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George & Laura Bush: The PEOPLE Interview

George & Laura Bush: The PEOPLE Interview
Laura and George Bush
Eric Draper/The White House/AP

12/15/2006 AT 03:00 PM EST

The war, the elections, the GOP scandals: During these difficult times, the President and First Lady talked to PEOPLE about remaining focused on what they hold dear – family, country and one another.

By many measures – the progress on the war, the elections, poll results – it's been a rough year. Do you feel that way? What's your take on it?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it's been a very difficult year in Iraq – for our troops, for the families of the troops, for the Iraqi people. And it's been difficult for the American people, because success in Iraq has been slower coming than any of us would like. And so the task at hand now is to come up with a new way forward. I think most Americans fully understand the importance of success; they're wondering whether we have a plan to succeed. It's my job to listen to a lot of opinions and come up with a strategy that says we have a plan.

Did you think progress would be further along at this point?
THE PRESIDENT: I did. The reason it has been slower is because of the sectarian violence that was caused by outside forces. Now the task is to empower the Maliki government so that they can stop the violence to help them achieve the stability that 12 million Iraqis wanted when they went to the polls (in December 2005). There have been some remarkable achievements, but it is a very tough time now in Iraq.

Nearly 3,300 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations – more than the number of Americans killed on September 11. Is democracy in Iraq worth the death toll?
THE PRESIDENT: If I didn't think removing the Taliban from Afghanistan and helping this young democracy in Iraq after we removed Saddam Hussein were worth it, I wouldn't have our troops there. Success in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East, is vital to the security of your children and your grandchildren. This is a long-term ideological struggle to protect future generations of Americans.

This year, we invited readers on our Web site to ask you questions. Here's one:
Nina Frazier of New Braunfels, Texas, asks: If you believe in the war, why didn't you encourage your own daughters to fight for your country? Or did you?

THE PRESIDENT: I believe Americans can contribute to the security and well-being of our country in a variety of ways. That's why we have a volunteer army. What we say to young people is that if you want to serve your country you can do so in the military, or you can do so by teaching children in inner-city Washington, D.C., like one of our daughters did. Or you can help form education programs in New York City, like our (other) daughter. There are all kinds of ways to serve.

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