Newsweek Exclusive Interview: President George W. Bush and Laura Bush.
Says Bush; It's 'This Generation's Historical Opportunity' to Rid the World of Terrorism
'Saddam is Evil,' Bush Says of Iraq's Leader, He's 'Up to No Good;'
First Couple Looks Back at Their Own Personal Story of 9-11
NEW YORK, Nov. 25 /PRNewswire/ --
President George W. Bush tells Newsweek in an exclusive interview that the U.S. will get Osama bin Laden "one way or the other," but he cautions that it will take time. "Look, it may take us three years to get Osama bin Laden ... It could take 10 years. We will get him. And we will get his organization," he added. "The thing America must know is that terrorism is alive and well. And it's our duty, this generation's historical opportunity, to rid the world of terrorism."
(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20011125/HSSA007 )
In their first interviews since the tragic events of September 11, President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush look back at their own, untold personal story of 9-11. In the December 3 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, November 26), the Bushes also speak candidly with Chief Political Correspondent Howard Fineman and White House Correspondent Martha Brant about the terrorist attacks and the military effort in Afghanistan.
President Bush would rather look forward than backward, writes Fineman, and the result is a president who operates without evident remorse or second-guessing. "I have not looked back on one decision I have made and wished I had made it a different way." He also says he has always been the kind of person who is able to deal with the circumstances in which he finds himself. "I'm a problem-solver. And I don't spend a lot of time theorizing or agonizing." The president is also proud of his decision not to delegate authority to convene a secret military tribunal to try terrorists. "This country bends over backwards to provide rights for people," he said. "And that is properly balanced with my administration and my strong desire to protect the American people from further harm."
The war plan for Afghanistan was fashioned a few days after the attacks, on 9-11, at the first and most crucial of a series of weekend sessions at Camp David. Bush gathered his close and trusted advisers there, listened to debates among them all day, and said little. Back at the White House the next day, he laid out his game-plan to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice: they would initially focus on Afghanistan, with other options alive for later. The president approved in advance a lengthy menu of military actions, leaving it up to the men in the field to decide when to use them. In football terms, he had approved the playbook, but it was up to others to call the signals. "You know, Mr. President, this is going to be like calling an audible on every play," Rice recalls telling Bush that day. "And he said, 'Yeah, am I the quarterback?' And I said, 'I think you're the coach.'" Rice said the quarterback was the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
And in his interview with Newsweek, President Bush for the first time declared that "Saddam is evil." In Bush's moral algebra, that would seem to mean that Saddam Hussein is a legitimate, indeed necessary, target, writes Fineman. "I think Saddam is up to no good," said Bush. "I think he's got weapons of mass destruction. And I think he needs to open up his country to let us inspect ... Show the world he's not [evil]. It's up to him to prove he's not. He is the one guy who has used weapons of mass destruction -- not only against his neighbors in Iran, but against people in his own country. He gassed them." Asked if there is a time limit for letting U.N. weapons inspectors back in, Bush replies: "I just told him."
Looking back to the events of September 11, Bush recalled the instant that his and the country's life had changed. Chief of Staff Andy Card had leaned over him at an education event in Florida that morning, and whispered, "A second plane has hit the World Trade Center. America is under attack." The president had tried not to look shocked. "'America is under attack.' I'm trying to absorb that knowledge," Bush tells Newsweek. "I have nobody to talk to. I'm sitting in the midst of a classroom with little kids, listening to a children's story ... and I realize I'm the commander in chief and the country has just come under attack."
The president said he was "furious" once he saw the video of the attacks on the World Trade Center. By the time he got back to Air Force One, he'd made the fundamental decision. "We're at war," he told his aides. "That's what we're paid for, boys." When the president and Mrs. Bush were finally able to reach each other over the phone they assured each other that they were "OK." The president says Laura's steadiness calmed him. "She couldn't have been more calm, resolved, almost placid, which was a very reassuring thing," he recalled. "I'll be home soon," he told her.
