Bush: It's 'good not to have a vice president running for president'
During an interview conducted at the White House Library, Bush opined that it was "good not to have a vice president running for president." One reason cited by Bush for his relief was that he didn't have to deal with a candidate who might want to "distance himself" from presidential decisions on issues such as the war in Iraq.
A CSPAN correspondent asked Bush if he was "worried" about the 2008 election, since "for the first time in 80 years, you don't have somebody running that would carry on the administration's policies or defend your policies."
"No," Bush said. "It's interesting -- it's just an interesting place to be."
Bush added, "What you're really saying is is that, just so the viewer understands, is that most presidents have a vice president who will try to succeed him. In my case, I don't. Vice President Cheney has decided not to run for political office again, and therefore, the field is wide open. And it's an interesting place to be."
"From my perspective, it is good not to have a vice president running for president," Bush continued. "Can you imagine somebody -- a vice president out there running and all of a sudden saying, 'Well, I wouldn't have done it exactly that way' or 'When things got difficult like they are in Iraq, I told the president that he should have done it this way.'"
Bush continued, "'He chose' -- in other words, there would be the tendency for a candidate who is associated with the president to feel like they needed to distance themselves during the tough moments -- like for right now, and that would create instability inside the administration. So I don't have to deal with that."
Also in the interview, Bush named his father, the 41st president, as one of the most "underrated" of all time, along with Eisenhower and Truman.
CSPAN will have video of Bush interview later tonight
Transcript of interview:
Q Mr. President, in 23 months our 44th president will be sworn into this office. With regard to the Middle East, and Iraq, specifically, what will he or she inherit?
PRESIDENT BUSH: A -- a society in Iraq that has -- learning to live with -- with themselves. A unified -- a country that's heading toward more unity, based upon a modern constitution which was approved by the Iraqi people. There will be violence, there will be criminality, but they will also see a country in which the security forces are better equipped and better adapt at dealing with the extremists.
They will see a political process that is working toward reconciliation. They will know there had been local elections in which -- which enables the local folks to have more buy-in to the provincial government. And they will see a society that is an ally in the war on terror.
And they will also know what I know, that the real challenge in the Middle East is to confront extremists and not allow the extremists to bully and marginalize and use their weapon of terror to gain safe haven and/or to gain an ideological advantage over the millions who want to live in peace.
Q What do you think the children of Iraq will view -- how they'll view the U.S. in 15, 20 years from now?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah, that's a great question. It depends on whether or not we help bring stability so that a child can grow up in a normal environment, or relatively speaking normal environment. That's a fantastic question. The -- you see, I believe most mothers want to raise their children in peace, whether they be Sunni or Shi'a, Iraqi or any other part of the world. And if we can help this government be able to create the conditions so that a mother can grow up -- raise their child in peace, I think people will look back and say thank -- they will be thankful of America. If America leaves, however, before the job is done, I think there will be great resentment toward America.
Q As you know, we hear from a lot of viewers every day. We had a call yesterday that wanted to know, a viewer from Ohio, what will victory look like. How do you define it?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah, that's a great question, and it's a difficult question to answer because a lot of people think in terms of victory in terms of the USS Missouri, for example, where there was a treaty signed on a battleship that said Japan has been vanquished.
You'll see a society that I just described, one where there's commerce and enterprise and the entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing; one in which there's -- life is relatively normal in a society that had been wracked by extreme violence in the last year, in particular; one in which the government is exercising its responsibility on behalf of the people; one in which the constitution that had been voted on is the cornerstone of law for that society; and one which rejects extremism and violence and does not allow a group like al Qaeda to find safe haven within their borders.
Q The House this week -- three or four days, 36 hours of debate in a resolution that is likely to be very critical of your policies.
First of all, will you be watching the debate? And will it at all influence your policies in the future?
PRESIDENT BUSH: In terms of watching the debate, I -- I've got a lot to do. I'm not exactly sure what hours they'll be debating, but I got a pretty full day.
I mean, like -- I started this morning at 6:45, and I've had meetings up until right now, so I haven't been watching anything.
