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March 6, 2014, 9:28 a.m.

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 TimesStan­ley 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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