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Coalition as window dressing?

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QUESTION: You mentioned that 17 of the 26 NATO members providing some help on the ground in Iraq. But if you look at the numbers -- 135,000 U.S. troops, 10,000 or 12,000 British troops -- then the next largest, perhaps even the second-largest contingent of guns on the ground are private contractors, literally hired guns.

Your critics, including your Democratic opponents, say that's proof to them your coalition is window dressing. How would you answer those critics?

And can you assure the American people that, post-sovereignty, when the handover takes place, that there will be more burden-sharing by allies in terms of security forces?

BUSH: Yes, John, my response is I don't think people ought to demean the contributions of our friends into Iraq. People are sacrificing their lives in Iraq from different countries. We ought to honor that, and we ought to welcome that.

I'm proud of the coalition that is there. These are people that have got leaders that have made the decision to put people in harm's way for the good of the world. And we appreciate that sacrifice in America, and we appreciate that commitment.

I think that one of the things you're seeing is more involvement by the United Nations, in terms of the political process. That's helpful. I'd like to get another U.N. Security Council resolution out that will help other nations to decide to participate.

One of the things I've found, John, is that, in calling around, particularly during this week -- I spoke to [Italian] Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi and [Polish] President [Aleksander] Kwasniewski -- there is a resolve by these leaders that is a heartening resolve. Tony Blair is the same way.

He understands, like I understand, that we cannot yield at this point in time, that we must remain steadfast and strong, that it's the intentions of the enemy to shake our will. That's what they want to do. They want us to leave. And we're not going to leave. We're going to do the job.

And a free Iraq is going to be a major blow for terrorism. It'll change the world. A free Iraq in the midst of the Middle East is vital to future peace and security.

Maybe I can best put it this way, why I feel so strongly about this historic moment. I was having dinner with [Japanese] Prime Minister [Junichiro] Koizumi, and we were talking about North Korea, about how we can work together to deal with the threat. The North Korea leader is a threat.

And here are two friends, now, discussing what strategy to employ to prevent him from further developing and deploying a nuclear weapon.

And it dawned on me that, had we blown the peace in World War II, that perhaps this conversation would not have been taking place.

It also dawned on me then that when we get it right in Iraq, at some point in time an American president will be sitting down with a duly elected Iraqi leader, talking about how to bring security to what has been a troubled part of the world.

The legacy that our troops are going to leave behind is a legacy of lasting importance, as far as I'm concerned. It's a legacy that really is based upon our deep belief that people want to be free and that free societies are peaceful societies.

Some of the debate really centers around the fact that people don't believe Iraq can be free; that if you're Muslim, or perhaps brown-skinned, you can't be self-governing or free. I'd strongly disagree with that.

I reject that. Because I believe that freedom is the deepest need of every human soul, and if given a chance, the Iraqi people will be not only self-governing, but a stable and free society.

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