Q But this will start tomorrow.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I've got a full day tomorrow. I mean, it's -- (chuckles) -- not as if the world stops when the Congress does their duty. I'm receiving foreign guests and -- you know, it just depends on what my schedule looks like.
And, you know, secondly, look, I already know that -- what the debate is. I -- I hear a lot of opinions. And a lot of people don't believe we can succeed in Iraq and therefore, I presume, want to get out. That would be a disastrous course as far as I'm concerned.
I -- I was -- look, if you asked me, "Are you -- do you approve of Iraq?" And my answer is, no, I don't. In other words, if -- one of those endless opinion polls reached into the White House and said, "Are you approving of Iraq?" I would say to you, Steven (sp), no, I'm not. And therefore, if I say I don't approve of the status quo, I have an obligation to make a decision to do something else.
One option that some in the Congress think makes sense was to withdraw from Baghdad; in other words, just let them fight it out. And some just say we shouldn't be there at all. I -- either one of those cases, in my judgment, would create chaos, violence, and would -- would make it much more difficult for us to have an ally in this war on terror and much easier for the enemy to promote their hatred.
And, see, one of the interesting issues in this particular theater in the war against terror is that if we fail, then it is more likely somebody will come here and kill additional Americans. In other words, failure in Iraq emboldens an enemy which has caused us harm in the past and wants to do so again.
I -- I have listened to a lot of folks and said, instead of creating the conditions that -- that would yield chaos, why don't we help this Iraqi government stabilize the capital city of Baghdad? Most of the country's in good shape. The truth of the matter is if Baghdad looked like most of the rest of the country, we wouldn't be having this conversation. And so upon the advice of some smart military people and people inside the -- diplomats and people who understand the situation, they say -- they convinced me to add troops, reinforce the troops that are there. And I'm -- General Petraeus will have that which he has asked for, and it's now in place and implementing a Baghdad Security Plan with the Iraqis in the lead so that sooner rather than later, we can end up getting to what Baker- Hamilton suggested, which is a -- you know, a -- a posture that's over the horizon, a defense posture that helps guarantee the territorial integrity of the country. We've got Special Ops guys chasing down al Qaeda, and we're embedded with the Iraqis to help them do the security work.
Q I want to take you back to something that you said on September 12th, 2002, with regard to Iraq. You said, in one place -- in one regime -- we find these dangers in their most lethal and aggressive form. And my question is, do you sense the same with Iran?
PRESIDENT BUSH: There is no question that the Iranian desire to have a nuclear weapon is -- poses a danger. And that is why our policy is aimed at convincing the rest of the world about the danger inherent with this regime having a nuclear weapon, and working together to do something about it. All major problems should be solved diplomatically. In other words, the military is the last resort to solve problems. And I believe we still have the capacity to solve this issue diplomatically, because a lot of the world now understands the dangers of Iran having a nuclear weapon.
And so we're working toward that end. And we're pressuring the regime through diplomatic channels, i.e., a Chapter VII resolution at the United Nations, thereby making Iran one of the few nations under Chapter VII. The Iranian people are good, decent, honorable people. And they've got a government that is belligerent, loud, noisy, threatening -- a government which is in defiance of the rest of the world, and it says that we want a nuclear weapon. And so our objective is to continue to keep the pressure, in hopes that rational folks will show up and say, it's not worth it; it's not worth the isolation.
Q But you have Senator Dodd, yesterday, saying he was skeptical; Senator Lott -- skeptical of this -- we were leading into a war. Newsweek magazine had rumors of a war --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh. (Laughs.)
Q -- Senator Lott saying that it's interdiction that's necessary, although we have to something with regard to Iran. So what do you say to them?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I say, we've got a comprehensive policy aimed to solve this peacefully. Look, this is typical Washington, where people are out speculating and -- I do think it makes sense to make it clear to the Iranians, through the international community, as -- that they're isolating themselves. And we will continue to press hard to do so.
