Interview of the President and First Lady by ABC News' Charles Gibson
GIBSON: Let me start with, did you put too much faith in President Musharraf?
THE PRESIDENT: President Musharraf is, right after September the 11th, was asked whether he was with the United States or with the radicals and extremists who had come to kill our citizens. And he said, he's with you, he's been a loyal ally in fighting terrorists.
He's also advanced democracy in Pakistan. He has, he has said he's going to take off his uniform, he's said there will be elections. Today he released prisoners, and so far I've found him to be a man of his word.
And the fundamental question I have for President Musharraf is, will these elections be under emergency rule or law, because if they are, it's going to be hard for --
GIBSON: It'd be a sham.
THE PRESIDENT: -- well, it'll be hard for those of us who, have belief that he's advanced Pakistan's democracy to, to say that's, that's still the case. So, we'll see. Things are unfolding in Pakistan. But he's been a strong ally of the United States, and I certainly hope he succeeds.
GIBSON: Is there a line he cannot cross, that he cannot cross, something that would go too far, where you might say to yourself, 'OK, that's enough?'
THE PRESIDENT: Well, he hasn't crossed the line. As a matter of fact, I don't think that, uh, he will cross any lines. I think he truly is somebody who believes in democracy. And he made a decision, we didn't necessarily agree with his decision, to impose emergency rule, and I, my, hopefully he'll get, get rid of the rule. Today I thought was a pretty good signal that he released thousands of people from jail.
GIBSON: But he says he believes in democracy but this state of emergency, which he says he needs to do to fight terrorism, all he's done is arrest political opponents, he's arrested lawyers, he's arrested human rights people. It looks more about saving his own political skin?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I say, he has done more for Democracy in Pakistan than, than any modern leader has, and one of the reasons you're seeing the blowback that you're getting in Pakistan is because of the reforms that, that President Musharraf has put in place. Are we happy with the emergency rule? No, we're not. Do we, do I understand how important he is in fighting extremists and radicals? I do. And do I believe that he's going to end up getting Pakistan back on the road to democracy? I certainly hope so.
GIBSON: Mrs. Bush, you were very outspoken when the Myanmar situation occurred, and the monks were protesting, and very outspoken about the call for sanctions when they would not tolerate protest. Why is Myanmar and different than Pakistan?
LAURA BUSH: Well, that isn't my -- I can't answer that. I can talk to you about Burma, because that's what I know the most about, and what I've studied the most, and know most about what's going on in those countries.
But there is a difference, and that is, this has been military rule since 1962 or something, and when there were democratic elections in the early nineties, they were never recognized by the military regime, and in fact the leader of the party, the National League for Democracy, that won those elections, has been under house arrest for most of the time since then, Aung San Suu Kyi. And the, what everyone in the world looked at in the, protest by the Buddhist monks was the violent, crack down on the, on the monks themselves.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, there is a difference in that, Pakistan has been on the road to democracy, Burma hadn't been. And um, I'm real proud of Laura's, she's learned that her voice can be pretty loud in international politics, and has really called the world's attention to the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese people.
One of the interesting stories, if I might, not to be Mister Interrupter here, but uh, was after my speech at the United Nations where it was pretty clear about Burma, and she got an email from a human rights activist on the Thai border that had gotten to know Laura, heard the comments that I had made at the UN, and emailed Laura as a, as kind of a conduit into the White House. So it's a, she's, her role has been very impressive and very important.
GIBSON: Just one more question on Pakistan, are the, are the nuclear weapons, in your mind, safe from Islamic radicals, and can you be sure?
THE PRESIDENT: I certainly hope so. We feel pretty comfortable at this moment in time. And of course we'll pay very close attention to, to any, country that has got nuclear weapons. And, but yeah, I feel good about it right now.
GIBSON: Let me turn to Iran, Admiral Fallon, the head of CentCom, said in a recent newspaper interview, he said the military strike against Iran is not in the offing. It would be a strategic mistake. Do you agree?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it's very important for us to pursue our objectives diplomatically. I also know it's important for all options to remain on the table, and they are on the table.
GIBSON: Including military?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
GIBSON: So he's wrong?
THE PRESIDENT: As the Commander in Chief, all options are on the table --
GIBSON: When he says it's a strategic mistake?
THE PRESIDENT: My, my objective is to solve this issue diplomatically, and I fully intend to, and I believe we can. But diplomacy is effective when all options are available to a president, and all options are available. No one wants to use military force to achieve any objective. But, but it's important for all parties to understand that, you know, while I'm optimistic we can solve it diplomatically, options are available to the president.
