Bush defends 'strong' record in farewell speech

US President George W. Bush defended his "good, strong record" in his final official news conference on Monday, warning against the continuing threat of an attack on the homeland. President-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20.


AFP - President George W. Bush mounted a defiant and emotional defense of his "good, strong record" on Monday, rejecting criticism of his "war on terror" tactics and policy in Iraq and on the economy.

In his last formal news conference before ceding power to Barack Obama on January 20, Bush highlighted the "troop surge" in Iraq and his efforts to rescue the US economy as it slumped into the worst recession since the 1930s.

He warned that Iran and North Korea, which he famously included in an "axis of evil" were still dangerous and said Obama still faced the grave threat of an attack on the US homeland.

"There are plenty of critics in this business," Bush said at a valedictory encounter with reporters in the White House briefing room at the end of a turbulent two term presidency saying he had a "good, strong record."

Bush, who presided over two wars which tested US ties with close allies, said he had never spent much time worrying about the "loud voices" of critics, adding that president-elect Obama would also face "harsh" criticism.

"He is going to have to do what he thinks is right, if you don't I don't see how you can live with yourself."

He did not dwell on the decision to invade Iraq, but said the surge was an example of how he had responded to events while in office.

"When the history of Iraq is written, historians will analyze for example the decision on the surge," he said remembering the rising tide of violence at the time in Iraq.

"I decided to do something about it, and to send 30,000 troops in as opposed to withdrawing. The part of history is certain in the the situation did change."

Bush used the news conference to warn Hamas that it must halt rocket fire on Israel if there is to be a durable ceasefire in Gaza.

"I am for a sustainable ceasefire. And a definition of a sustainable cease-fire is that Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel," the US leader told what is likely to be his final press conference.

"I happen to believe the choice is Hamas's to make."

He also warned that Obama would have to face up to the fact that America's terrorist foes would like to attack again, more than seven years after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

"The most urgent threat he will have to deal with, and other presidents after him have got to deal with, is an attack on our homeland," Bush told what is likely to be his final press conference.

"I wish I could report that is not the case, but there's still an enemy out there that would like to inflict damage on Americans. That will be the major threat."

Bush also noted that historians will examine the fact that the US economy slumped into recession as he leaves office to head back home to Texas.

He said he would be willing to ask Congress for a second 350 billion dollar tranche of a financial institutions bailout package if Obama asked for it.

"I told him that if he felt he needed the 350 billion, I would be willing to ask for it. If he feels like it needed to happen on my watch," Bush said.

Bush dismissed the notion that his presidency had damaged America's standing in the world.

"I strongly disagree with the assessment of our moral standing has been damaged. People still understand America stands for freedom."

And he said personally, keeping Americans safe had been more important to him that personal popularity.

"I would not worry about popularity. What I would worry about is the constitution of the United States and putting plans in place that make it easier to find up with the enemy is thinking."

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