- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

President Bush yesterday chastised “cynics” for their impatience with the pace of progress in Iraq and for criticizing National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, whom he called “an honest, fabulous person.”

In a 55-minute press conference in the Rose Garden, Mr. Bush also acknowledged he does not know how soon Saddam Hussein will be found.

“I don’t know how close we are to getting Saddam Hussein,” he said. “You know, it’s closer than we were yesterday, I guess. All I know is we’re on the hunt.”

But in a suggestion that the noose around Saddam is tightening, the president said he was similarly uncertain before last week’s raid that killed Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusai.

“It’s like if you had asked me right before we got his sons how close we were to get his sons, I’d say, ‘I don’t know, but we’re on the hunt,’” he said.

Spending nearly an hour with reporters, Mr. Bush talked extensively about Iraq and the other two countries he once termed the “axis of evil” — Iran and North Korea. The president called on Europe to help thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, and he praised China for helping pressure Pyongyang to forgo its missile race.

But the president was most animated when he chided the press and, by implication, Democrats who have demanded the swift establishment of a democratic government in Iraq.

“We’ve been there for 90 days since the cessation of major military operations,” he said in exasperation. “I never have expected Thomas Jefferson to emerge in Iraq in a 90-day period.”

Mr. Bush reminded his detractors that he proved them wrong about Operation Iraqi Freedom, in which Baghdad fell within three weeks, despite predictions that the attack would degenerate into a quagmire.

“For a while the questions were: ‘Could you conceivably achieve a military victory in Iraq?’” he said. “You know, ‘The dust storms have slowed you down.’

“And I was a patient man because I realized that we would be successful in achieving our military objective. Now, of course, the question is, will Iraq ever be free, and will it be peaceful? And I believe it will.

“I remind some of my friends that it took us a while to go from the Articles of Confederation to the United States Constitution,” he added. “Even our own experiment with democracy didn’t happen overnight.”

The Articles of Confederation, the first central government for the newly independent colonies, were passed by the Continental Congress in 1777 and took effect in 1781. The current U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, ratified the next year, and George Washington assumed its presidency one year after that.

Clearly irritated at continuing criticism about postwar Iraq, Mr. Bush suggested the press is obsessed with “instant news” in which the president “must do this yesterday.”

“There’s a level of frustration by some in the media,” he said. “But it’s going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence, literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered.”

Still, the president acknowledged “we need to find evidence” of weapons of mass destruction, if for no other reason than “to placate the critics and the cynics about intentions of the United States.”

Hours later, on Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld expressed similar irritation when a reporter asked how close he was to finding Saddam. He said that question cannot be answered “until you catch him.”

“But we don’t know because we haven’t caught him,” he said. “We’ll only know when he’s caught how close we were.”

Mr. Bush also registered a vigorous vote of confidence in Miss Rice, who has recently come under fire for a questionable claim in the president’s State of the Union address that Iraq once sought uranium from Niger.

“Dr. Condoleezza Rice is an honest, fabulous person and America is lucky to have her service — period,” he said. “I take personal responsibility for everything I say.”

The president also ridiculed suggestions that he is bent on waging war against other nations. He criticized journalists for writing: “Oh, no, they’re getting ready to attack either Syria or Iran. You know, the march to war is just a campaign that’s just going to march everywhere.”

Still, Mr. Bush stopped short of ruling out war against Iran.

“All options remain on the table,” he said. “I believe that the best way to deal with the Iranians at this point in time is to convince others to join us in a clear declaration that the development of a nuclear weapon is not in their interests.”

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