JIM LEHRER: Governor, welcome.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Thanks, Jim. I appreciate you very much.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about last night's debate?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I thought I did fine. My job was to let the people know that I could lead, that I could hold my ground, that I've got -- I am able to articulate different issues, and I felt I did a pretty good job. More importantly, the people who were for me in South Carolina seemed to be unusually energized today. A lot of people have been coming up in a rally saying, 'Well, you did a great job last night, George W.'
JIM LEHRER: OK. You know, the press coverage this morning emphasized the anger and dislike between you and Senator McCain. They used phrases like "assailed each other," "bitterly revealed the depth of their mutual anger," "frequently emotional, at times downright angry." Do those accurately describe what you think happened last night?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't think so, Jim, at all, I really don't. I felt no personal animosity whatsoever. Nor do I feel bitter toward John McCain. I understand politics, and I understand sometimes campaigns get carried away. And so, while I express indignation about being compared to Bill Clinton, as far as my trustworthiness goes, I don't harbor any personal bitterness, and last night I didn't feel bitter in the least. As a matter of fact, had I felt bitter, I am confident that a lot of people would have said 'You didn't do a good job.' I mean, no one wants a bitter person running for president. And on the set and on the stage, I didn't feel any real animosity. I felt like I needed to defend myself at times and hold my ground, but, you know, there were some sharp exchanges; but I didn't feel anything personal.
JIM LEHRER: The New York Times in an editorial this morning said that this has become "a junkyard campaign of smears and attacks." Is that true?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Oh, I don't think so. I stand by my ads that I put on TV, and I don't think it's a junkyard attack. I don't know where they've come up with that, but I just don't believe that's the case. I believe it's very important for me to defend my record and to lay out my agenda. And that's what I've been doing here in South Carolina.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let's go through some follow-ups from some of the points that you made last night, Governor. On the important issue all the surveys show this to be underlined -- most voters -- the most important issue nationally is how to use our power in this new post-Cold War world. You said you would deploy U.S. troops only when our national strategic interests are at stake. How are you going to go about deciding when they are?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, obviously you're going to have to take each circumstance as they arise, Jim, but first and foremost, I define the theaters of national strategic interest. It's in our national strategic interest that we have a peaceful and prosperous Europe. It's in our national strategic interest that the Far East be peaceful and prosperous. There's two areas right there where, for example, I mean, I can give you an example -- I supported the president's actions in Kosovo -- late as they may be -- and haphazard as they were in terms of how we were going to commit troops because I was worried it would affect NATO, and a strong and healthy NATO is very important to keeping the peace in Europe.
I will -- I will help Taiwan defend itself if the Chinese reach the one China policy. In our own hemisphere last night I talked about the need to keep the Panama Canal treaty open - I mean, to keep the Panama Canal open after we've turned over the canal as a result of the treaty. In other words, there will be circumstances that will obviously -- if merited -- dictate the use of troops, so long as we commit troops to win and there's an exit strategy.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. What about -- let's go through some of the more recent ones, other than Kosovo. Somalia, was that the right thing to do?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, obviously it's an issue of -- that my dad was involved when clearly -- when the mission evolved from one of humanitarian help to one of, you know, of politics, the mission lost its bearings. I don't know if I would have done the same thing if I were President Bush or not under those circumstances.
JIM LEHRER: But does Africa fit in to your definition of strategic interests?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: No. It fits into my definition of economic interest, and that's why I try to promote free trade. But last night, when we were talking about troops in Rwanda, I would not have committed troops in Rwanda under the circumstances as I know them.
JIM LEHRER: Why not?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, because it's not -- at some point in time the president has got to clearly define what the national strategic interests are, and while Africa may be important, it doesn't fit into the national strategic interests, as far as I can see them. Now, that doesn't mean that we couldn't have rallied folks such as the United Nations to go help keep warring parties apart in Rwanda, but at some point in time the president has got to clearly define what is in our interests.
JIM LEHRER: So you would disagree with what Senator McCain said last night, that there are -- there are some times, in addition to strategic interests -- human rights or U.S. values' interests -- for introducing U.S. troops?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I would never say 'never,' but I am going to be very hesitant to deploy troops outside those areas that I've defined as our national strategic interests.
JIM LEHRER: Now, in areas that involve our power diplomatically, rather than sending troops, is it proper for the U.S., for instance, to play a role in brokering the peace in Northern Ireland as it is trying to do now?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, it is very important, I think, Jim, that the United States use our power and prestige, our standing in the world to bring parties together, whether it be in Northern Ireland, as the president was trying to do. They've had some success it looked like, and then it fell apart. And, hopefully, they'll be able to get the talks back together again -- or in the Middle East -- but the danger is, is that any president allow -- you know -- public opinion in the United States to drive or standing in the public opinion polls to drive the U.S. to dictate terms of peace. And it's very important that we serve as an honest broker. And I intend to do so.