In those first hours after the attack, President Bush said he and his advisers were trying to figure out what was happening. "The first thing we had to do was to make sure we understood what the heck was going on," he recalled. "There is a 'fog of war.' You have heard about it, and you have read about it. Well, there is one. We had all kinds of reports. Once I was able to focus on what the conditions were in the county," he said, "I was able to more clearly think about what we needed to do." Later that day, at a National Security Council meeting at the White House, the president knew what he had to do. "'We're going to win,' I said. 'We are going to do what it takes to win this war.'"
When the meeting was over George and Laura headed for the elevator to return to the residential quarters of the White House, but the Secret Service had other plans. "One of the Secret Service agents said, 'Mr. President, we're staying down here in the basement.' And I had taken a look at the bed in the place, which she" -- Bush nodded at Laura -- "points out was about a 1955 rollout, pullout" couch. "I said, 'No we're not. I'm really tired. I've had a heck of a day and I'm going to sleep in my own bed.'" The Secret Service relented, but promised to get them if there were any threats.
Later at about 11:30, Secret Service agents came to get them after spotting an unidentified aircraft heading toward the White House. "So we get out of bed. I'm actually in my running shorts with a T-shirt, old shoes. Grab Barney, grab Spot (the family dogs). Laura has no contacts, so she's holding on to my arm. We get into the elevator, and straight down ... She (pointing to Laura) is so tired. The orderly starts making the bed -- the bed I refused to sleep in. And I'm thinking, you know: 'Where's the phone? What the heck is going on? Attacked again?' Then an enlisted fellow walks into the briefing room and goes, 'Mr. President, good news! It's one of our own!'" The president and First Lady said they had suspected that all along.
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'This is Our Life Now'
The battle's just begun, and George Bush knows it. In a Newsweek exclusive,
the First Couple on how the war's changing America -- and them.
By Howard Fineman and Martha Brant
It was easy enough for George and Laura Bush to talk about it now, 10 weeks distant from the dark catastrophe and confusion of that first day. The war was going well -- so far. His poll numbers were stratospheric -- so far. The way of the war from here would be murky, and no doubt bloody, and unity at home and in the world would be harder to come by. But for now, flying to Kentucky on Air Force One to share a pre-Thanksgiving lunch with the 101st Airborne, he and his wife could breathe a little, and take a moment to look back at their own -- untold -- personal story of September 11.
Bush recalled the instant that his -- and the country's -- life had changed. Andy Card, his chief of staff, had leaned over him at an education event in Florida and whispered, "A second plane has hit the World Trade Center. America is under attack." The president had tried not to look shocked. "I was very aware of the cameras," he recalled during a candid, hour-long interview with Newsweek -- his first, and the couple's first, since 9-11. "'America is under attack.' I'm trying to absorb that knowledge. I have nobody to talk to. I'm sitting in the midst of a classroom with little kids, listening to a children's story ... and I realize I'm the commander in chief and the country has just come under attack." Soon he was in a holding room, watching the nightmarish video. "I was furious," he said. By the time he got back on Air Force One, he'd made the fundamental decision. "We're at war," he told his aides. "That's what we're paid for, boys."
But where was Laura -- and their twin daughters? She had been about to testify before Sen. Ted Kennedy's committee on education when word of the attack arrived. From a holding room on the Hill she called Barbara and Jenna at college, and found that they'd already been taken away to "secure locations." She talked briefly to the press, offering soothing words to the nation, and then she, too, was whisked away. The president, working the phones aboard Air Force One, finally reached her, and they reassured each other that they were "OK." As always, her steadiness helped him. "She couldn't have been more calm, resolved, almost placid, which was a very reassuring thing," he recalled. "I'll be home soon," he said.
"Soon" turned out to be eight long hours, during which the presidential aircraft took evasive action -- zigzagging from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska before heading back to Washington -- as the commander in chief tried to figure out what was happening in and to his country. "The first thing we had to do was to make sure we understood what the heck was going on," he recalled. "There is a 'fog of war.' You have heard about it, and you have read about it. Well, there is one. We had all kinds of reports. Once I was able to focus on what the conditions were in the country," he said, "I was able to more clearly think about what we needed to do."
