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Bush ‘I was unprepared for war’

Posted by tothewire on December 5, 2008

pretzelIn what might be considered one of the first exit interviews, President Bush told ABC News’s Charles Gibson that during the eight years of his administration, the thing he was most “unprepared” for was the war in Iraq after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But he also said that he felt he would have been compromising his principles if he later on had ordered a pull-out of troops from the country.

From the transcript:

Mr. Gibson: What were you most unprepared for?

Mr. Bush: Well, I think I was unprepared for war. In other words, I didn’t campaign and say, “Please vote for me, I’ll be able to handle an attack.” In other words, I didn’t anticipate war. Presidents — one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen.

Mr. Gibson: You said you were not going to be in the business of nation-building. And so much of what you had to do was nation-building.

Mr. Bush: Well, what I said was, in the course of a debate, I said the military shouldn’t be used to build nations. In this case, it turns out the military, in my judgment, was needed to remove threats to our security, and after that removal, the military, as well as our diplomatic corps, needed to help rebuild after tyrannical situations.

Later in the interview, after talking about the partisan politics that Mr. Bush said worsened during his terms in office, he answered questions about the public’s opinion of him as he leaves office and what his unpopular stance on the protracted war in Iraq has meant:

I’ll be frank with you. I don’t spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don’t worry about long-term history, either, since I’m not going to be around to read it — but, look, in this job you just do what you can. The thing that’s important for me is to get home and look in that mirror and say, I did not compromise my principles. And I didn’t. I made tough calls. And some presidencies have got a lot of tough decisions to make …

As for what would’ve compromised his principles, he said:

Mr. Bush: The pullout of Iraq. It would have compromised the principle that when you put kids into harm’s way, you go in to win. And it was a tough call, particularly, since a lot of people were advising for me to get out of Iraq, or pull back in Iraq, or — and rather than listen to — I mean, I listened to a lot of voices, but ultimately, I listened to this voice: I’m not going to let your son die in vain; I believe we can win; I’m going to do what it takes to win in Iraq.

Mr. Gibson: You’ve always said there’s no do-overs as President. If you had one?

Mr. Bush: I don’t know — the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that’s not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.

Mr. Gibson: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?

Mr. Bush: Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.

Mr. Gibson: No, if you had known he didn’t.

Mr. Bush: Oh, I see what you’re saying. You know, that’s an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can’t do. It’s hard for me to speculate.

Mr. Gibson: Greatest accomplishment? The one thing you’re proudest of?

Mr. Bush: I keep recognizing we’re in a war against ideological thugs and keeping America safe.

First Lady Laura Bush joined in the interview after awhile, and she extolled her husband’s achievements, in of all places, Afghanistan, because of changes in the way women are living there:

Well, for him, one great feeling of accomplishment of his that I appreciate is the liberation of Afghanistan, and the fact that girls are in school in Afghanistan, and women can walk on the streets without a male escort. And it’s still tough there, and we read about it every day. But I’ve met a lot of women from Afghanistan, both on my visits there, and women who come through the United States studying to be teachers, or working with judges, the women judges, or the parliamentarians that come through, and that’s a — I think that’s a huge accomplishment. It’s life-changing for the women who live there.

In talking about the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Bush said that while Senator John McCain ran a solid campaign, Senator Barack Obama ran a “textbook campaign,” one that just outdid the other, through fund-raising and getting out the vote. The president also emphatically acknowledged the notion that this was a “change” election, one in which Mr. McCain was running in a “headwind” against Republicans and even Mr. Bush himself.

I thought my candidate for President, John McCain, had a tough headwind — for two reasons. One, rarely does the American people — do the American people give a political party three terms. That in itself was difficult for him. They did one time since World War II; that happened to be for President 41, my dear dad. Obviously the economic situation made it awfully difficult for John McCain to get a message out. And I felt that Barack Obama ran a very disciplined campaign. I mean, he inspired a lot of people and was in a position to take advantage of the inspiration. It was well organized, he raised a lot of money, and ran a textbook campaign.

But Mr. Bush chose not to fault Mr. McCain for picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, and disagreed with those who said that the selection hurt the Republican ticket. In fact, as so many others on the G.O.P. side have mentioned from time to time — albeit with pundits on their side declaring her unprepared for the presidency — Mr. Bush cited the enthusiastic crowds she drew and offered the anecdote of women working within the White House who were excited by the idea of a female candidate.

The president also talked about his administration’s communications with the incoming administration and Mr. Obama himself, given the economic turmoil that has gripped the country for the last several months. While Mr. Bush called this period “unique,” because the country is engaged in two wars in addition to the economic crisis, he said he did not see the need for the transition to include Obama aides working side by side inside the administration.

Earlier today, Mr. Bush spoke to the Saddleback Church gathering in Washington, D.C., on World AIDS Day about his initiatives, called Pepfar, and how they have helped Africans combat the AIDS epidemic. In the interview with Mr. Gibson, he cited Pepfar as one of his greatest achievements as president, as well as No Child Left Behind.

And in talking about leaving the presidency, after eight long years, and in leaving public life, including his stint as governor of Texas, Mr. Bush was rather realistic. He said he wanted to write a book, and both he and Mrs. Bush wanted to stay involved in issues like the international battle against malaria. He said he would leave office with his head “held high.”

Interestingly, he also offered up one historical element that rarely befits an outgoing president, because he is the son of a former president. His remark says quite a bit about the father-son relationship in a context not often experienced in this country, as Mr. Bush talked about how he would feel leaving the White House:

Well, first of all, no one will be more relieved than my mother and dad, because one of the things I learned during his presidency is being the son of the president is a lot tougher than being the president. I mean, it is really agonizing to have somebody you truly love get banged around in the political process. It was hard. And so, no doubt they’re going to be relieved to have their boy out of the limelight. And I bet a lot of our friends will be relieved, too.

Originally By Kate Phillips NYTimes


One Response to “Bush ‘I was unprepared for war’”

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