JIM LEHRER: Are you suggesting that we're not doing that in Northern Ireland, or we are?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: No, I'm not suggesting that at all. I'm just making it clear to people that the difference between being a true mediator and a country that tries to decide what the proper terms of peace ought to be -- because if you try to do that, the peace will not be a lasting peace. If you dictate the terms, if we were to use our power to dictate the terms, let's say in the Middle East, and it was unsatisfactory for either party negotiating a peace treaty, that peace treaty will ultimately come apart.
JIM LEHRER: All recent administrations, including you father's, spent a lot of energy and a lot of worry on the Middle East trying to negotiate peace over there. Why is it so important?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: One, it's in our national strategic interest that there be peace in the Middle East; secondly, we have made a strong commitment to Israel to help Israel defend herself. Thirdly, obviously, we have economic interests in the region.
And, fourthly, what's very important in that region today is -- in the post-Cold War era, the region tends to be a place where weapons of mass destruction or the proliferation of terrorist activities seem to be emanating from, and it's important for us to recognize that. And it's important for us to work with our allies to keep in check weapons of mass destruction and to say to those perpetuators of potential terror 'We're not going to countenance it -- we're going to do what's necessary to maintain the peace.'
JIM LEHRER: Well, let's say there's a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Would you accept or support the idea of deploying U.S. troops to maintain that peace in the Golan Heights, as some people have suggested?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Jim, I need to know the terms -- you know, I don't want to say anything that could be used to possibly undermine the peace talks going on -- I'd want to know the terms that -- obviously I would hope that we'd be able to achieve an agreement without the use of troops. And it's like the same issue of aid to Syria -- would you support aid to Syria. It would be awfully difficult to do so if Syria continued to harbor terrorism in that part of the world.
JIM LEHRER: But is that a legitimate use of U.S. troops? You don't have to be specific necessarily on part of a peace agreement or something, but is this the kind of thing that you would do as president to use our troops for those kinds of missions?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Reluctantly, I would use -- I would do that reluctantly. In my speeches here in South Carolina and in other states I have said we need to convince our allies to keep -- to put troops on the ground to keep warring parties apart. We'll be the peacemakers; they can be the peacekeepers. So I'd be very reluctant to use our troops as peacekeepers.
JIM LEHRER: On the -- on the Austria situation, help me understand your position on that. Do you believe that we should be doing what we are doing, which is siding with the European Union in isolating Austria?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I do. I think we ought to support our partners in the European Union at this point in time. I think we need to support our allies, who are expressing deep concern.
JIM LEHRER: But should we do any more than that?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: No. I think we just ought to support our friends and allies in the European Union and let them deal with it.
JIM LEHRER: But if it comes to diplomatic -- to severing diplomatic relations or any kind of economic thing, we just do what the Europeans do?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: No. I think we ought to support our friends. They're the people dealing with that, and how it relates to the European Union, and my judgment, at this point in time, the best thing to do is to continue to support our friends and allies as to how they deal with this. It's a very tricky situation in Europe.
JIM LEHRER: Tricky in what way?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it's tricky because this person was duly elected and by the people of Austria, and yet there are some terms and conditions of the European Union which allow the members to deal with it in a way they see fit.
JIM LEHRER: But do you share the concern that the Clinton administration does over the inclusion of this man and his party in the government?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I do share concerns about that, I do, and that's why I'd be willing to support our friends and allies in the European Union on this matter.
JIM LEHRER: On Chechnya and Russia, the U.S. and the rest of the western world has been raising Cain with Russia from the beginning, saying 'You are killing innocent civilians.' The Russians have said essentially 'We're fighting terrorism, and, by the way, mind your own business.' What else -- what else, if anything, could be done by the United States?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, we could cut off IMF (International Monetary Fund) aid and export/import loans to Russia until they heard the message loud and clear, and we should do that. It's going to be a very interesting issue to see how Russia merges, Jim. This guy, Putin, who is now the temporary president, has come to power as a result of Chechnya. He kind of rode the great wave of popularity as the Russian military looked like they were gaining strength in kind of handling the Chechnya situation in a way that's not acceptable to peaceful nations.
And the real fundamental question for Russia, besides how we deal with Russia in the post-Cold War era in terms of the ABM (anti-ballistic missile) treaty and nuclear weaponry is what will Russia look like -- will she be a market economy, or will she be one of these economies where a favored few elite are able to put money in their own pockets? And it's something that we need to be concerned about, we need to watch very carefully.