He made it back to the White House at 5:30 p.m., and headed straight down to the "PEOC," a bunker of rooms deep beneath the White House called the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. The vice president and Mrs. Cheney were there. So was Laura. "I gave her a big hug," Bush said. Colin Powell had just returned from abroad. In the PEOC, Bush led his second National Security Council meeting that day. (The first had been by remote.) "'We're going to win,' I said. 'We are going to do what it takes to win this war'." When it was over, George and Laura headed for the elevator.
Not so fast. Munching mini-pretzels in the conference room of Air Force One last week, the Bushes recounted what happened next. "And so the meeting is over with," Bush recalled, "and we're heading upstairs, and one of the Secret Service agents said, 'Mr. President, we're staying down here in the basement.' And I had taken a look at the bed in the place, which she" -- Bush nodded at Laura -- "points out was about a 1955 rollout, pullout."
"Couch," says Laura.
"Couch, hideaway," Bush says. "I said, 'No we're not. I'm really tired. I've had a heck of a day and I'm going to sleep in my own bed'." The Secret Service relented. "If we have any threats, we will come and get you," an agent said. "Sure enough," Bush said, "we are in bed and at about 11:30" -- "sound asleep," Laura interjects, laughing -- "and I can hear a guy breathing quite heavily. 'Mr. President! Mr. President! There's an unidentified aircraft heading toward the White House!'"
"So we get out of bed," the president recounts. "I'm actually in my running shorts with a T shirt, old shoes. Grab Barney, grab Spot (the family dogs). Laura has no contacts, so she's holding onto my arm. ("I'm blind," she confirms, "shuffling along in bedroom slippers.") We get into the elevator, and straight down to the PEOC, hustling in toward the conference room. She (pointing toward Laura) is so tired. The orderly starts making the bed -- the bed I refused to sleep in. And I'm thinking, you know: 'Where's the phone? What the heck is going on? Attacked again?' Then an enlisted fellow walks into the briefing room and goes, 'Mr. President, good news! It's one of our own!'" The Bushes chuckle at the memory. They had suspected all along that it was a false alarm. "We knew it on the way down," said the president. "Yeah, he knew it," his wife agreed.
We all need to know when it's safe to laugh -- and come up from the basement. Presidents aren't just leaders, they're emblems, never more so than in wartime. So far, the First Team has been exemplary in the eyes of the American people. Laura Bush, a former school librarian, has been a calming presence to her family and country, and an emerging voice on education, volunteerism and, lately, women's rights in Afghanistan. Her husband, it turns out, has a gift for war -- certainly the early stages of one. After the wanderings of that first, fog-filled day, he has been a model of unblinking, eyes-on-the-prize decisiveness. His basic military strategy -- to combine high-tech surveillance with low-tech bombs -- has proved astute. He has been eloquent in public, commanding in private. He had survived the first blows, made the right calls and exceeded expectations -- again.
It will get only harder from here on out. The economy is febrile, with re-emerging deficits likely to last years. Political unity is fraying, especially over Bush's unflinching pursuit of sweeping, secretive law- enforcement measures. His decision to establish secret military tribunals to try terrorists has alarmed civil libertarians at home and allied governments in Europe. The traits that produced success so far -- lofty self-confidence, a simple view of history, a willingness to delegate, a reliance on a small band of advisers and on his own charm -- could produce a prickly, insular arrogance if things go wrong. Then he'll have to rely on his personal compass -- the reassuring Laura and his unwavering faith in God and prayer -- to right his course.
And the war has just begun. The Taliban is down but not out, dug into caves from which it can launch counterstrikes. The "evil one" is on the run, but is not caught. "We are going to get him, one way or the other," Bush told Newsweek. "But it may take -- look, it may take us three years to get Osama Bin Laden ..." It may take 10 years, he added. And even after OBL is gone, his network will remain in countries across the globe. A post-Taliban government will be hard to assemble, a post-Afghanistan global coalition difficult to maintain. "The farther we get away from September 11, the more likely it is that America is going to say 'The war is over'," the president said, worrying aloud. "It's not over. It's not over."