GIBSON: There's been a lot of bellicose rhetoric that has been aimed at Iran, and you yourself, at a news conference recently, raised the specter of, of World War III if there was a nuclear armed Iran. Just my curiosity, why not turn the rhetoric around and smother them with kindness, call their bluff and say, look, if you're seriously interested in nuclear power, we'll build the nuclear power plants for you?
THE PRESIDENT: I've done that. You must have not heard it, but we actually did it with Russia. Russia and, has offered to, you know, construct Bushehr, which is fine. I supported Russia and said that not only should you build it, but uh, the major suppliers group will provide the fuel and collect the fuel. And, so Russia and the United States are in concert on that issue. Matter of fact, I said this in a press conference, that it's the sovereign right of Iran to have civilian nuclear power, and I agree, and I believe that.
But the problem is, is that it's, what's dangerous is there desire to learn how to enrich uranium, and, because the enrichment process could lead to a weapon. Let me, if I might, I might want to comment on what I said about World War III. I said, if you want to avoid World War III. And the reason I said that is because I take the words of their leader very seriously when, for example, he says he wants to destroy Israel. And you know, an attack on Israel, as far as I'm concerned, would draw the United States into a very serious conflagration in the Middle East. At least it would under my presidency.
And secondly I think it's very important for our partners who are in the United Nations, for example, to understand that now is the time to work diplomatically to convince the Iranians to change their behavior.
And so, our strategy is clear, and I hope it's, I think it's working. You know the reason why I say that is because, one, there are people at the table that, you know, first were a little, little reluctant, and didn't take the Iranian threat seriously.
Secondly, Iran is beginning to feel a sense of isolation. And thirdly, my rhetoric, by the way, is aimed to the Iranian people, which is, and I'll be glad to repeat it here, which is that you've had a grand history, and a great tradition. Our beef is not with the Iranian people, it is with the government that is, you know, has hidden programs from international inspectors, has made very bellicose statements about how they intend to conduct foreign policy, that is promoting terror through organizations like Hezbollah, that is disrupting young democracies like Iraq and Lebanon, and therefore as a result of the actions of your government, you're becoming isolated, and you can do better.
GIBSON: Let me turn to Iraq.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
GIBSON: You took a lot of doubting and rather skeptical questions about the surge. I'll give you a chance to crow. Do you want to say, I told you so?
THE PRESIDENT: [LAUGHS] No, I don't, because the decision, while it was a tough decision was really studied, and uh, and it was based upon the recommendations of wise military commanders.
GIBSON: Don't you take some satisfaction, though, in the fact that the, that the levels of violence have come down so far?
GIBSON: Absolutely, primarily because I, you know, I hurt when America loses a soldier anywhere, and it breaks my heart to think about loved ones who will miss a child, or a husband. And having said that, I'm thrilled for the Iraqis that they're beginning to see enough security so that reconciliation is taking place as well as in, as the economy is beginning to move.
GIBSON: Well, that's the flip side, and that's the reconciliation issue. You said the design of this is to give the Iraqi government breathing space, to bring about reconciliation. We've got a reporter right now who's embedded with the 1st Cav, and I talked to him yesterday, and he said that's all they're talking about. He quoted a captain to me, we've gone as far militarily as we can go. The coalition cannot make reconciliation. And then they go on with their impatience and their frustration, that reconciliation isn't coming --
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know what province this person is in, but this province, if this person were in Anbar Province, which used to be the al Qaeda stronghold, they would see enormous amounts of reconciliation taking place as these, Sunni sheiks are stepping up and beginning to take the lead at the local level.
If he's referring to, if this person's referring to laws being passed by the parliament, he's right in terms of a de-Baathification law, for example. On the other hand, they're just in the process of passing yet another budget which will distribute monies from the central government to provincial governments.
But there, as well there's a lot of local reconciliation taking place. I mean, after all, I, welcomed, you remember the Sheik that got killed? Well, his brother came, he's now assumed the mantle of the --
GIBSON: This is in Anbar?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. But they're reaching out beyond Anbar, these Sunni sheiks are. And he said to me, he came to the White House, and he said, you know, here's what I'd like, I'd like the following things. It's like dealing with a county judge in Texas in a way. Here is what the local folks want, I represent the local folks.
And he asked me, he said, would you mind meeting with some of the Shia Sheiks that I have gotten to know? And my only point to you is, is that, the captain's remarks are true in this sense, the Iraqis are going to have to, you know, obviously take the leap politically, which they are beginning to do.