JIM LEHRER: But what can we do besides watch it?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, we can work with groups inside of Russia that favor democracy in the marketplace. There's entrepreneurs that are beginning to take wing, and we can work with them and should.
JIM LEHRER: And how do you feel about Putin at this point, are you worried about him?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: About Mr. Putin?
JIM LEHRER: Right.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. I mean, we don't know enough, and so I'm worried about a Russia that heretofore has tried to lurch its way one way or the other. I'm worried about the direction it ultimately takes, and, of course, I'm worried about Russia in terms of dealing with her in terms of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. We must continue to fund Nunn-Lugar (Act) and to dismantle those strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.
Obviously, I'm concerned about Russia's willingness or seemingly willingness to spread weapons of mass destruction if, in fact, they are, and I think we need -- I know we need to work with Russia to resolve the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, to change it so that we can deploy theater-based and national-based anti-ballistic missile systems.
JIM LEHRER: But on Chechnya, specifically, you think we should not -- we should hold up International Monetary Fund aid. Anything else we should do?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Export/import loans.
JIM LEHRER: And just cut them off?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, sir, I think we should.
JIM LEHRER: Until they do what?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Until they understand they need to resolve the dispute peacefully and not be bombing women and children and causing huge numbers of refugees to flee Chechnya.
JIM LEHRER: And do you think that would work?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it certainly worked better than what the Clinton administration has tried.
JIM LEHRER: You mean, just using words, you mean?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: On a more general issue, Governor, the case in both Iraq and Kosovo or Yugoslavia, the sins that we moved against militarily and which you supported -- you say you support - I assume you support what your father did in the Gulf War. I didn't ask you about that.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I did.
JIM LEHRER: Right. And then what the Clinton administration did as a follow-up against Iraq.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: No, I don't support what the Clinton administration did as a follow-up. What the Clinton administration did as a follow-up is they -- is they allowed the inspection regime to wither. I think we need to have inspectors back into Iraq, and I think we need to make it clear to Saddam Hussein we want them back into -- we need to make it clear to our allies we expect the inspectors back in to make sure he's not developing weapons of mass destruction.
JIM LEHRER: OK. Well, then my question was a more general question -- that we had both Iraq with Saddam Hussein and Yugoslavia with Milosevic; they're the ones who committed the sins that caused us to move militarily, and they're not only alive and well -- many innocent people died -- they're not only alive and well, they're still in charge. What -- is there a realistic way to deal with that kind of thing when you have an evil person in charge and causing these things to happen?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think the most realistic ways to keep them isolated in the world of public opinion and to work with our alliance is to keep them isolated. I'm just as frustrated as many Americans are that Saddam Hussein still lives. I think we ought to keep the pressure on him. I will tell you this: If we catch him developing weapons of mass destruction in any way, shape or form, I'll deal with that in a way that he won't like.
JIM LEHRER: Like what, bomb him?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it could be one option. He just needs to know that he'll be dealt with in a firm way.
JIM LEHRER: But you don't think that there's any way in our democratic society that we can move against individual leaders?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Do you mean to go assassinate him?
JIM LEHRER: Well, any way.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Actually, it's against the law, as I understand, for an American president to order the assassination of any world leader. I am -- I think that's right -- if I'm not mistaken, Jim, and yeah, I mean, obviously we need to keep the pressure on these men. At some point in time the forces of good will take -- will handle Saddam Hussein; I'm confident of that. But we've just got to keep the pressure on him.
JIM LEHRER: And just live with the frustration that that's what happens in our kind of society.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, that may be true, but keep the frustration down to a minimum by doing what we say we're going to do and when we do something make sure he understands loud and clear we mean it.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. All right. Another kind of superpower we have right now is economic. What's your analysis, Governor, of why the U.S. economy has done so well for so long and continues to do so well as we speak today?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, first, we're heading into a new world of e-commerce and the Internet -- there's whole notion of productivity increases that none of us really ever envisioned five or 10 years ago. I believe -- I give a lot of credit to formation of capital into an entrepreneurial society. And I give a lot of credit to Reagan tax cuts in the '80s, which served as a basis for a lot of capitalists beginning to move throughout the system. And you've got to give Alan Greenspan a lot of credit because when he was able to wrench inflation out of our system, and provided for a much more stable platform from which entrepreneurs could flourish, so it's a combination of things.
And -- but there's no question -- the whole globalization and free trade and Internet commerce provides exciting opportunities. It's also going to provide some very interesting problems for us to deal with, Jim. At home domestically, obviously, the digital divide is an issue, and abroad the notion of American culture kind of sweeping through the countrysides around the world is going to create cultural clashes, which could inevitably lead to problems at home in terms of terrorism or people who resent what we stand for taking some kind of action.
