ABC will broadcast an interview with George Bush that begins nine weeks of valedictory messages from the outgoing President — and he has a few things to get off of his chest before Barack Obama takes the oath of office. Bush tells Charlie Gibson that he came into office “unprepared for war,” and that he regrets the faulty intelligence of Saddam Hussein’s WMD. However, he refused to say whether he would have done anything differently had the intelligence been more correct:
Looking back on his eight years in the White House, President George W. Bush said he was “unprepared” for war and pinpointed incorrect intelligence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as “biggest regret of all the presidency.”
“I think I was unprepared for war,” Bush told ABC News’ Charlie Gibson in an interview airing today on “World News.” “In other words, I didn’t campaign and say, ‘Please vote for me, I’ll be able to handle an attack,'” he said. “In other words, I didn’t anticipate war. Presidents — one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen.” …
When pressed by Gibson, Bush declined to “speculate” on whether he would still have gone to war if he knew Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction.
“That is a do-over that I can’t do,” Bush said.
“Unprepared for war”? That admission won’t help him in the final weeks. I think it’s also inaccurate. The Bush administration was prepared for war in Iraq, but they were not prepared for the occupation that followed. If he’s referring to 9/11, he was just as prepared for that as the Clinton administration, and for the same reasons. No one wanted to believe we were already at war with Islamist terrorists — and some people refuse to believe it even today. John Edwards called the war on terror a “bumper sticker”, and unfortunately he’s hardly alone.
Bush has a few other regrets. He wished he could have passed his immigration-reform bills, and he lamented the “tone” of the debate it generated. Bush wanted the world to see America as a welcoming place, he says. But what has that to do with illegal immigration? We welcome legal immigrants, more than any other country, and give them an opportunity to assimilate fully into our society that even other Western nations do not. The debate involved illegal immigration and national security, and in that sense, we should be a lot less welcoming than we have been up to now.
The President also says that he regrets not being able to elevate the tone in Washington. Unfortunately, that required an opposition willing to meet him halfway on that goal. Instead, we got eight years of unhinged Bush Derangement Syndrome, with non-stop conspiracy theories and unparalleled vitriol flung in his direction. The blame does not belong at his feet for that nonsense.
We’ll see the difference during the transition. Unlike the bitter, petty acts committed by the outgoing Clinton administration, including prying off the Ws on the computer keyboards, Bush commits himself to a smooth and classy transition for Barack Obama. He has invited Obama to briefings to get him quickly up to speed, including one for the Citigroup bailout. Bush says, “The more we can work together, the better off our country will be,” and unlike his predecessor administration, actually acts as though that means something to him.
What will Bush do with his free time after January 20? He plans to write his memoirs, get back to a private life, and work on policy. That book should be fascinating — and perhaps the place where the 43rd president settles a few scores.