My, my advice to him is that you have to be somewhat patient. One, because the grass roots reconciliation is beginning to translate into national, national changes. But also, these are people who are learning what it means to be involved in democracy. They, they're adjusting, they haven't had the same experiences that we've had.
GIBSON: Let me turn to politics, and the real political pro in the family. A year from now, a year from this day, we're gonna now who has custody of this cottage for the next four years. You got a gut sense as to who it's gonna be?
LAURA BUSH: No, I have absolutely no idea. No idea, I don't know who our nominee's gonna be from the Republican Party and -- So we'll have a very interesting year watching from the sidelines, and I'm glad we'll be on the sidelines this time.
GIBSON: He's got a sister who's endorsed one candidate, a nephew who's endorsed another, a second nephew who's endorsed a third, can't these Bushes get together --
LAURA BUSH: Stay together? [LAUGHS]
THE PRESIDENT: Either that or my mother wisely has said, okay, you pick this camp, you pick that camp, you pick this camp.
GIBSON: Shouldn't the family be united on this, they're -- they stick together pretty well --
LAURA BUSH: I can -- I'll tell you this, they will be united behind the Republican whoever it is when the nomination is finished and we know who it is.
GIBSON: And Mr. President, three months from now, we'll know who the nominees are, essentially, this thing is so front-loaded --
THE PRESIDENT: Amazing, isn't it, yeah. Uh, you know --
GIBSON: What's your sense of, of who it'll be.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm like Laura, I really don't know, um, uh, and if I didn't I wouldn't wanna opine about it.
GIBSON: You said --
THE PRESIDENT: I have a sense -- I have a sense that, um -- I think, I think we're gonna wanna reevaluate a primary system that gets so front-end-loaded. It's, I'm not sure what to think about it, I do -- I, I, I, I know people are adjusting, all the campaigns are coming up with game -- new game plans, but --
GIBSON: This thing has been going for a year. And, I wonder to what extent it inhibits your ability to get anything done in Washington and to govern.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. I don't think so, I don't -- certainly not on foreign policy. Um --
GIBSON: But you're not gonna get immigration done in this year, you're not --
THE PRESIDENT: No --
GIBSON: -- gonna get Social Security reform done --
THE PRESIDENT: No, I know --
GIBSON: -- you're not gonna get health-care reform done because everything is so politicized --
THE PRESIDENT: We may get some health-care reform done. But you're right, it's, uh, you know, and we're not gonna raise taxes. Unless they can override my vetos.
GIBSON: And it's almost impossible to get war funding worked out --
THE PRESIDENT: We'll get something done on the vets -- oh, we'll get war funding.
GIBSON: You will.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
GIBSON: But -- but we're gonna go through all kinds of political handstands --
THE PRESIDENT: And shouldn't --
GIBSON: -- first. PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: And shouldn't, as a matter of fact on that issue, the Congress, uh, oughta put aside their philosophical differences with, you know, with the decision I made, uh, on Iraq, and fund these troops. We'll get something -- we'll get a lot, we'll get some, good stuff done on veterans, we got the Dole - Shelala Commission, made some very strong recommendations that the administration strongly supports. We -- we -- we can get some positive things done, but you're right, you know, you get beyond June or July, heading into those conventions, it's pretty much Presidential politics--
GIBSON: But it almost goes back to last June and July that everything has had a -- has been seen through a political prism in Washington. If there's one thing you could get done, one thing, that you could get done in your last year of office, what would it be?
THE PRESIDENT: That's, make sure those vets get, uh, uh, you know, a modern -- system that is -- where the bureaucracy functions as smoothly as possible, and that-- I believe we will, get some positive things done for the veterans.
GIBSON: You have said you don't wanna comment politically but you did tell a book author that you thought Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee --
THE PRESIDENT: I did. [LAUGHS] I got caught. [LAUGHTER] I do, I think she's a very formidable candidate, and, one -- one of the interesting things, that she brings is that she has been under pressure. She understands the klieg lights. You know what I'm talking about.
THE PRESIDENT: You are the klieg lights. And, [LAUGHS] And it's, you, it's -- Heading out to -- heading into this stretch in the primaries and heading into the general election, is, is really the difference between minor leagues and big leagues. And --
GIBSON: You wanna get caught on the Republican side too?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't, I really, I really, believe the race is wide open. Uh, and -- it's, it's hard for me to gau-- I don't have a sense, I don't have -- 'cause I'm not out there talking to the -- In order to determine how well somebody's doing you gotta get a sense of that grassroots -- and how they're feeling or who's organized because these early states, Iowa and New Hampshire, voter turn-out is really important.
