President Bush on 60 Minutes
Strong, Resolute, Human
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Last night, President Bush was interviewed on 60 Minutes by Scott Pelley. The interview was conducted at Camp David in the wake of the president’s prime time address to outline changes in the nation’s strategy in Iraq.
In the interview, the president was everything we have come to expect him to be when it comes to the war on terror. He was strong, resolute, and even feisty at times; yet he displayed the humanity his critics charge is not in him. He was clear in his explanations of the stakes in Iraq for the United States. He demonstrated himself to be likeable, even if the policy he advances is unpopular. And, most importantly, he gave not one inch of ground to the new political “reality” in Washington.
The broadcast interview can by following this link and clicking on “Pres. Bush Candid About Iraq” in the video player. Below are some extended excerpts from the transcript.
SCOTT PELLEY: The war on terror, in a sense, began in this room, began in this cabin where your Cabinet meeting was held. Back then the whole country was with you. And now you seem to have lost them. Why do you think so?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Not to correct you, but the war on terror began on the streets of New York when an enemy attacked us. But you're right. We came here to plan a response. And, you know, I can remember thinking that it's gonna take a monumental effort to keep the country's attention on this war because it's an interesting dilemma for the president. On the one hand, you want them to understand we're at war. On the other hand, you want people to go about their daily lives. In other words, people can't be looking over their shoulder and seeing the next terrorist attack. And America has gone ahead. Our economy's good and people are, you know, helping their neighbors. And so I'm [sic] not that the danger the country felt after September 11th has slipped. Secondly, the Iraq War hadn't gone as well as I had hoped at this point in time. I mean, in my speech to the country I said we had good successes in 2005, and I truly believe we're gonna be in a position to reduce our presence. And then the situation changed on the ground. And people are, you know, people are discouraged. They don't approve of where we are. And so I think it's where the country is.
PELLEY: Most Americans at this point in time don't believe in this war in Iraq. They want you to get us out of there.
BUSH: I would hope they'd want us to succeed before we get out there. That's the decision I had to make. You know, Scott, I thought a lot about different options. One was doing nothing, just kind of the status quo. And I didn't think that was acceptable, and I think most Americans don't think it's acceptable. Secondly, we'd get out.
PELLEY: You actually thought about that?
BUSH: Of course I have. I think about it a lot, about different options. Listen, I've sat down with a lot of members of Congress, both parties, good decent people, who've said, "Start withdrawing now." I've thought about that, and my attitude is if we were to start withdrawing now, we'd have a crisis in our hands in Iraq. And not only in Iraq, but failure in Iraq will embolden the enemy. And the enemy is al-Qaeda and extremists. Failure in Iraq would empower Iran, which poses a significant threat to world peace. Failure in Iraq would provide safe haven, and the extremists still want to attack us. In other words, there's a lot of reasons that I know we must succeed. And so I thought long and hard about would withdrawal cause victory or cause success. And the answer is I don't believe so, and neither do a lot of experts. And so then I began to think, well, if failure's not an option and we've gotta succeed, how best to do so? And that's why I came up with the plan I did.
PELLEY You think the whole region could be in play? Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait?
BUSH: Absolutely. No question in my mind. And I know this is hard for some Americans to understand. The operative phrase that I thought made a lot of sense about this war is: if we fail in Iraq, the enemy will follow us here. And the point I make is that what happens in the Middle East matters to the homeland. And that's different than in some past engagements. Secondly, chaos in the Middle East will empower extremists who hate America. And failure in Iraq, defeat of America, in quotes, will then embolden these extremists. They'll be able to recruit more. They'll be able to find more suiciders. They'll have resources at their availability, like energy if they were able to topple modern governments. In other words, these people have a plan. They have a vision of the world. And they intend to use murder to enact their vision. And I fully understand that. You know, some of my buddies in Texas say, “You know, let them fight it out. What business is it of ours? You got rid of Saddam. Just let them slug it out.” And that's a temptation that I know a lot of people feel. But if we do not succeed in Iraq, we will leave behind a Middle East which will endanger America in the future.
PELLEY: Instability in Iraq threatens the entire region?
BUSH: If the government falls apart and there is sectarian enclaves and violence, it'll invite Iran into the Shia neighborhoods, Sunni extremists into the Sunni neighborhoods, Kurdish separatist movements. All of which would threaten moderate people, moderate governments, and all of which will end up creating conditions that could lead to attacks here in America.
PELLEY: But wasn't it your administration that created the instability in Iraq?
BUSH: Well, our administration took care of a source of instability in Iraq. Envision a world in which Saddam Hussein was rushing for a nuclear weapon to compete against Iran. My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the correct decision in my judgment. We didn't find the weapons we thought we would find or the weapons everybody thought he had. But he was a significant source of instability.
