On Monday night, November 8, 2010, President George W. Bush was interviewed by Matt Lauer on a show entitled “Decision Points: A Conversation With George W. Bush.” Decision Points is the name of President Bush’s new book, where he gets a chance to explain things in his own words regarding his life and presidency.
Judging from the freewheeling interview, President Bush is quite candid in the book, talking about family secrets he’s never revealed before, although he was careful to point out that without the permission of those involved, he would not be speaking of them now, either. The mutual love and trust between him and his parents is obvious, although there was a time, he says, when he was an embarrassment to his family. But that was when he was drinking heavily, and he gave that up completely long ago.
Speaking of his presidency inevitably leads to talk of 9/11 and his unique perspective on that horrible day. Hotly denying the accusation of critics that he was in shock when given the horrible news, he claims he was trying not to panic anyone and took a few minutes to think about how best to proceed. He reveals that Air Force One had a terrible communication system and he was often in the dark as to what was happening while he was on Air Force One. Later, when he went to the site of the horror, the anger of the rescue and cleanup crews was palpable. He wanted to lead the country toward justice rather than revenge, but he respected the strong feelings of those who were intimately involved with the “hell” that was Ground Zero.
When quizzed on water boarding, he says he trusted his team and the lawyers gave an all-clear on the legality of it. There were only three prisoners who were actually water boarded, anyway, he points out, and he believes lives were saved by the information they revealed. He even went so far as to say that one of them claimed that according to Islam, the Muslim prisoners had a duty to resist up to a certain point, and water boarding fulfilled that requirement. He would not, however, agree that it was fine for other countries to use the water boarding technique on American prisoners in their countries; but he feels he did the right thing in the circumstances in which we found ourselves. When all is said and done, he points out, there were no more attacks on United States soil under his watch.
As for Iraq, President Bush admits there were unfortunate blunders, bad intel and shameful occurrences. He says that if he had it to do over again, he would not have stood under the “Mission Accomplished” banner on the ship, and would have said “Good job!” or something that did not resemble a victory dance quite so much.
He was not in a hurry to go in to Iraq, wanting to give diplomacy a chance, but Saddam Hussein was so defiant and the intel seemed so solid, that it seemed like the right thing to do. He felt sick to his stomach when he heard of the degradations of Abu Ghraib prison, hating that there were mistreated prisoners, a disgraced military and a stain on America’s good name.
President Bush says cutting troops too quickly at the beginning of the Iraq war was the biggest mistake that was made, But he decided to try the surge, and even though it was soundly criticized, even by Republicans, it worked. He points out that the world is better without Saddam Hussein brutalizing his people and threatening the world.
George Bush says that two years in was the worst time of his presidency, because he wasn’t sure we could win the war. But he was greatly honored by the support of the military and their families. One war widow told him, “John (her husband) did his job; now you do yours.” This bolstered his resolve in the midst of his unpopularity.
When Hurricane Katrina came along, Mr. Bush says, it gave critics a chance to undermine his presidency. He felt there was no real way to proceed, because the government of Louisiana was inept, but to wrest control from them was untenable, so he didn’t move as decisively as he was generally known to do. When he praised the FEMA director for a job well done based on the praise of the Governors of Mississippi and Alabama, his words of encouragement were, he says, turned in to a club to bludgeon him with. When Kanye West got on a fund-raising telethon and claimed that President Bush didn’t care about black people, George W. Bush says, “He called me a bigot! That was one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.” His resentment still strongly evident, Mr. Bush said unequivocally, “He called me a bigot, and it’s not true.”
The financial crisis at the end of President Bush’s term represented a personal crisis of philosophy versus reality. “Do you adhere to your philosophy and let the free market fail, or do you take tax payer’s money and inject it in to save the free market system? I abandoned the free market system to save the free market system!” he exclaims, aware of the irony but feeling it was the only thing he could do to avoid a depression. “Yes, I went with the TARP bailout, and people hate it! But they forget that it was structured to recoup the money at a good rate of return!” He admits that the anger is not misplaced. “Wall Street got drunk and we got the hangover!” he says.
Throughout the conversation with George W. Bush, Matt Lauer was struck by the fact that President Bush never criticized President Barack Obama. Mr. Bush says he has no desire to “get back in to the swamp,” but is embracing anonymity. As for his own popularity, he says he didn’t take it seriously when he was over 90% on his approval rating, so why should he when he was under 30%? “History will have to judge me a success or a failure, and that will take time,” President George W. Bush says. “I’m going to be dead when they finally figure it out, but I’m comfortable knowing that I gave it my all. I love America and it was an honor to serve.”
And so ended President George W. Bush’s conversation with Matt Lauer about his presidency, and his new book, Decision Points.
“Decision Points: A Conversation With George W. Bush,” interview with Matt Lauer on NBC TV