In the meantime, what about Iraq? In his interview with Newsweek, the president for the first time declared that, "Saddam is evil." In Bush's moral algebra, that would seem to mean he's a legitimate, indeed necessary, target. "I think Saddam is up to no good," Bush declared. "I think he's got weapons of mass destruction. And I think he needs to open up his country to let us inspect ... Show the world he's not [evil]. It's up to him to prove he's not. He is the one guy who has used weapons of mass destruction -- not only against his neighbors in Iran, but against people in his own country. He gassed them." Is there a time limit for letting U.N. weapons inspectors back in? "I just told him," he said. The president may merely be talking tough to achieve a peaceful result: the return of inspectors. But it was tough talk.
From where does George W. Bush -- or Laura, for that matter -- draw the strength for this grand mission, the ambitious aim of which is nothing less than to "rid the world of evildoers"? What habits of mind and of character did he summon, or acquire, to help him? Critics who for years dismissed him as a cheery lightweight have resorted to the "growth in office" theory of leadership.
In fact, and for better or worse, Bush is who he was: more focused and articulate in public, to be sure, but essentially the same guy who organized the stickball league at Andover. It's the circumstances that have changed. That's true of most leaders, explains Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard. "It's all in the context," he said. "Characteristics that may seem useless -- or worse -- become essential if the times demand them." Bush thinks of himself as a case in point. "If you have characteristics necessary to deal with a crisis, they will emerge," he declared. "I have always been the kind of person who's been able to deal with the circumstances in which I find myself."
Where he found himself, on September 11, was in need of a plan. In Bush's M.B.A. world, you draw up a business plan and then delegate its implementation. His team -- specifically Condi Rice -- actually had been thinking about terrorism since the 2000 campaign. There's evidence in his one serious speech on defense policy, in the fall of 1999 at The Citadel. The Rice-written address contained a warning to nations that "sponsor" terrorism: a Bush administration would answer any attack with "devastating" force. On 9-11, Rice says, it was The Boss who insisted that his first prime-time address call for a global antiterror coalition, and it was the president who fine-tuned the warning to nations that "harbor" terrorists.
The war plan itself was fashioned on Sept. 15 -- the first, and most crucial, of a series of weekend strategy sessions at Camp David. Bush gathered his close and trusted advisers there, listened to debates among them all day and said little. Back at the White House the next day, he laid out his game plan to Rice, his national-security adviser: they would initially focus on Afghanistan, with other options alive for later. And there will be a later. He's planned it, he said to Newsweek. "Of course," he said. "In order to achieve what I've said ... you have to be thinking beyond the short term."
For the Afghan theater, the president approved -- in advance -- a lengthy menu of military actions, leaving it to the men in the field to decide when to use them. The B-school graduate, always the clean-desk man, had essentially delegated the prosecution of the war. In football terms, he had approved the playbook, but it was up to others to call the signals. "You know, Mr. President, this is going to be like calling an audible on every play," Rice recalls telling Bush that day. "And he said, 'Yeah, am I the quarterback?' And I said, 'I think you're the coach'." The QB? "The secretary of Defense," said Rice.
But a president can't delegate the task he swears to: to protect and defend the Constitution. Neither a lawyer nor a fan of lawyers, the president leaves the legal work of prosecuting the war to Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose dragnet approach to jailing suspects and interrogating bystanders has alarmed civil libertarians. Bush was proud of his decision not to delegate authority to convene secret military tribunals. And he defiantly defends the dragnet. "This country bends over backwards to provide rights for people," he said. "And that is properly balanced with my administration and my strong desire to protect the American people from further harm."