GIBSON: Mrs. Bush, what's the -- from your perspective, what do you think is the one thing that these candidates, don't know or probably underestimate, about being President.
LAURA BUSH: Oh -- about being President --
LAURA BUSH: I -- you know, I don't know, I have no idea, but, I think that maybe, what the American people don't know, is how difficult it is to run for president. To run for office, and how much, both emotional and physical stamina you need, to run for office, and I think that's what, George is talking about and that's -- You know, I think that -- people don't see it really. You just don't have any idea until you're really involved in it. What it means to travel around the country and speak over and over --
GIBSON: You -- you said --
LAURA BUSH: -- again.
GIBSON: You said it's grueling. And candidates get tired and make mistakes. You see any made so far?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I'm sure there are, uh --
GIBSON: How about Obama saying that he would meet without preconditions with --
LAURA BUSH: [LAUGHS]
GIBSON: -- the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea.
THE PRESIDENT: I thought that was a odd foreign policy, but, uh, I'm, I'm really -- [LAUGHS] I'm gonna try to stay outta these races. I would tell you what I think, uh, these candidates don't really understand is how complex the environment is inside the Oval Office. And how important it is, to have a set of principles from which you will not deviate, and, so that you can make good sound decisions. It is impossible I -- maybe not, but I think it's impossible for anybody to fully comprehend, you know, how much incoming there is --
THE PRESIDENT: -- into the Oval Office, and therefore it's important, to have a very orderly, disciplined process, that enables people to come in and give you their opinion, in a timely fashion, so that there's enough data available for the President to deal with the problems in the world.
GIBSON: Can they know the psychological and maybe even, physical burden, and pressure, of dealing with post-9/11 homeland security issues --
THE PRESIDENT: No, you can't. Uh, it's, it's, you just have to -- I mean but this has been the case throughout the presidency. Till you actually get in there, and understand the responsibilities that come with the office, you can't possibly, you can't possibly comprehend it, I'll tell you one thing that'll surprise 'em if they've got an open heart, is that the prayers of the people will affect 'em in a positive way. That has been one of the most surprising aspects of the presidency for me.
GIBSON: Do you see it on wearing on him?
LAURA BUSH: Sure. [LAUGHTER]
THE PRESIDENT: I thought I was doing pretty good. [LAUGHTER]
LAURA BUSH: He's doing great but, I mean the seven years have flown by, they really have --
GIBSON: Have they --
LAURA BUSH: -- and we know this last year will fly by too.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, just last year I was thinking about, how to deal with Iraq, I -- you know, I was, I was part of the people who didn't approve of Iraq. And when they asked the endless questions, do you approve of Iraq I was one, no, I didn't approve of what's going on. And wanted to do something about it and was confronted with a serious, decision. It was just a year ago that I was, you know, listening to people and getting ready to make the -- make the decision, and it just seemed like it was just yesterday, I mean it's unbelievable how much time's passed --
GIBSON: If a person has an opportunity, in the role of the First Lady to observe the President and what he goes through for eight years, does that experience prepare the person to be president? I'm speaking
LAURA BUSH: Yes, in the --
GIBSON: -- of course in the abstract --
LAURA BUSH: -- totally, yeah, exactly, totally in the abstract. I think you, you certainly know what it's like, I mean there's no doubt about it, you know, you know the pressure, there is, you know the difficulties, you know the-- You're very aware, and we certainly were this way too watching George's dad, I mean we were very, always very aware of what it was like to serve both the burdens of it and the great parts about it as well, and the wonderful opportunities you had, when you live in the White House and when you have the chance to meet people everywhere --
GIBSON: So if the First Lady were to run, previous First Lady were to run for President, that that experience is very helpful.
LAURA BUSH: I think it's very helpful, I mean I think it was very helpful for us to have been around the White House as much as we were when his parents served there --
THE PRESIDENT: And that's what I meant by she --
THE PRESIDENT: -- she understands the klieg lights and the pressure --
LAURA BUSH: That's right.
THE PRESIDENT: Having said that I do believe our candidate will beat her, if she happens to be the nominee. But --
GIBSON: Whoever that candidate may be --
THE PRESIDENT: Whoever -- whoever he may be in this case. [LAUGHTER] No question. There is no question, that, Senator Clinton, understands pressure better than any of the candidates, you know, in the race because she -- she under -- she lived in the White House and sees it first -- could see it first-hand.
