Dec 3, 2008

World - US;Bush stands by his time in office

Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News, Washington

There may be those who look back on his actions as president unfavourably, but George W Bush stands by his time in office.

"I hope they feel that this is a guy that came, didn't sell his soul for politics, had to make some tough decisions, and did so in a principled way," he said in a wide-ranging interview with ABC News on Monday.

Wearing a jacket but no tie, President Bush spoke to ABC anchor Charles Gibson in front of a roaring fire at Camp David, looking and sounding relaxed.

Despite low approval ratings and widespread criticism of his policies, he said he would "leave the presidency with my head held high".

He was not remotely flustered or nervous during the interview; there were none of the famous "Bushisms", which dogged his career.

Intelligence failure

When reflecting on his eight years in office, Mr Bush was self-assured and comfortable, and even somewhat candid about the most controversial of topics.

He said he had wished the intelligence on Iraq, which incorrectly suggested the country had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) prior to the US-led invasion in 2003, had been different.

"The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq," he said.

"A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction [were] a reason to remove Saddam Hussein."

Mr Bush, who has always defended his decision to send US troops to Iraq and overthrow Saddam, refused to speculate on whether he would have made the same decision had he known at the time that Iraq had no WMDs.

He also resolutely defended his decision not to have ordered the withdrawal of US troops since then, despite calls for him to do so.

"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," he explained,

"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."

Expect the unexpected

Mr Bush said that what he would miss most about being president was the role of Commander-in-Chief.

But, for someone whose presidency will undoubtedly be defined by his use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan, he admitted that he was "unprepared for war" before he took office in 2000.

"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," he said.

"One of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."

Unexpected events like the 11 September 2001 attacks and Hurricane Katrina - and his response to them - will also shape the way President Bush is remembered for his time in charge.

"One of the things about the presidency is you deal with a lot of tragedy - whether it be hurricanes, or tornados, or fires, or death - and you spend time being the Comforter-in-Chief," Mr Bush said.

"But the idea of being able to serve a nation you love is - has been joyful. In other words, my spirits have never been down. I have been sad, but the spirits are up."

'New man'

The president said he was not hurt by the fact both Barack Obama and John McCain had criticised him during the recent election campaign.

He also did not seem too hurt that his successor had already stolen the political limelight from him, even though he will not take office until January.

With just over a month left, Mr Bush said he did not feel Mr Obama was interfering because he was still the president, and still the one making the decisions.

But there was a sense during the interview that when the time comes, he will be only too relieved to hand things over.

"I think it's going to be real important for me to get off the stage. We got a new man coming on the stage; I wish him all the very best," he said.

"I don't want to be out there critiquing him, his every move."

For many presidents and prime ministers, relinquishing power is a strange and lonely concept to deal with.

'Getting Momma coffee'

Mr Bush said he was confident he would adjust to life outside the White House.

He plans to move back to his home state of Texas and write a book. He also wants to build an institute at the Southern Methodist University to serve as a non-partisan public policy forum, to debate issues and run volunteer projects from.

"I'm going to have a lot of time to think. My day is going to go from getting up early-early, and being at the Oval Office at 6:45 a.m., and having a lot to do when you get there, to waking up at 6:45 a.m., getting Momma the coffee - and kind of wandering around trying - what's next, boss?" he said.

Asked to describe his high point in his eight years as president, Mr Bush said it was his inauguration in 2004, after winning a second term in office.

Many people will have their own assessment, but how others rate his time in charge is not a major concern for the president.

"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," he said.

"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," he added.

No comments: