Interview With Christian Malard of France 3 TV
Mr. Malard. Mr. President, after 8 years at the White House, how does President George W. Bush judge President George W. Bush? What are your good points, according to you, and your negative points?
The President. Well, you know, I think that people will say he's a decisive person who took action when necessary to protect his country and to address the problems of the world. Bad points are probably sometimes my rhetoric was a little—was misunderstood. I mean, I can remember saying, you know, "dead or alive," which sent—it sent signals that could be easily misinterpreted.
I think people will say that he was tough when he needed to be tough and compassionate when he needed to be compassionate, because our agenda was not only dealing with terror but freeing people is a compassionate act, but freeing people not only from forms of tyranny but from diseases like HIV/AIDS or malaria or hunger. And the United States is proudly in the lead on these issues.
War on Terror/Global Economy
Mr. Malard. Today, the world is struck by economic crisis.
The President. Yes.
Mr. Malard. Instability, terrorism still prevail in Middle East. Don't you feel your successor might face the risk of a major conflict, another September 11?
The President. You know, it's interesting, I think that's always a threat. No question that there's an enemy out there that would still like to harm America and, I believe, other free nations. But what has changed is, one, we've got the pressure on Al Qaida. The very ones who attacked us are now on the defense. We're dismantling them. We're working hard to find them. Our intelligence is better; our intelligence sharing is better. But no question, it's still a dangerous world when it comes to that, and— but there's tools now in place—that we put in place, that will help the next President deal with the security issue.
And in terms of the economy, yes, look, economies go up and down, and right now it's a difficult period for all of us. Energy prices are high. Food prices are high. In our country, we've got a mortgage issue. But I do believe that we'll come out of this, and we'll come out of it stronger. And it's just that—it's what happens in free markets.
Middle East Peace Process
Mr. Malard. Israel-Palestinian conflict is the cancer of all evils in Middle East. Your predecessors tried to get a solution; you tried to get a solution. But it seems that the two sides don't want to make the necessary concessions and political sacrifices. So does that mean that the tragedy—I don't say "the show"—but the tragedy goes on?
The President. I don't—[laughter]—that's a good way of putting it. I don't think so. I think they'll come to—first of all, I'm the first President to have articulated two states, because I believe it's in the interest of the Palestinians to have a state of their own that is whole, that doesn't look like Swiss cheese. And I firmly believe it's in Israel's interest to have a state, a democratic state, as a neighbor.
I know these leaders well, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. I know they're committed to working out the differences on a variety of issues, such as what the borders look like, the refugee issue, security issues. I was confident when I went to the Middle East last time that there's still that desire to get something done. I feel—still feel good about it.
Obviously, the politics in Israel is a little different right now. But nevertheless, in my visit with Prime Minister Olmert at the Oval Office recently, he understands the importance of reaching an agreement with President Abbas on what the state looks like and how to deal with these very difficult issues.
Condi is going to go during the European trip—is going to go back to the Middle East and continue to work on it. And I'm very hopeful that we can get that vision defined.
Mr. Malard. Iranian President Ahmadinejad is gaining influence in Iraq, in Lebanon with Hizballah, no doubt. He doesn't show any sign of flexibility——
The President. Yes.
Mr. Malard. ——on nuclear—on his nuclear program. Mr. President, is there any space left still for discussion with him?
The President. Well, there will be definitely space for discussion when he verifiably suspends his enrichment program. First of all, I disagree with the premise that he is succeeding in Iraq. Quite the contrary. Iraq is becoming a democracy, a functioning democracy. They understand Iranian influence is destabilizing. Obviously, there is some influence inside of Iraq, but—Iranian influence inside Iraq—but it's less than it has been and will continue to lessen, in my judgment, as its economy and as its political society begins to develop.
The—therefore, in speaking with my friend President Sarkozy or any other European leaders, we've still got to continue to send that message to the Iranian leadership that you're isolated; you'll continue to get pressured unless you verifiably suspend your enrichment program. And the reason why that's important to continue the pressure on is that if they can enrich, they could easily transfer that knowledge to a weapons program, which would destabilize the Middle East.