GIBSON: What's the best part of being President?
THE PRESIDENT: Uh -- [LAUGHS] representing the greatest country on the face of the earth is one of the greatest parts of being President. Seeing the heroic acts that Americans do on a daily basis, I was in a food bank in Richmond yesterday. And, the woman running the food bank I would describe as dedicated, focused and spunky. And, just so proud of her work. Being -- be -- being the commander-in-chief of a military, of decent, honorable, intelligence, courageous people who volunteer in the face of combat, and, and face the danger. I mean there's a lot that is good about this, I can't -- I don't think you can single out one thing --
GIBSON: Do you think about legacy?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I -- I tell people I read three books on Washington last year and if they're still writing on the first guy the 43rd guy isn't gonna be around to see it.
LAURA BUSH: Mm-hmm.
THE PRESIDENT: And I really bu -- I really mean that, I spent a lotta time reading about Abraham Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln had no earthly idea that the Gettysburg Address was a great speech. All he knew is after having given it, he was condemned by a press corps that thought the person that preceded him was much better. Because it, it, because of the length that his, of his predecessor's speech. You know, history, it's just, it, I, I've always felt that there needs to be a long leash to history. That you can't judge a administration, immediately. And, particularly one that has pushed hard for some big ideas, like, like, my administration has done.
GIBSON: You just, it didn't get much notice, but you just celebrated your 30th wedding anniversary --
THE BUSHES: [LAUGHTER]
LAURA BUSH: Thank you very much.
GIBSON: And may there be 30 more.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir --
LAURA BUSH: Thank you so much.
GIBSON: What do you know about marriage now, that you didn't know 30 years ago.
LAURA BUSH: Well, a lot I think but, I don't know, I mean I think when we decided to get married 30 years ago even though we only dated such a brief time I think we knew we would have this kind of close relationship. And we didn't know we'd have two girls, and, we're very thankful for them, that's always what I'm thankful most at Thanksgiving for because their birthday is this weekend. So that's what I'm reminded of every Thanksgiving.
GIBSON: And, and does the pressures of the presidency, and being under the klieg lights -- does it bring a couple together or does it put strains on the marriage.
LAURA BUSH: I think it really brings us together.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. I think so too. It depends on the strength of the marriage. A weak marriage'll be torn apart by the pressures. I would suspect. A strong marriage, gets stronger.
GIBSON: And will there be a White House wedding? Not decided yet?
LAURA BUSH: We haven't decided --
GIBSON: Gonna work it out this weekend?
THE PRESIDENT: Ah, well --
LAURA BUSH: [LAUGHS] Maybe, hopefully, maybe we can discuss it.
GIBSON: Was it in the --
LAURA BUSH: She just came off the book tour so we haven't --
GIBSON: Gotten there?
LAURA BUSH: Made any plans --
GIBSON: Was it in this room that he --
THE PRESIDENT: No, it was behind, Aspen, the presidential cottage. Uh, Henry came, uh, earlier in the day and said I'd like to see you. And --
GIBSON: And you knew.
THE PRESIDENT: I knew, because I'd asked Jenna earlier that if Henry ever asks you to marry him, would you say yes. She said absolutely, I love him. And he came in and, and gave a very, uh --
GIBSON: I heard you made him sweat --
THE PRESIDENT: -- adept presentation. [LAUGHS] Well, yeah, a slight bit, not a lot.
GIBSON: How long did you make him sweat.
THE PRESIDENT: Not too long --
GIBSON: 'Cause I have personal experience in this. [LAUGHTER]
THE PRESIDENT: Uh, I, I, I, I --
LAURA BUSH: The way you made him sweat was say yes immediately before Henry had had the chance to -- he was all prepared. [LAUGHTER] What he wanted to say, and, George just said oh, okay.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I actually said you got a deal.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. And, uh, and, he said well, he basically said -- He's probably gonna be furious at me for talking about it but he said, I've got some more -- if -- and it is my understanding -- I've got some more talking points, and I-- [LAUGHTER] He was a won -- he's a wonderful kid and and we're looking forward to --
LAURA BUSH: We're happy.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
GIBSON: Have a happy Thanksgiving to both of you --
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you --
LAURA BUSH: Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: -- very much, Charlie, and same to your family as well.
George W. Bush, Interview of the President and First Lady by ABC News' Charles Gibson Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/277954