(Laughs.) I guess my reaction to all the noise about, you know, he wants to go to war, is -- first of all, I don't understand the tactics, and I guess I would say it's political. And on the other hand, I hope that the members of Congress, particularly in the opposition party, understand the grave danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon. And that therefore, we all need to work together to solve the problem.
Q You use that word "noise" a lot. What -- how do you define that?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, there's just a lot of chatter here in Washington. I mean, it's hard for some of your viewers to get it, I guess, unless they pay attention to the daily grind of news and comments and press releases.
And I guess I will just say that there's endless chatter, a lot of people on TV expressing their opinion, which is fine. Don't get me wrong. I mean, that's just part of the -- (chuckling) -- after all, I'm on TV expressing my opinion with you.
But it's just a lot of chatter in Washington, a lot of people expressing themselves on a regular basis.
Q Some your strongest supporters -- Laura Ingraham on radio, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity -- have said that part of the problem is that the media haven't covered the full story in Iraq. If things go badly in Iraq, are the media responsible?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, I think I -- you know, if that's -- that's a -- a pretty interesting trick question -- you know, if things go badly. I think they're going to go well. Otherwise, I wouldn't have made the decision I made.
The question is what -- the definition of "go well." If -- if the definition of success is -- is that there will be no suicide bombers, then we've really placed our fate in the hands of those who are willing to kill themselves. If the definition of success is the emergence of a stable society that's beginning to reconcile and do the political work necessary, then I -- I -- I think we'll succeed.
Q But do you think the media are doing an adequate job covering the full picture?
PRESIDENT BUSH: You know, that's -- I -- I -- I'm wise enough not to bash the media. I would hope, however, that they would take a good look at, for example, the rest of the country outside of Baghdad and Anbar province, where -- at least the reports I get are, people are beginning to live a normal life.
And you know, it's -- it's -- it's -- if you're in a -- a correspondent in a war zone, it's a little difficult to travel around the country on a free basis. But look, I'm not going to complain about the media. I'm --
Q Let me ask you about your job, the presidency. Has it changed you?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I don't know. You better ask Laura. I don't feel like I've changed, feel like I'm the same fellow that came up from Texas to do my job. Obviously, I know a lot more about the intricacies of world affairs and the subtleties of diplomacy and -- but I don't feel changed.
I -- let me just say this. I've got the same set of principles that I came with and that I'm going to leave with.
Q Outside of declaring war in Iraq, what was -- what's been your hardest decision?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, that's by far the toughest decision, committing young men and women into harm's way, whether it be Afghanistan or Iraq, because I understand the consequences of -- of that decision.
(Pauses.) You know, I -- I mean, the fact that the -- the war decision overshadows all. I can't really come up with one right now.
Q Within the Republican Party, there is the Goldwater Republicans --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Still? (Chuckles.)
Q -- and there's the Rockefeller Republicans and Reagan Republicans.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm -- go ahead.
Q Oh, no, go ahead.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I'm just chuckling. I don't -- I -- I think the Goldwater Republicans and the Rockefeller Republicans are pretty far past.
Q But I'm talking about ideology. You have Reagan Republicans today. Are there -- will there be Bush Republicans? And can you define the ideology of a Bush Republican?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Compassionate conservatism, you know, the -- the use of government to help people in the private sector advance compassionate goals, like the faith-based initiative.
I -- you know, I -- I chuckled -- I didn't mean to -- I shouldn't have -- that's rude of me, to chuckle in the midst of your question. But I would be cautious about stereotyping mentalities in a constantly changing political dynamic.
And I think people like to label themselves certain things, but political parties grow, and they -- you know, immigration is a classic issue where, you know, I made a name for being compassionate and at the same time understanding the need to enforce our borders on immigration. And I don't think you can label that really any kind of political philosophy or any -- named after any former political candidate. It's just like dealing with a problem in the context of a -- what I call right-of-center or conservative philosophy.
Q Some Republicans are worried that you might go too far in negotiating with Democrats on immigration.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I'm -- I'm just going to put out it there -- all they got to do is listen to what I said in the State of the -- I mean, in the Oval Office when I spoke to the nation on this really important subject. And I would just tell my fellow Republicans who are concerned about border enforcement, you can't enforce the border completely unless you have a plan that says people can come and do work here in America on a temporary basis in a -- in a way that is aboveboard and transparent. Otherwise, people will try to continue to sneak in if they want to work.