To construct a global alliance, Bush has relied less on Kissingerian guile than on the force of his own personality -- which is how he's always operated. He's a born gang leader, practicing the art of alliance-building ever since he was the eldest of a swarming pack of cousins at his grandpa's place in Maine. That was followed by yell leader in high school, fraternity president in college and jocular confrere of baseball executives and pols of Austin. He has an almost feral sense of human personality. To Bush, who had shown little interest in foreign affairs before September 11, the world now is a very large room in need of working -- and reading. He believes in the eye-contact theory of diplomacy. "A lot of leaders are coming here, to sit down and visit. I think it's important for them to look me in the eye," he said. "Many of these leaders have the same kind of inherent ability that I've got, I think, and that is they can read people. We can read. I can read fear. I can read confidence. I can read resolve. And so can they -- and they want to see it."
Bush reads people voraciously, but not much else. He's busy making history, but doesn't look back at his own, or the world's. The resident in-house intellectual, political guru Karl Rove, tries from time to time to slip him a book to read (the latest: "April 1865" by Jay Winik), but references to them rarely emerge later. A delegation of Muslim dignitaries presented the president with a ceremonial Quran last month. He hasn't cracked it. (And won't, evidently. White House aides warned of the political sensitivities of an "infidel" leader's referring to the Quran; doing so, they claimed, could be seen as an insult to Islam.) Bush, by his own account, has dived into history only twice since September 11: to study the recent battlefield use of cutting-edge technology and to review FDR's use of secret tribunals against Nazis in World War II.
Bush would rather look forward than backward. It's the way he's built, and the result is a president who operates without evident remorse or second- guessing. He's proud that he declared war -- at least to his own aides -- on day one. (He's never bothered to ask Congress for an official declaration of war.) "I didn't need any legal briefings," he declared. "I didn't need a bunch of people hashing out whether it was, you know, the right course." He is proud of his management style. "I have not looked back on one decision I have made and wished I had made it a different way." No looking back. "I don't spend a lot of time theorizing or agonizing," he said. "I get things done."
One exception to the no-second-guess rule: Bush clearly remains nettled by criticism that he didn't return immediately to Washington on 9-11. "You have to remember, I'm scrambling," he said. "I want to go back to Washington. There is strong advice that I not, primarily from the vice president."
Where does the optimism, the defiant confidence, come from? His family, to begin with. Bush at times has felt burdened by his name and connections, but has never been loath to use them -- and was bred to believe that he was part of an inner circle. But Bush has moved beyond his clan, at least politically. While he talks to his father regularly -- they chat early in the morning -- they don't talk in detail about the war. A family man by nature, Bush has essentially created one in his professional life: a cadre of aides and advisers who have been with him (or his father) for years. And yet the president, now confident that he has mastered his own brief, seems to have moved beyond them, too. In the Newsweek interview, there were few mangled sentences. The handlers at the table were listening, not handling.
Another source of strength is physical conditioning. For Bush it's a concern bordering on obsession, and it's paid off in self-confidence. His Brillo-like hair is graying; there are new, vertical lines on his face that didn't exist a year ago. And yet he is in the best shape of his life, a fighting machine who has dropped 15 pounds and cut his time in the mile to seven minutes. (Laura is working at it, too, taking long walks and employing a personal trainer.) Drumming a pen on the conference table, he hummed with focused energy. There's a term for it in horse racing. When a thoroughbred is at peak condition, and twitching with eagerness to run, he is "on the muscle." That was Bush last week.
He feels destined to win -- and to serve. His father's "thousand points of light" drew derision in the '80s and early '90s, but his son has brought it back in expanded form. It was, evidently, an idea ahead of its time. The First Family sees the horror of September 11 as a chance to expand programs (and tax breaks) for charitable work. He and Laura voiced concern about a drop-off in donations to non-9-11 charities. Last week the president even declined to rule out the possibility that he would support a mandatory national-service program. "I'd like to hear more about it," he said.
In running his race, faith matters. He was not much of a churchgoer when he met Laura in 1978. But she took her Methodism seriously, and he joined the church with her. It wasn't the preaching or the doctrinal fine points that attracted him, but the men's Bible-study classes he joined with his Midland friend, Don Evans. Prayer -- his own and others' -- matters more than ever. "It means a heck of a lot now," Bush said, "because there's a lot of people praying for me, and I feel it." But the president vehemently denied having told friends that he felt God had chosen him for this mission. "It's not true," he said. "I think God sustains us, but I don't think I was chosen. I was chosen by the American people."
