Bush bids America farewell in final televised speech as President



WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President George W. Bush on Thursday hailed Barack Obama's January 20th inauguration as a moment for national "hope and pride" but warned Americans against any let-up in the war on terrorism.

In his farewell speech after eight divisive years in office, the vastly unpopular Bush urged agreement -- on his success in thwarting attacks like those of September 11, 2001, on the need for global US leadership, and on the historic nature of swearing in the first black US president.

Obama is "a man whose story reflects the enduring promise of our land," Bush said in excerpts of his 8:00 pm (0100 GMT Friday) address, his last public appearance before welcoming his successor to the White House on January 20.

"This is a moment of hope and pride for our whole nation. And I join all Americans in offering best wishes to President-elect Obama, his wife Michelle, and their two beautiful girls," said the outgoing president.

In excerpts provided by the White House, Bush also admitted to unspecified "setbacks" and things he "would do differently" today as he mounted an all-out defense of two terms defined by the devastation of September 11th.

"While our nation is safer than it was seven years ago, the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack," he said, underlining that if others led normal lives after the 2001 attacks, "I never did."

"We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard. At the same time, we must continue to engage the world with confidence and clear purpose," he said.

Rejecting charges that the Iraq war and interrogation practices widely seen as torture have blunted US moral standing, Bush warned: "If America does not lead the cause of freedom, that cause will not be led."

And Bush forcefully defended many of his controversial anti-terrorism policies, alluding to expanded spying on Americans and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have sharply divided the US public.

"There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil," he said.

Where a long-ago predecessor, Thomas Jefferson, vowed an isolationism-tinged foreign policy to avoid "entangling alliances," Bush bluntly warned that "retreating behind our borders would only invite danger."

Bush, his presidency scarred by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction at the core of the public case for war in Iraq and the botched government response to killer Hurricane Katrina in 2005, took a rare personal tone to admit: "I have experienced setbacks."

"There are things I would do differently if given the chance," he said, adding: "You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions."

Bush's speech was to be the culmination of a weeks-long campaign to polish his record, including frequent defenses of the Iraq war and a sharp focus on the global war on terrorism he declared after September 11, 2001.

It came amid a wistful final week in office, set to end when Bush, following tradition, leaves a handwritten note for his successor in the Oval Office desk before heading off for a quieter life in his home state of Texas.

Earlier, Bush hailed longtime confidante Condoleezza Rice as "one of the great secretaries of state our country has ever had," praising her as "an awesome friend" whose optimism helped him through "the darkest of days."

With many historians already tarring the vastly unpopular Bush as among the worst US presidents, Rice defended his -- and her own -- record, underlining: "History's judgment is rarely the same as today's headlines."

Bush was to deliver his farewell to an audience including individuals with personal stories reflecting what the White House sees as his greatest successes -- like a first-time voter from Afghanistan, able to cast her ballot after US forces ousted the Islamist Taliban militia from power in late 2001.

On Friday Bush was to leave for his last visit as president to the storied Camp David retreat, joined by twin daughters Jenna and Barbara, as well as Rice, national security adviser Steve Hadley and his wife, and chief of staff Josh Bolten, said spokeswoman Dana Perino.

This video is from CNN.com, broadcast Jan. 15, 2009.

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