October 5, 1998
| JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, General, welcome.
Mr. President, first, on matters of today, the House Judiciary Committee
is moving toward a vote on whether to conduct an impeachment inquiry of
President Clinton. Do you think there should be such an inquiry?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Jim, I forgot to tell you this. I have tried to stay out of all this procedure and commenting on what I really feel in my heart about it, so with all respect, I just don't want to get into that.
| JIM LEHRER: I understand. Your friend, also a fellow former
president, Gerald Ford, wrote a piece yesterday in the New York Times
where he suggested something short of removal of President Clinton. He
called it a rebuke, where the president would go -- What do you think
of that idea?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: I saw that. Well, I have great respect for Gerry Ford. I mean, he's a man of you know, I'm sure he gave a great deal of thought to it. But, again, that gets me into a subject that I have assiduously tried to stay out of. And I just don't want to get into it. Please understand. There are a couple of reasons. I mentioned one yesterday, and that is that everything I say now that relates to policy or the White House even or domestic or foreign policy, the people rush down and then try to juxtapose it against the views of my sons, both of whom are engaged in politics, one in Florida, one in Texas, and I just don't want to complicate their lives. The main reason, though, is I vowed when I left the presidency that I would try to avoid being critical of my successor, and I haven't gone to Capitol Hill and lobbied, and I'd just rather not get into that.
JIM LEHRER: What about the it's been suggested that you or Bob Dole or a group of people be used to kind of at a certain time whenever that happens -- to try to broker a way out of this? Would you be interested? Would you consider such a proposal? Here again not about judging the thing, but be involved in something like that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Well, I wouldn't -- I don't want to be involved in that, to be very honest with you. You've got a system, and the system is rather orderly. And let the system work. That's my view.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of a system, General, you worked for Henry Kissinger during the impeachment process that was underway against Richard Nixon.
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Yes, I did.
JIM LEHRER: How difficult was it to function in foreign policy and all of those areas during that kind of environment?
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: It always makes it more difficult because the foreign countries, people that you deal with, are always wondering what kind of authority is behind what it is you do and say. And while I think we managed to convey reasonably that things were going on as usual, there was no change, and, indeed, when President Ford came in, we went out of our way, to say, look, don't try to take advantage of it; we're here, we're operating, and so on. But it is greatly complicating, there's no question about that.
The moral responsiblity of a president.
| JIM LEHRER: Much has been said, General, in the last
in this current context about the moral authority of the President of
the United States, whether it's Bill Clinton or George Bush or Gerald
Ford, or Richard Nixon. You've worked for several presidents. You've observed
many others. Do you think that's part of the job description?
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Yes. I think it's definitely a part of the job description, and especially again with respect to foreign policy. The United States for most of the world is the wind to which other countries set their sails. If that wind is inconstant, unreliable, they're confused. They don't know what to do. They can't set a policy if our policy keeps changing back and forth, or if you cannot believe in the course we say we're going to follow. So, that's very important.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, did you see yourself as the moral leader of this country, in addition to being the commander-in-chief, et cetera, when you were president?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: I don't think I ever put it in that lofty context -- I mean, I am the moral leader of the United States of America. I don't think I mean, my mother would have killed me. But, no, I think there's a certain responsibility to respect the office that you're privileged to hold.
JIM LEHRER: That is part of your job description you thought?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Well, I hadn't I didn't define it like that. It just just comes naturally, I think.
JIM LEHRER: Well, what do you make of this here, again, I'm not trying to play games with you, Mr. President. I promise you. I respect what you said. But it has been on the table and people are talking. You're one of the few people who can talk about this issue in a real way you know, one of the few people who've been the President of the United States.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: I could. And my heart is full, and I feel very emotionally, passionately about these things, and I do not want to discuss it for the reasons I gave you. Maybe that's, maybe I'm not fulfilling whatever responsibilities a former president has. But I just don't want to get into it.
Public scrutiny: "Nothing is off-bounds."