Mr. Malard. There's no military option in the air?
The President. Yes, it's still there. Absolutely it's got to be on the table. But, of course, I've always said to the American people, we want to solve this problem diplomatically, and we're going to work to solve it diplomatically. But the Iranians have got to understand all options are on the table.
U.S. Foreign Policy
Mr. Malard. When you see the big push of China, India, Russia on the international stage today, do you think that in 10 years from now, America will still be the superpower of the world?
The President. You know, I—that's an interesting question. I think that—I would rather define us as a very influential nation that is willing to work with others to achieve common objectives. You mentioned those three nations, and my approach has been to have strong bilateral relations with all three. We've got strong bilateral relations with China, even though we differ on issues. I've had strong bilateral relations with Russia, a lot of it having to do with my personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. We've had our differences, but nevertheless, we found a lot of common ground to work together on, including Iran. And in India, I've changed the relationship between India and the United States in a way that we're partners as opposed to, you know, being antagonistic.
And therefore, if the United States is active diplomatically in maintaining good bilateral relations with these countries, I think we'll still be in a position to use our influence for the common good. And these relationships don't have to be antagonistic. They can be—I've worked hard to get to know these leaders individually so that we can be able to discuss matters, delicate matters, in open and honest ways without rupturing relations. And I hope it serves as a go-by for future Presidents, that you can have disagreements, but you don't have to have this kind of zero-sum attitude about life.
2008 Presidential Election
Mr. Malard. Last two short questions. I don't want to put you in trouble, interfering in American elections. But today, do you have the feeling that the barriers of— and the game is not over, far from being over, I know—but do you think the barriers have fallen down, to have a potential black citizen to become President of the United States?
The President. You know, look, I—my attitude about that is I think it's a good statement about American democracy that a major political party would nominate Senator Obama. Now that that process has ended, the fundamental question is, who can be the best President? That's the question.
And I'm obviously for John McCain. I think he'll be a really good President. And the American people will make that decision. And it's going to be up to each person to be able to describe how they're going to handle the pressures of the job, how they'll be making decisions, what principles they'll be standing on, because this is a job—that I'm sure you can imagine—where there's all kinds of pressures. And if you don't believe something in your soul, if you don't stand on principle and you're on shifting ground, you'll be very unpredictable. And the world doesn't need unpredictability, it needs predictability out of the United States.
Mr. Malard. Last point, Mr. President. You and President Sarkozy put on the right track the Franco-U.S. relationship. We were a bit of trouble between you and President Jacques Chirac. With your next successor, whoever it is, do you think it will go on very well between France and United States?
The President. I do. Look, France and the United States have had a fabulous history together. And I remind my friends that it was the French that stood strong with the American patriots in the Revolutionary War. It was the French that determined the balance of power when it came to whether or not the United States would even be the United States of America, an independent republic.
And we've had a great relationship. And of course, we've had our differences, but that's okay. There have been differences throughout our history. The fundamental question is, do we understand there are— common values unite us? And we do. The French love freedom and human rights and human decency, and so do Americans. And so the relationship—and the—plus, there's a lot of personal relationship, a lot of friendship between individuals here in our country and French citizens that make it— there's no question in my mind, we'll have good relations with the French.
Q. Mr. President, I want to thank you very much, and I wish you the very best.
The President. Well, thank you, sir. I'm looking forward to going to beautiful Paris.
Q. Great to see you again.
The President. Thank you, sir. Good to see you.
NOTE: The interview was taped at 10:39 a.m. in the Map Room at the White House for later broadcast. In his remarks, the President referred to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel; President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority; President Nicolas Sarkozy of France; Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in his former capacity as the President of Russia; Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama; and Republican Presidential candidate John McCain. Mr. Malard referred to former President Jacques Chirac of France. The transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on June 12.
George W. Bush, Interview With Christian Malard of France 3 TV Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/278094