You know, I used to say that Rio -- that family values don't stop at the Rio Grande River. And by that, I meant -- you know, if somebody has got a -- a hungry child at their table, they're going to find work, and they'll go to the extreme measures to find work to feed their family. And -- and so therefore those who say enforce -- only enforce the border must understand that enforcing the border requires rational policy on dealing with those who are doing work Americans won't do and are willing to get in the back of pickups and -- I mean, eighteen-wheelers do it.
And so I'm going to be for comprehensive immigration, which not everybody's going to like, which the -- look, that's what happens when you're in Washington, D.C. You make decisions based upon principle, and you just got to recognize not everybody's going to like every decision. But you can't be affected by, you know, not pleasing everybody. I'm just not the kind of guy that says, okay, I want to try to come up with policy that pleases everybody. Because then you end up pleasing nobody, and you don't do your job as a person responsible for dealing with the problems our country faces.
Q Now let's turn to politics. I know you've said you don't want to be pundit in chief, so --
PRESIDENT BUSH: (Chuckles.) I'm trying.
Q -- I'm not going to ask you to handicap the candidates, but I want to ask you in terms of what you referred to in 2004 having political capital. Because for the first time in 80 years, you don't have somebody running that would carry on the administration's policies or defend your policies.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Right.
Q Does that worry you?
PRESIDENT BUSH: No. It's interesting -- it's just an interesting place to be. What you're really saying is is that, just so the viewer understands, is that most presidents have a vice president who will try to succeed him. In my case, I don't. Vice President Cheney has decided not to run for political office again, and therefore, the field is wide open. And it's an interesting place to be.
From my perspective, it is good not to have a vice president running for president. Can you imagine somebody -- a vice president out there running and all of a sudden saying, "Well, I wouldn't have done it exactly that way" or "When things got difficult like they are in Iraq, I told the president that he should have done it this way.
"He chose" -- in other words, there would be the tendency for a candidate who is associated with the president to feel like they needed to distance themselves during the tough moments -- like for right now, and that would create instability inside the administration. So I don't have to deal with that.
And it's going to be -- it really puts a premium on me being -- staying completely out of the race until the nominee is chosen and then help unify the party and do whatever the nominee wants me to do to help, you know, him get elected.
Q When you ran, you didn't take federal matching funds. You opted out of the system, and there are a number of candidates who are saying they're not going to do so in 2008.
Do you have any concerns that the FEC system as it's set up now may change?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I thought the FEC ought to abolish 527s for starters. I believe in full disclosure of any money into the political system, and we don't have it that way today yet. I just believe if somebody gives money, we need to know who they are and why they're giving it. And that's not the way it is.
Q You've recently read Doris Kearns Goodwin book --
PRESIDENT BUSH: I did.
Q -- "Team of Rivals." What portrait emerged from that book? And do you take away anything from what she wrote?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I not only have read her book, I sat next to her at dinner last night. Let me start over. Not only did I read her book, but I sat next to her at dinner -- I'm not sure when we're airing this, but -- anyway, last night.
Q Sunday night.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Sunday night. I sat next to her at dinner Sunday night, and we spent a lot of time talking about Lincoln. First of all, as she said, she is -- she misses him. She spent 10 years writing about him, and she really does miss working on Lincoln. And I can see why. He was such an interesting man.
You know, I think in terms of Lincoln this way -- 600,000 people died during his presidency. You know, I -- I -- I -- I mean, it just had to have been overwhelming for the man to put up with that grief.
Secondly, he lost his son right here in the White House. I can't imagine what that would be like to lose a child in the midst of a lot of trauma and tragedy. And then his wife was really unhappy. And yet in spite of all those pressures, Abraham Lincoln had a clear view of what was right and wrong, and he believed strongly that all men are created equal and didn't compromise, didn't back off from that principle. In other words, was making decisions based upon principles that he believed were vital.