Bush's view of religion, not surprisingly, is personal. Everyone joins hands for pre-meal prayers at the Camp David dinner table. The preacher in the church there is a graduate of the seminary at Southern Methodist University, Laura's alma mater. A small congregation comprising locals from the Catoctin foothills, it has become the Bush family's spiritual home. Asked if any particular sermon there had inspired him, the president struggled to recall the preacher's words. "He's just down to earth and doesn't try to get too fancy," Bush finally said.
It was Laura who remembered the service from the first, bleak weekend. The prescribed reading for the week turned out to be Psalm 27 -- eerily appropriate. "Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear," it says. "Though war shall rise against me, in this I will be confident." Mrs. Bush had the White House Christmas cards refashioned to include the psalm. Both Bushes say faith has given them a sense of resignation about living with danger. "My attitude about threats," says the president, "is, if it's the Lord's will ..." The First Lady says the same thing. "I really am not that afraid," Laura Bush declared. "I mean, you know, if something happens, it happens. I think both of us have a little bit of an attitude that, you know, this is our life right now and we can deal with it. We can handle it."
Bush the War Leader was on display last week, after his plane landed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Donning a flight jacket emblazoned with the talons- raised insignia of the Screaming Eagles, he rallied a sea of troops in camouflage to the cause of the war against terrorism. The 101st Airborne is the "Band of Brothers" outfit, now populated by the grandsons and granddaughters of the World War II vets made newly famous on TV. Bush had spent his war years protecting the airspace over Houston. But no matter: at least he'd served. Now he seemed utterly at home. The troops delighted in his company, and he in theirs. Shouts of "Hooah!" and "Air assault!" punctuated his every remark. "We will fight the evil one and we will win!" he shouted.
He was thinking about the war, but also about Camp David. He couldn't wait to get there for the weekend. The girls would be coming home from college. His brother Marvin would be there. Some other friends would be dropping in and out. There would be more briefings on the war. He'd see the preacher. But the main event would be "The Turkey Trot," he explained to a row of senators on Air Force One. "It's a three-mile run," he said. What were the rules for this family event, he was asked. "There's only one," he answered with a grin. "George wins!"
With Tamara Lipper and Debra Rosenberg in Washington, Stryker McGuire in London and Stefan Theil in Berlin
'We Can Handle It'
In a candid conversation, the president and First Lady talk about bin Laden,
prayer, civil liberties, exercise, No. 41 and the war ahead
It was the day before Thanksgiving, and George and Laura Bush were flying west for a morale-boosting visit to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. The news from Afghanistan was good and the president was in a relaxed, expansive mood for this interview. Seated at a conference table aboard Air Force One with Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Martha Brant, the president and First Lady exchanged looks and smiles as they answered questions. She seemed to enjoy listening to him. As he warmed to his subjects, he sometimes raised a finger to underscore a point. Extended excerpts:
Newsweek: You've talked a lot about how the country has changed. How do you think the two of you have changed as individuals?
The President: I'm not very good at telling you how I've changed, because I don't spend a lot of time thinking about myself and how I've changed.
Mrs. Bush: Well, actually, I don't think he's changed that much. I think what people see now is exactly what I've always seen and always known how he was. He's very focused, he's very disciplined. I said that a million times during the campaign and I don't think it ever resonated with the press. And, of course, he's more serious -- everyone is more serious in our country.
The President: I don't think you change. If you've got the characteristics necessary to deal with a crisis, they will emerge. And Laura has always been a calming influence in my life and is a comfort to me as I dealt with big decisions.
You know, this is a moment of high drama, needless to say. And she couldn't have been more calm and resolved, almost placid, which was a very reassuring thing to me. I can't imagine what it would be like had Laura been hysterical, highly emotional.
