Bush defends 'tough decisions' in farewell address
'We've faced danger and trial, and there is more ahead,' outgoing president warns
U.S. President George W. Bush warned in a farewell address to his fellow citizens on Thursday that Americans must "never let down our guard" against another possible terrorist attack on home soil.
The outgoing U.S. president gave thanks for the honour of leading the country for the "period of consequence" over the past eight years, while he also defended his record in office in the face of the lowest public approval ratings since Richard Nixon.
"You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made, but I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions," Bush said in his final nationally televised speech to the country.
He said the United States must lead the cause of freedom and resist complacency against terrorists, who he said are "determined to strike again."
"We have faced danger and trial, and there is more ahead," said Bush, who will soon vacate the White House as president-elect Barack Obama assumes office on Jan. 20.
"But with the courage of our people and confidence in our ideals, this great nation will never tire, never falter, and never fail."
Bush's two terms in office are marked by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, secret and potentially unconstitutional domestic spying programs, the creation of a detention centre and military tribunals for terrorism suspects and captured militant fighters at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the fallout from the natural disaster of 2005's Hurricane Katrina.
The 43rd U.S. president has also left his Democratic successor a domestic economic crisis that has triggered financial turmoil and uncertainty around the globe.
Bush said his administration took "decisive measures" to safeguard the U.S. economy in the face of a potential financial collapse, including the $700-billion government bailout package he ordered for the country's financial institutions.
"These are very tough times for hard-working families, but the toll would be far worse if we had not acted," he said.
'There are things I would do differently'
Bush acknowledged his administration experienced "setbacks" and said he understood that many question his decisions while in office.
"There are things I would do differently if given the chance, yet I've always acted with the best interests of our country in mind," he said.
"I have followed my conscience and done what I thought is right."
While some historians have already labelled Bush's presidency as among the worst ever, others have pointed to successes that must be included in his legacy, including the launch of a $15-billion global initiative to combat AIDS and the fact that there has not been another successful, foreign-bred terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings.
Bush himself highlighted his record on homeland security in his speech, saying he "vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe."
"As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11, but I never did," Bush said.
He then hailed the successes of his controversial security policies, such as the terrorist surveillance program, as well as harsh interrogation practices used on suspected terrorists.
The acknowledged interrogation techniques — which include the controversial practice of "waterboarding," or simulated drowning — have been condemned by human rights groups, military officials and even some Bush supporters as torture.
"There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions, but there can be little debate about the results," Bush said.
"America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil."
With files from the Associated Press