Americans expect “swift action” to take out al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan if solid intelligence emerges about their whereabouts, U.S. President George W. Bush said Thursday, but he stopped short of saying the U.S. would do the job if the Pakistan government did not.
Bush told a White House news conference that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has to prove to Americans he is serious about cracking down on Islamic extremists within his borders. A recent U.S. intelligence report said the al-Qaida terrorist organization and the Taliban are using tribal lands along the Afghan border to regroup for battle against forces from Canada, Britain, the U.S. and other NATO countries fighting in Afghanistan.
“I recognize Pakistan is a sovereign nation,” Bush told reporters, “and that’s important for Americans to recognize that. But it’s also important for Americans to understand that he (Musharraf) shares the same concern about radicals and extremists as I do and as the American people do.”
The U.S. president also said he pressed his Pakistani ally to hold a “free and fair election.” The advice came amid reports, subsequently denied in Islamabad, that Musharraf, who assumed power in a bloodless coup in 1999, was contemplating imposing emergency rule because of deteriorating security conditions in the country.
Questions about the stability of Pakistan and Musharraf’s reliability as an ally surfaced when Senator Barack Obama, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, said he would unilaterally order U.S. troops into Pakistan if Musharraf refused to take out terrorists.
A vacation-bound Bush also used the news conference to vigourously reassert his case for staying in Iraq, despite mounting criticism of his strategy from inside and outside his own Republican party.
He met reporters just hours before flying to Maine to spend a few days with his parents at their seaside compound in Kennebunkport. There, he and his wife, Laura, plan a private lunch Saturday with new French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Cecilia, on Saturday. Bush then flies to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to relax and to prepare for a meeting later this month with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon in the Quebec resort village of Montebello.
On Iraq, Bush pleaded for patience, and appeared to be bracing Americans for a mix of good and bad news when Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, goes before Congress next month to give a thorough report on the impact of a controversial surge in American troop levels in Iraq announced seven months ago.
The president said the challenges in Iraq are huge after decades of tyranny, but the “young democracy” is taking steps towards forming a functioning government.
Bush insisted anew the cost to the United States of leaving Iraq too soon would be unacceptable.
“The first question one has to ask on Iraq is, ‘Is it worth it?,’” Bush said. “I could not send a mother’s child into combat if I did not believe it was necessary for our short-term and long-term security to succeed in Iraq.”
Bush said the second question revolves around whether the U.S. can succeed in Iraq.
“In my mind, the answer to that is: Absolutely. Not only we must succeed; we can succeed.”