There was a period of time when the threats were significant and real, aimed at me and aimed at the White House and aimed at other major targets. And during that period of time I shared some of those with Laura, never did she say, "Get me out of here, what have you done this for, why are we here, it's a miserable experience ... It's your war, see you later."
Laura, may I ask, where does that calm come from?
Mrs. Bush: Well, George actually steadies me. He acts like I steady him, but the fact is he steadies me. I really am not that afraid. I mean, you know, if something happens, it happens. I think both of us have a little bit of an attitude -- you know, this is our life right now and we can deal with it, we can handle it.
What's the role of prayer and faith in this?
Mrs. Bush: That's very important to us, and that's where we get our strength. But that was very important to us before September 11th, as well.
The President: Prayer has meant a lot to me. It meant a lot to me before, it means a heck of a lot now because there's a lot of people praying for me and I feel it. Truly.
You know, it's something, I have never felt more confident about something in my life. And I believe a lot of it has to do with the prayers of the people.
My attitude about threats, it is truly: if it's the Lord's will. That's what I believe.
How do you keep the emotion from getting to you too much? You still have to do your job. Are there other things you turn to?
Mrs. Bush: He works out. He's really running faster than he has in a long time. He's always turned to exercise to reduce stress.
The President: I exercise about an hour a day; pretty intense these days.
Back up to a seven-minute mile?
The President: Less.
Mrs. Bush: I've been working out, as well. And then the other thing we do at Camp David or at the ranch is go for long walks with our animals. And that certainly makes us feel great.
As a war leader, do you turn to any models, either in terms of time in history or people?
No question. For example, the military tribunals, you look at history. Before I made the decision to give me the option, I asked, who's done this? It's an interesting idea. I do want to have the option, for a lot of reasons -- national-security reasons, security for the jurors, potential jurors.
Why did you feel it was important for you to have the authority there?
I asked for the options; I said I wanted to know. And I'm trying to remember who came in, [White House Counsel Alberto] Gonzales and the vice president, they came in to brief me. [Attorney General John] Ashcroft came in. And I said, well, tell me exactly what your recommendation is for me on this executive order. They said, well, we recommend that the secretary of Defense be the person in charge of making decisions. This is a unanimous recommendation. I was, frankly, taken aback. I said, wait a minute. I sign an executive order, I create the executive order, and somebody else is responsible for the court? I said, if I sign the order, I want to be responsible.
The flip side of that is some people say that maybe you have too much power.
I'm mindful of the Constitution. I'm also mindful of history. I think about how others have used force ... I think the president needs to have the powers necessary to conduct a war. And it's up to me to make sure I provide the right balance.
Even in the face of war on our home front, we provide incredible protections for people who are not even our citizens. For people who are our citizens, nothing has changed. For people who are not citizens, who come to our country because we're an open country and a generous country, we are providing them incredible protections.
Are we going to get Osama bin Laden?
We're going to get him one way or the other.
Will it be a successful war if we don't get him?
Well, it's going to be very successful in terms of changing the government of the Taliban. We've got his number-two guy. Look, it may take three years to get Osama bin Laden, but we've got him on the run. And I've always said that this is a get-him-on-the-run mission.
But you're saying it might take three years to get Osama bin Laden.
It could take 10 years. We will get him. And we will get his organization. The thing America must know is that terrorism is alive and well. And it's our charge, our duty, this generation's historical opportunity, to rid the world of terrorism. And there's going to be some fantastic consequences from it, in my judgment. A new relationship with Russia. The ability for us to affect peace in the Middle East. Hopefully, a country like Syria will take a hard look at some of the groups in their country. And terror and weapons of mass destruction go hand in hand. To the extent that the free world can convince other nations to join together to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction, we've done our children and grandchildren a great service.
Do you think that Saddam Hussein is evil and that we should expand this to Iraq?
I think Saddam Hussein is up to no good. I think he's got weapons of mass destruction, and I think he needs to open up his country to let us inspect. I think he needs to be held accountable and needs to conform to the agreement he made years ago. That's what he ought to do. It's up to him to prove he's not.