JIM LEHRER: Your son, you mentioned your son, George W. Bush. He said something the other day. And he said he was thinking, having some second thoughts about running for president. He said, "This is a result of the problems that President Clinton and others are having." And let me read you what he said. "It's a troubling period. I think running for president is a commitment to the bubble of public scrutiny, and I've got to make up my mind at the right time that that's what I want to do. Is this something I want to put my family through?" Do you understand his concerns?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Sure. I think I understand the concern of every person in politics these days, because there is an intrusiveness. There is a new, relatively new intrusiveness, where nothing is off bounds. I'm satisfied that my son could pass muster on any standards 1998 standards, 1960 standards. But -- I'm sure of it, certain of it. But he's got two teenage grandkids we've got two teenage grandkids. He's got twin daughters. And I think everybody he's running for governor of Texas I think it enters his mind in that high office. Is this whole new intrusive, anything-goes climate what I want my family to live with? Having said that, I know that he hasn't made up his mind as to what he is going to do, and I know that he's doing what he ought to do, and that is focus on being re-elected governor of our state.
JIM LEHRER: Having a career in politics, being President of the United States, is it worth going through all of that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: It is. It is.
JIM LEHRER: It's a noble calling.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: It's a noble calling. We have a little school in Texas, the George Bush School of Government and Public Service only 19 kids -- masters program. Now it's going to double, and it'll double again. And I -- if we can just inculcate into a handful of those kids public service is a noble calling, we will be doing something good. And I think we can. And I think there's a reservoir of goodwill out there, but people are understandably concerned about intrusiveness, unaccountability, and these things that can where you can level a charge, no matter how vituperative or how personal, against someone in public office.
JIM LEHRER: Let's talk about your book. These issues we've been talking about are all wrapped up in here. For instance, the issue of Saddam Hussein and moral authority, Saddam Hussein, General, is still there.
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: And you and particularly the president, you portrayed this man as an evil man. And do you believe that Iraq, for instance, would ever have invaded Kuwait if Saddam Hussein had not been there?
Invasion of Kuwait without Hussein?
BRENT SCOWCROFT: That's a stretch. But I believe that Iraqi policy is
inordinately Saddam Hussein, and I think, you know -- it's not clear what
his overall goal is whether it's to dominate the Gulf, whether it's
to be the champion of Arabs, whether it's to control oil, but I think
it is a single-minded obsession with him, and I I don't know what would
have happened absent Saddam Hussein.
JIM LEHRER: But on the moral part of this, a lot of people have suggested, wait a minute, we went to war, thousands of people died, most of them Iraqis, died in Desert Storm because of one man. Why not take that one man out and maybe have prevented the deaths of so many others?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Well, one reason, you'd have added the a lot of deaths of innocent Americans too. We had international law on our side not to kill Saddam Hussein but to end the aggression. And we ended the aggression. And as a result of that, you saw the Middle East peace process begin at Madrid. That wouldn't have happened if we unilaterally had marched into Baghdad. And what gets me, Jim, is you got a lot of revisionists now that take a look ex-post facto and say you should have gone in and killed Saddam Hussein. Would you want your son there in an urban, a guerrilla war, where we couldn't even find a two-bit warlord in Mogadishu dusty warehouses -- and then they're saying to me now late hey, you should have gone in and killed him, alone , occupying power in an Arab land the United States of America -- no way. Now am I happy he's there? No. But we had a mission; we defined it, and thanks to the heroism of a lot of young Americans we fulfilled that mission. And I don't believe in mission creep, incidentally. Am I happy he's there? No. But there are a lot of bad guys out there, a lot of terrorists out there maybe none quite as brutal to his own people as Saddam. But you can click off a few, I'm sure, and some of these despots around the world.
JIM LEHRER: Another thing where morality has been raised has been this Tiannanmen Square -- China. You wrote about this in your book. Did you see that as a moral issue, General, that these students demonstrated and many of them were killed, et cetera -- in the name of democracy, in the name of the United States?
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Yes, I think it was in considerable part a moral issue, but there was also a strategic issue. And I think what our attempt was, what the president's attempt was, was to balance off these two and to react sharply to the moral deprivations, if you will, that were perpetrated there, but at the same time not blind ourselves to the strategic importance of a relationship with the world's most populace and growing, powerful nation.
