public's decision to re-elect him has "ratified" his approach toward Iraq.

Speaking in an interview with the The Washington Post where Mr Bush outlined details of his second-term plans, he said there was "no reason" to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgements in prewar planning or managing the aftermath.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush said.

"The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me," he added.

With Iraqi elections two weeks away and no signs of the violent insurgency there abating, Bush set no timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, the Post said.

He twice declined to endorse outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent statement that the number of Americans serving in Iraq could be reduced by year's end.

He said he would not ask Congress to expand the size of the National Guard or regular Army, as some lawmakers and military experts have proposed.

He said he will not press senators to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, the top priority for many social conservative groups.

He said he has no plans to cut benefits for the approximately 40 percent of Social Security recipients who collect monthly disability and survivor payments as he prepares his plan for partial privatisation of the system.

The president urged Americans to show patience as Iraq moves slowly toward creating a democratic nation where a dictatorship once stood.

But the relentless optimism that dominated Bush's speeches before the U.S. election was sometimes replaced by pragmatism and caution, the Post said.

"On a complicated matter such as removing a dictator from power and trying to help achieve democracy, sometimes the unexpected will happen, both good and bad," he said. "I am realistic about how quickly a society that has been dominated by a tyrant can become a democracy ... I am more patient than some."

Last week, Powell said U.S. troop levels could be reduced this year, but Bush said it is premature to judge how many U.S. men and women will be needed to defeat the insurgency and plant a new and sustainable government. He declined to pledge to significantly reduce U.S. troop levels before the end of his second term in January 2009.

"The sooner the Iraqis are ... better prepared, better equipped to fight, the sooner our troops can start coming home," he said.

A report released last week by U.S. intelligence agencies warned the war in Iraq has created a training ground for terrorists. Bush called the report "somewhat speculative" but acknowledged "this could happen. And I agree. If we are not diligent and firm, there will be 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 the administration has so far failed to locate Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Bush said, "Because he's hiding."