- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

President Bush yesterday said he would not be surprised if a Navy pilot shot down in the Gulf war is still alive and held prisoner in Iraq without dictator Saddam Hussein notifying the United States.
"Wouldn't put it past him, given the fact that he gassed his own people," Mr. Bush said in a wide-ranging press conference at the White House.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher was declared killed in action in 1991 but was reclassified by the Pentagon as "missing in action" last year. The Washington Times reported Monday that U.S. intelligence agencies had obtained new information indicating he was still alive.
"The man has got MIA status, and it reminds me once again about the nature of Saddam Hussein if, in fact, he's alive," the president said in response to questions from The Times.
The president expressed disgust at "anybody who would be so cold and heartless as to hold an American flier for all this period of time without notification to his family."
Mr. Bush added that suspicions of Saddam holding an American captive is "just another part of my thinking about him. I guess lack of respect is a good way to define it."
The president also disputed a suggestion that his expansion of the war against terrorism to far-flung corners of the globe might degenerate into conflicts reminiscent of the Vietnam War.
"I believe this war is more akin to World War II than it is to Vietnam," he said. "This is a war in which we fight for the liberties and freedom of our country.
"Secondly, I understand there's going to be loss of life," he added. "For a period, it seemed to be that, you know, the definition of success in war was nobody lost their life."
The president was referring to the loss of eight American lives this month in Operation Anaconda, a U.S. assault against al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts in the mountains of Afghanistan. Mr. Bush wept over the casualties during a speech last week.
"Nobody grieves harder than I do when we lose a life," he said. "I feel responsible for sending the troops into harm's way.
"It breaks my heart when I see a mom sitting on the front row of a speech, and she's weeping, openly weeping, for the loss of her son. I'm not very good about concealing my emotions.
"But I strongly believe we're doing the right thing," he added. "The idea of denying sanctuary is vital to protect America. And we're going to be, obviously, judicious and wise about how we deploy troops."
Mr. Bush, who served in the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 to 1973, said America's involvement in Southeast Asia was instructive.
"I learned some good lessons from Vietnam," he said. "First, there must be a clear mission. Secondly, the politics ought to stay out of fighting a war.
"There was too much politics during the Vietnam War. There was too much concern in the White House about political standing.
"And I've got great confidence in General Tommy Franks and great confidence in how this war is being conducted. And I rely on Tommy, just like the secretary of defense relies upon Tommy and his judgment, whether or not we ought to deploy and how we ought to deploy.
"Tommy knows the lessons of Vietnam just as well as I do," he added. "We're of the same vintage. We paid attention to what was going on."
Mr. Bush, who appeared relaxed, confident and even playful at times, said the House made "good progress" on Tuesday by passing a bill that would grant amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.
The bill is part of an aggressive White House outreach to Hispanic voters.
"Hopefully, that'll come out of the Senate quickly," said the president, who is scheduled to travel to Mexico later this month. "That's a good reform; it's one that I support."
But he added: "There will be no blanket amnesty in America. I don't think the will of the American people is for blanket amnesty."
Mr. Bush explained that Vice President Richard B. Cheney's trip to the Middle East was aimed at gauging support for action against Iraq, which the president had called part of an "axis of evil."
"What the vice president is doing, is he's reminding people about this danger and that we need to work in concert to confront this danger," he said. "All options are on the table.
"But one thing I will not allow is a nation such as Iraq to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction," he added. "They've agreed not to have those weapons. They ought to conform to their agreement."
Mr. Bush said Saddam "is a problem, and we're going to deal with him. But the first stage is to consult with our allies and friends, and that's exactly what we're doing."
The president also used yesterday's 45-minute press conference to issue a veiled rebuke to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who said the war against terrorism would be a failure without the capture of Osama bin Laden.
"The idea of focusing on one person indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission," Mr. Bush said. "Terror's bigger than one person.
"And he's just a person who has now been marginalized," he added. "His host government has been destroyed. He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match."
The president concluded with a shrug: "I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run."
Mr. Bush also spoke on the new phase of his war against terrorism, which was to rely less on direct military assault and more on the training of other nations to kill terrorists.
"The new phase that's becoming apparent to the American people is that we're working closely with other governments to deny sanctuary or training or a place to hide or a place to raise money," he said.
The president also said he hopes to codify a nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia when he visits Russian President Vladimir Putin in May.
"I'd like to sign a document in Russia when I'm there. I think it'd be a good thing," he said. "I also agree with President Putin that there needs to be a document that outlives both of us. And what form that comes in, we will discuss."
Mr. Bush also questioned the legitimacy of the presidential election in Zimbabwe.
"We do not recognize the outcome of the election, because we think it's flawed," he said. "And we are dealing with our friends to figure out how to deal with this flawed election."

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