JIM LEHRER: You took some heat over that, Mr. President, to put it mildly.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Understatement of the evening.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the way you played that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: I think we did it just right. And you look at China today, and I don't think anyone can argue that there's not more human rights, more individual liberties in China today, more people lifted out of poverty today than happened at Tiananmen Square, happened when Nixon years before signed the Shanghai communiquι. I mean, it isn't even debatable. And so, I think we did it about right, and what got me at the time was the criticism that I didn't care about human rights, I didn't care about the loss of life in the square. We led the world in putting sanctions on China. And yet I was determined for the reasons Brent articulated to keep some channel of communication open and then to gradually keep going forward. You have new leaders in China. You have a changed view in China about the market economy --ever changing view on that -- more freedom, and I think we did it right.
JIM LEHRER: Another thing you wrote about extensively that happened on your watch, of course, the major thing, one of the major things, was the fall of communism, et cetera. Did you see that, General, as a battle between good and evil. President Reagan said that said the Soviet Union was an evil empire. In your book you say maybe not.
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: I think -- was an evil empire -- in one sense it certainly was. It certainly was. They banned, if you will, a dignity of the individual. There was no kind of security from arbitrary actions and so on. But by the time we came into office first of all, Gorbachev ended much of that -- when he removed terror as an element by which to drive the system, that was changed. Was it a corrupt, a bad system? No question about it.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Same way.
JIM LEHRER: Same way?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Yes. JIM LEHRER: Much of your book, Mr. President, much of your part of the book is your diaries that you wrote at the time. Did you when you wrote those things down at the time, did you think that some day they would be printed?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: No. I thought I was dictating so that I could go back and look over my notes and reconstruct events more accurately. I wish I had done a better job of it. In fact, having seen some of it in print, I wish I'd been a little more articulate in it. No, it wasn't designed to be someday the Bush diaries will be released I mean, good heavens. But they're helpfulthey helped us. And there are some little vignettes in our book that I think bring alive the subject of the moment.
JIM LEHRER: You've been working on this book now for how long, since --
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Five years.
JIM LEHRER: Five years. How do you feel about the way it's been received?
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, you know, I wondered whether it would be received at all. So --
JIM LEHRER: The reviews have been the reviews I have read have been -- were you nervous about this book?
A work for posterity.
GEORGE BUSH: Yes. I was nervous. I wasn't sure that having stressed
the Bush view about wanting to stay out of politics, out of the way, you
know, live in Texas, and go up to Maine, and revel in the grandchildren,
that I wanted to get back into the you know -- critiquing or having
to answer something in the review. I've been very pleased. I think the
reviews have been good. It took a long time to write this book. We're
indebted to a lot of people that helped. But I'll tell you what I do think,
Jim. I think that we got a lot of this right, and I think historians and
scholars are going to be able to use this to tee off from, to do further
research. I really believe that, because in this book we've got letters
to Deng Xiaoping that no one's seen before, you know, conversations with
Helmut Kohl or Prime Minister Thatcher or Francois Mitterrand that are
kind of being revealed here and give an insight into the decision-making
JIM LEHRER: I got the feeling from reading your book, Mr. President, that you're very comfortable with what history is going to write about you. Am I right about that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Well. I think so. Not much I can do about it anyway. And I'm not going to write a memoir trying to fine tune that say here's exactly what I was thinking.
JIM LEHRER: This is it?
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Yes. This is it. Well, we got one other book but that's later.
JIM LEHRER: Are you going to take five more years, General?
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, I'm not working
JIM LEHRER: Oh, you're not working on it.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: And that was just a book of letters like Truman did. I'm not -- Jean Becker is doing the work on that. But, no, this book I think has done at least what I hoped it would do, and I hope Brent feels that way.
GENERAL BRENT SCOWCROFT: Absolutely. It is. This was one of the world's great transformations, if you will, from the fear of confrontation which suddenly vanishes, and it would be so easy to just say, well, it was all inevitable and so on. It wasn't. And if you think back 20 years, you know, nobody could have imagined the end. And I thought it was important for us to tell how we saw it, what we were thinking, why we did what we did, what we did right, what we did wrong.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, General, Mr. President, thank you both very much.