George W. Bush sat down for an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer for the NBC special “Decision Points” 11/8.
Mission Kind Of Accomplished
On why he thinks waterboarding is legal: “Because the lawyer said it was legal. He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I’m not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of people around you and I do.”
Bush, on the failure to capture Osama Bin Laden: “Well, first of all, the— the truth is, I was— I was disappointed, deeply disappointed, and still am. And, secondly, you know, I heard all that noise. We would have moved heaven and earth to get him if we’d have known where he was.”
Bush, on if he ever doubted the Iraq War intelligence: “No, I didn’t. I really didn’t,” and on going to war with Iraq: “I was a dissenting voice. I didn’t wanna use force.”
On if he ever thought about apologizing for the Iraq War: “I mean apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision. I don’t believe it was the wrong decision,” and on the “Mission Accomplished” banner: “No question it was a mistake. … And that happens when you’re President and if I had to do it all over again, which you don’t get to do when you’re the President, you know, I’d have said, ‘Good goin’, men and women. Great mission’ or something” (NBC, 11/8).
What Did Brown Do To You?
Bush, on the image of him looking out the window during Katrina: “Yes. Huge mistake,” and on the political damage: “I think it reinforced damage that was taking place. I had failed to get Congress to move on Social Security. Iraq was still very difficult. And so Katrina came along and it gave critics an opportunity to— to kind of undermine the Presidency, I guess you could say.”
Bush, on what he should have done during Katrina: “It’s always my fault. I should have touched down in Baton Rouge, met with the governor, and, you know, walked out and said, ‘I hear you.’ I mean, ‘We know. We understand. And we’re gonna, you know, help the state and help the locals, governments with as much resources as needed.’ And— and then got back on a flight up to Washington. I did not do that and paid a price for it.”
Bush, on ‘heck of a job’: “I tend to boost people’s spirits during difficult times. And these two governors are sayin, ‘This guy’s doin’ a good job’ and of course I say …”
Bush, on Kanye West‘s comment about him: “That’s, ‘he’s a racist’. And I didn’t appreciate it then. I don’t appreciate it now. It’s one thing to say, you know, ‘I don’t appreciate the way he’s— handles his business.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘This man’s a racist.’ I resent it. It’s not true, and it was one of the most disgusting moments in my Presidency” (NBC, 11/8).
Feelings… Nothing But Feelings
Bush, on considering replacing VP Cheney: “I’m a deliberative person. And you know I thought about it. But I came down to the— to this conclusion. He was a solid advisor. He never went around my back. When I made a decision, he supported it. And I liked him a lot, and so…”
Bush, on his relationship with his father: “It’s not as complex as some would like it to be. I admired him. And he never disappointed me. He was always a great father. He was always a man who gave unconditional love. And so when it came time to run for President I was motivated in large part— look, I wanted to run. I had an agenda. You know, I had a team of people I was comin’ with. The truth of the matter is the final motivating factor was my admiration for George Bush, and I wondered whether or not I had what it took to get in the arena like he did.”
Bush, on why he doesn’t criticizes Pres. Obama: “One: I just didn’t want to get out there anymore. I didn’t want to get back into what I call ‘the swamp.’ I’m trying to regain a sense of anonymity. And the other reason why is I don’t think it’s good for the Presidency for a former President to be opining about his successor. President Obama’s got plenty of critics and— and I’m just not gonna be one.”
On how history will judge him: “I hope I’m judged a success. I’m gonna be dead, Matt, when they finally figure it out. And I’m comfortable knowing that I gave it my all, that I love America and that— and I know it was an honor to serve” (NBC, 11/8).
Bad Deja Vu, Or Just Another Vu?
New York Times‘ Stanley says the Lauer interview was “a fascinating, at times disarming, performance, but also a confusing one: a plea for understanding from a president who says he doesn’t give a fig about popularity.” When pressed about critical decisions, Bush was “both more forthcoming and maddeningly opaque” (11/8).
Time‘s Calabresi says “the interview did bring back the personal atmospherics of the presidency.” But “there was the perpetual, uncomfortable coexistence of confidence and defensiveness that ended up giving the country the impression that he had been in over his head all along.” It’s “safe to say NBC’s review of Bush’s presidency won’t move the needle much. What it did do is remind viewers of the particular brand of defensive patriotism Bush embodied” (“Swampland,” 11/8).
Wall Street Journal‘s Heinniger reviews “Decision Points.” “Commitment and clarity of commitment were Bush virtues.” The downside of being “all in,” however, is that much can be lost before the need for a course correction becomes too obvious to ignore. What emerges across the pages of “Decision Points” is a president “who at times let his strong code of personal loyalty and commitment cloud his decision-making.”
“The book contains delightful and telling personal observations.” After Bush refuses to pardon Scooter Libby Cheney tells him: “I can’t believe you’re going to leave a soldier on the battlefield.” Bush “is unfailingly gracious to virtually all his opponents.” Bush “belongs to history. History will judge him almost solely by what he did” in the war on terror and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “If in time they succeed, he was a good president. If they fail, his presidency falls. For everyone’s sake, one should hope that he was a good president” (11/9).
The Final Word (For Now)
USA Today‘s Keen interviewed Bush as well. Bush: “I readily concede I could have done things better. I had to concede that I did make mistakes, and there was no question I did.” Bush says he was “blindsided” by the financial meltdown, “but he shares blame with Congress and defends his decisions when asked about the role of his policies in the recession.”
On TARP: “I can’t prove that the decision I made prevented a depression, but I can say we didn’t have one. The TARP (money) spent under me by and large has been paid back to the taxpayers.”
Bush “seems to have lost all appetite for politics” and “professes no interest in wielding his influence.”
Bush says Tea Party movement is comparable to earlier political factions. Bush: “I am pleased to see that our democracy is working. In other words, there’s a level of frustration in our society and people decided to do something. The more our citizens participate in our democracy, the better it is.”
Bush: “I don’t believe there’s going to be an accurate short-term history done of my administration or any administration. I fully expect people to say, ‘Well, I’ve read his memoir and I still disagree with his decisions,’ or ‘I’ve read his memoir and now I understand why he did what he did.’ I’m not trying to change people’s opinions. I’m trying to give modern-day readers and future readers a context for my administration” (11/9).
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