He's the one guy in recent history who has used weapons of mass destruction not only against his neighbor, Iran, but against people in his own country. He gassed them.
Why wouldn't you say he's evil, then?
He ain't good.
Why stop short of using the word?
I think maybe because you're trying to force me to say it, and I'm stubborn ... He is evil. Saddam's evil.
Have you had a moment of painful reflection? You've had to decide, for example, to use B-52 bombers, which are powerful and terrifying and which risk possible civilian casualties, et cetera.
Fifteen-thousand-pound bombs, pushed out of the back of cargo planes.
Right. Do you think that was crucial in what happened there, and was it a different level of decision-making?
I made the decision early. One, that we could win a guerrilla war with conventional means if we were able to use smart intelligence-gathering, and if we're able to get boots on the ground, to make sure our targeting was more precise.
The idea of trying to seek justice by using cruise missiles was shallow, as far as I'm concerned. It's an antiseptic approach to a war that just didn't lend itself for that. I also knew we couldn't bomb our way to achieve our objective. We could bomb our way to help achieve the objective. And, therefore, I knew full well that we would have troops on the ground.
I've been very careful to make it clear to our commanders that you're running the war, and I expect there to be conscious decisions about collateral damage. I knew full well what collateral damage could mean. I also knew we were fighting liars who would say things in the press that there was no verification for whatsoever, that they would justify their own brutal murder and torture within their country by blaming it on us. But I had no question in my mind [we were] doing the right thing.
Is there something that you would point to where your wife has been influential? Something where tonally she's seen something outside the Beltway that maybe you hadn't?
I'll tell you this: she's not a shrinking violet. I mean, if I do something she thinks needs to be toned down or something, she'll tell me.
But I do think there was some concern that, you know, I might get carried away, because she understood how angry I was. Look, I was an angry person and I was a sad person, and I was a determined person. I went through a whole range of emotions.
What emotion did you have when you saw that plane --
I was angry. I was furious. But I had also realized that I needed to be clearsighted. I needed to understand exactly what was happening, get a feel for who was doing this, and prepare to respond.
Have you grown in any sense, do you think?
Of course. I think that I've always been the kind of person who has been able to deal with the circumstances in which I find myself. I'm a problem-solver. And I don't spend a lot of time theorizing or agonizing. I was raised in a family where, because of the love of my parents, you know, I've got confidence to be able to deal with problems. I've got a faith that allows me to be comforted by prayer and my own prayers, and prayers of others. I've never been afraid for my life, I've never been afraid for my family's life, I've never been afraid to make decisions.
[Former Bush I adviser] Brent Scowcroft says you talk to your father quite often, but you don't necessarily talk about the war. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, I talk to him, I check in with him, I'd say once a week at most. I get to work, get to the office about 6:50 a.m. to 7 a.m., and he likes to get up early. And if I've finished my paperwork, I like to give them a call and see how they're doing and just check in. He really likes it. He likes to hear from his son.
Do you talk about the substance of things, or is it just almost a melancholy thing where he's too far away from it to really deal --
The President: No, I mean, he's interested as heck. He was fascinated with the Putin visit, for example. There are a lot of things I can't tell him over the phone, because it's not a secure line to his house. He says how's it going, you know, how is the war. He falls prey to the -- to the spins.
Mrs. Bush: He watches every single thing.
But you guys, you're not watching TV news any -- you never have?
The President: Not much.
Mrs. Bush, are you still reading the papers? During the campaign, you would read them and point things out to your husband --
The President: She does that still.
Do you get mad, still?
The President: No, she doesn't get mad, she gets pointed.
Mrs. Bush: Do I get mad?
The President: She used to get mad. She got mad when she saw the budgeters had axed one of her favorite programs.
As you run the war, how important are personal relations with world leaders? And do you have nicknames for these guys?
I had better not tell you. I don't use them to their face. It is important to stay in touch with them. A lot of the leaders are coming here to sit down and visit ... I think it's important for them to look me in the eye. I want them to come so they know my determination.
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|Date:||Nov 25, 2001|
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