JIM LEHRER: If you're elected president, would you see it as your responsibility to keep this economic boom going?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Sure, absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: How would you do it? What would you do?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I'd cut taxes, and I know we're having a great debate in the Republican primary over this, and there will be a great debate in the general election, but I come from the school of thought that we ought to share a quarter of the surplus with the people who pay the bills. I recognize that it's not the government's money; it's the people's money; and I'd drop -- I'd reduce the marginal rates.
I believe high taxes -- and we do have high taxes, they've been the highest since World War II -- will ultimately be a drag on the economy, and so I think we need to put in place a tax cut that will be phased in over five years and that will reduce all rates and make the tax code more fair. I'd leave Alan Greenspan in place, and, thirdly, I'd encourage free trade. I'd ask for fast-track negotiating authority to open up markets starting in our own hemisphere.
JIM LEHRER: How much credit for this does the Clinton administration deserve?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I'm not sure. I can't cite their economic package -- I don't think raising taxes the way they did was a stimulus to the economy. I'm not exactly sure how much credit they do get.
JIM LEHRER: So, in other words, a president has -- there are limits to the influence a president has on the economy?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I think a president can make the right decision to encourage the flows of capital. I mean, I think, for example, if a president were to insist upon building walls around America and would be an isolationist president, that that person would get the blame when the economy were cratered, because I think isolationism would hurt the economy. You know, I think the president could make some changes -- as to how freely capital flows -- and whether or not there's capital flow at all -- but much of the growth in the economy was due to unleashing the great entrepreneurial spirit of America.
JIM LEHRER: And the government had nothing to do with that?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I think the government does -- the government can make entrepreneurship harder; it can make it much harder for capital to flow. I mean, the president, at least, was willing to fight for NAFTA (North American Free Trade Organization), although the implementation of NAFTA has been somewhat spotty. I'm worried about the free trade commitment by this administration.
I don't mean to be getting political, but you asked, and the free trade commitment seems to be somewhat haphazard. After all, they couldn't even get an agenda in place to discuss the World Trade Organization. He balked at allowing China into the World Trade Organization. Now, finally, it looks like he's coming around. The reason I'm for China in the World Trade Organization is I want our markets opened up to U.S. entrepreneurs and to our goods and for farmers and producers. And at the same time, by the way, the isolationists in our party -- you've got to understand -- that trade with China will encourage the growth of an entrepreneurial class, which will ultimately lead to more freedoms in China.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think -- the policy you outlined just now -- there are many, many Democrats, including President Clinton who would say amen to everything you just said, right?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Except for the fact that I don't know how committed they are to the policy. Remember when (Chinese Premier) Zhu Rongji came here -- there was a half-hearted -- I mean, there was an attempt by Zhu Rongji to say we want to be in the WTO; the president turned his back on him. I mean, you're either committed, or you're not committed. And I'm committed to free trade.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Governor, let me ask you a pure politics question.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: OK. We seem to be living pure politics these days.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, right. The growing conventional pundit wisdom now -- today -- is that whoever wins South Carolina is going to win the Republican nomination. Do you agree with that? Are the stakes that high Saturday?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: They're pretty high. This primary has been one that seems to have decided the Republican nominee in the past, Ronald Reagan in '80, George Bush in '88, Bob Dole in '96. I hope it's me in the year 2000. I plan on winning. People often ask me, what are you going to do if you don't win? I'm in this thing for the long pull, but I plan on winning. I've got a great, great grassroots team here, Jim, and I'm battling for the vote, and my spirits are high, and I think the people of this state are going to give me a chance to lead our party to victory.
JIM LEHRER: But do you have a feeling that it's all riding -- not all riding -- but a large hunk is riding on Saturday?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, when I walk out of these press conferences and see this huge national press contingent with all the punditry observing my every move, I have a feeling something is at stake, let me put it to you that way.
JIM LEHRER: Is the press treating you fairly, Governor?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I think so, yeah. My -- the crew gets stuck with me on a daily basis -- seems to be patient with me, and I'm patient with them. And -- but I've learned a lesson a long time ago: Don't be griping about the press.
JIM LEHRER: Well, some of the folks you know in your campaign have been saying that the press has given John McCain a free ride and not giving him the same kind of treatment that you're getting. Do you agree with that?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it's hard for me to say, Jim. You know, I've had some good stories written about me and some bad stories written about me, and that's just part of the process. I'm not a complainer about it, and I'm confident -- when it's all said and done -- everybody will be treated the same, at least I hope so.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, Governor, thank you very much, and good luck to you.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you, sir. Good talking to you.