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Bush expounds on theme of freedom

President says, 'I firmly planted the flag of liberty'

"I firmly planted the flag of liberty for all to see," Bush said at the first news conference of his second term.
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President Bush mourns fallen troops but says long-term goal -- freedom -- is vital.
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saying he has "firmly planted the flag of liberty," President Bush on Wednesday expounded upon themes put forth in last week's inaugural address, promising to pursue democracy in Iraq and elsewhere around the world.

"A world without tyranny is an ideal world," the president said in opening remarks at a White House press conference. (Transcript)

Later, in response to a question about how Iraqis view dissent with Bush's policies in the United States, the president said: "I think the Iraqi people are wondering whether or not this nation has the will necessary to stand with them as a democracy evolves."

But he vowed to make history and pursue the goal of democracy worldwide.

"The fundamental question is: Can we advance that history?" the president asked rhetorically. "And that's what my inauguration speech said. It said yes we can.

"I firmly planted the flag of liberty for all to see that the United States of America hears their concerns and believes in their aspirations. And I am excited by the challenge and am honored to be able to lead our nation in the quest of this noble goal, which is freeing people in the name of peace."

Bush cited Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Ukraine and Iraq as places where elections are showing that people are hungering for democracy.

The president urged Iraqis to go to the polls despite insurgent threats of violence against anyone who participates in Sunday's voting.

"These terrorists do not have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind," Bush said. "They have no positive agenda. They have no clear view of a better future. They're afraid of a free society."

Bush spoke only hours after word broke of the deadliest day for American forces in the Iraq war to date, including a helicopter crash that killed 31 U.S. personnel.

"The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people. I understand that," he said. "We value life, and we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life. But it is the long-term objective that is vital, and that is to spread freedom." ( Full story)

The 48-minute news conference came six days after Bush outlined a broad agenda to spread democracy worldwide in his inaugural address and a week before he gives his State of the Union address, in which advancing democracy is expected to play an important part.

On domestic issues, Bush vowed to take his case to overhaul Social Security directly to Americans to try to overcome skepticism in Congress on his plan to privatize part of the program.

"I just laid out the math; it is clear that now is the time to act," he said. President Clinton used a similar approach to get his programs through Congress, Bush said.

The president said he'll push for changes in the nation's immigration policy, saying labor from abroad is needed to do jobs Americans won't.

"Advancing a program that enables people to come into our country in a legal way to work for a period of time for jobs that Americans won't do will help make it easier for us to secure our borders," Bush said.

Bush pledged to work on tackling the nation's "twin deficits" -- the federal budget and foreign trade -- and said he'll work with the Congress on both.

"Obviously, we're going to have to work closely together to send the signal that we're willing to tackle some tough issues," the president said. "The budget I'll be submitting is one that says we'll spend money on projects that work, but we must make sure we're not wasting the taxpayers' money."

Bush also said no government money would go to media personalities to promote administration policies. Officials in the Education Department had paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to promote the president's No Child Left Behind program. (Full story)

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