He -- he -- he is -- you know, how he managed his Cabinet is really interesting. As I said, last -- Sunday night in my comments, I said, one, he put together a very interesting Cabinet of smart people. All of them wanted one thing -- his job. And Lincoln did a -- it was a fascinating portrait of how he dealt with -- very deft at dealing with each person in a, you know, in a really way interesting way.
It's a great book. I would recommend people reading it.
Q I'm going to ask this as an open-ended question. What other president do you look to as either a role model or for inspiration or guidance?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, first of all, it's the obvious, and that would be my dad, you know. I mean, I'm not -- I am who I am because of him. But I view him as a way to kind of reconfirm the basics of life. In other words, when I talk to my dad, we talk -- I hear love. That's what I hear.
And I am actually more concerned about him than I've ever been in my life, because he's paying too much attention to the news. And I understand how difficult it is for a person who loves somebody to see them out in the political process and to kind of endure the criticism. My answer to him is, "Look, don't pay attention to it. I'm doing fine."
I like the story of Harry Truman a lot. Harry Truman made some -- had a lot of tough decisions, and -- but also understood that we were in a long ideological struggle against the Communist ideology, and put different institutions and structure in place that enabled future presidents to deal with that threat.
I marvel at Franklin Roosevelt's strength during World War II. He is -- he was clear and he was resolute, and he rallied the country. He had his great capacity to speak directly to the American people and speak to their hopes and aspirations.
I also chuckle when I think about Winston Churchill staying here in the White House, in the -- what's now called the Queen's Bedroom, and waddling around the second floor where Laura and I now live, with a cigar in one hand, a brandy in the other, demanding, you know, attention. And yet he and Roosevelt formed a very close relationship and worked together constructively for peace.
I think about Ronald Reagan and his capacity to communicate and take a philosophy and have it become the cornerstone of a lot of public policy. And he was such an inspiring man, and kind of elevated, you know, the discourse in a humorous way that I think is very appealing.
Q Most underrated president?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, George H.W. Bush is one of them. He followed President Reagan, who was such a -- you know, a really strong president, that people have yet to take a look at my dad. I think Truman is becoming better appreciated as the president. Dwight Eisenhower is a fellow who never really gets a lot of credit for some of the positive things he did, as well.
Q Last question with regard to your library, because you are in the process of possibly going to SMU. Will it be on the SMU campus?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, we're still in serious discussions with the administration there, and it seems like they are anxious for us to go.
And we're -- we think it would make -- be a good fit, but we're working out the -- you know, there's a -- there's a lot of -- we're trying to make sure we put a structure in place that'll last beyond the years. And so I -- I feel positive about it.
It makes a lot of sense if -- if -- if this is the final choice, because, one, Laura went there, as did a lot of people in my administration, by the way. Karen Hughes went there. Harriet Miers went there. Tony Garza went there. Rob Mosbacher went there. He's running OPIC. In other words, there's a lot of people who have got personal connections to SMU -- no more personal for me than my wife, by the way.
Secondly, it's in a -- you know, it's in a town that I like a lot. Dallas is a -- it's fantastic Texas city.
Thirdly, it's a -- it's a great school. And it's a -- really fine academics are taught there. And I would like to contribute. I'd like to have a(n) institution contribute to the fine school.
Now, we've still got to do, but I say I'm -- I'm leaning pretty far forward, as you can tell.
Q And finally, what books are you reading these days?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I just finished a book called "Abraham," by a guy named Feiler. And it's a really interesting book, and it studies the prophet Abraham from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim perspective. And the lesson is -- is that, you know, if you -- if you -- you can look at Abraham as a unifying factor. In other words, all three of our -- all three of those religions started from the same source, which means it's possible to reconcile differences. And I -- I was impressed by his writing. I -- I really enjoyed the -- you know, the -- the amount of study he did on the subject. And I appreciate his lessons that, you know, sometimes these -- each religion appropriated Abraham to suit their own needs, but ultimately we could view Abraham as a way to find a common God.
Q Mr. President, from the library at the White House, we thank you.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, sir.