PELLEY: It's much more unstable now, Mr. President.
BUSH: Well, no question decisions have made things unstable. But the question is can we succeed. And I believe we can. Listen, I'd like to see stability and a unified Iraq. A young democracy will provide the stability we look for. I will tell you that if we just isolate ourselves from the Middle East and hope for the best, we will not address the conditions that had led young suiciders to get on airplanes to come and attack us in the first place.
The president handled a set of pretty straightforwardly liberal questions here with a vigor that was not present in his prime time appearance. Right from the start, he refuses to accept Pelley’s premise that the war on terror is a creation of his Administration. He makes some news by discussing the fact that pulling out of Iraq was an option under consideration in the days and weeks leading up to his speech. His explanation of the stakes for the United States in Iraq is clear and readily understandable even for those of us without political science degrees or experience in military planning. And then he finishes off by spiritedly defending his decision to topple Saddam Hussein.
The president seemed annoyed by Pelley’s question about the source of instability in Iraq, as well he should have been. Pelley had set him up with the prior question about instability in Iraq threatening the entire region. This was the “Saddam was contained” meme rearing its ugly head once again. The president’s reply that “decisions have made things unstable” was seized upon by CBS as the pull quote from the interview. But, upon watching it, President Bush came across as a parent lecturing a petulant teenager when he answered this question. It was not an admission of anything, as CBS and the left would have had it believed.
The most interesting part of the interview, however, came toward the end, when Pelley asked the president about the new Democratic Congress’ plans to thwart his plans to stabilize Iraq.
PELLEY: Do you believe that the House has the constitutional authority to prevent you from the troop build-up? Can they stop you?
BUSH: By not funding the troops I suspect is what you're referring to.
PELLEY: That would be one . . .
BUSH: I assume that's one of their options. I will fight that, of course. 'Cause I think when you got a soldier in harm's way, they deserve a full support. I can understand why somebody doesn't agree with my plan, and there's gonna be plenty of opinions I'm sure about that in Congress, but when our troops are there, they need to be supported.
PELLEY: The Democrat leadership says, "We wanna support the troops who are on the ground. We just wanna redline the extra 20,000."
BUSH: Yeah. I will resist that. That would mean that they're not willing to support a plan that I believe will work and solve the situation. Listen, we've got people criticizing this plan before it's had a chance to work. And I, therefore, think they have an extra responsibility to show us a plan that will work. In other words, they're saying, "We're not even gonna fund this thing." And they're not gonna give it a chance.
PELLEY: There's no Democrat plan.
BUSH: It doesn't look like it to me. And maybe there will be one. Now, I've listened to a lot of good folks who are Democrats who have expressed their opinions. They're just as patriotic as I am. And the interesting is, Scott, a lot of people are saying, "Well, we can't afford to fail." In other words, people understand the consequences of failure. But what's deafening is those who say "we can't afford to fail and here's the plan that will cause us not to fail." Frankly, that's not their responsibility. It's my responsibility to put forward the plan that I think will succeed. I believe if they start trying to cut off funds, they better explain to the American people and the soldiers why their plan will succeed.
PELLEY: Do you believe as commander-in-chief you have the authority to put the troops in there no matter what the Congress wants to do?
BUSH: In this situation, I do, yeah. Now, I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it. But I made my decision, and we're going forward.
That last statement is a bold assertion by the president and would no doubt make for an interesting Constitutional law debate. That the president would assert this authority on the heels of the Democrats regaining control of Congress and amidst all the high-minded discussions in Washington about their options for blocking the president’s plans, says a great deal about his mind-set going into these last two years of his term. As far as the war on terror is concerned, we can expect the president to prosecute it with all the urgency it requires. He will not allow past mistakes or present criticisms to tie his hands in the future. And, most importantly, he will not allow short-term political considerations to color his judgment about the necessity of winning and the tactics required.
All in all, this was a strong performance by the president. In it, he provided a glimpse into his decision making process and demonstrated the seriousness with which takes his obligations as Commander-in-Chief. At the same time, he defended his decision to liberate Iraq and demonstrated the un-seriousness of his critics, who are long on complaints and short on solutions.
In contrast to the poll numbers, President Bush is a likeable man. He is a fundamentally decent person who views getting it right as his chief concern. Sometimes, this redounds to his detriment, as he tends to allow his critics free shots because he views trading punches as apart from that goal. His policies tend to suffer as a result. Even the most well crafted of policies by the most beloved of presidents would show cracks in the face of the onslaught that President Bush’s initiatives have received. The White House should put him in this kind of setting more often. It allows his decency and humanity to come through, and provides a sharp contrast to his critics. The last two years of this presidency can still be productive ones. How the White House decides to present the president could go a long way toward making that wish a reality.