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Bush Looks Back on Presidency in Final Press Conference

In what he called "the ultimate exit interview," President George W. Bush gave his final press conference Monday, admitting to some mistakes while defending the bulk of his decisions on domestic, economic, and foreign policy.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    One last presidential news conference. Here is an extended portion of President Bush's final question-and-answer session today at the White House.

  • QUESTION:

    Without getting into your motives or your goals, I think a lot of people, including Republicans, including some members of your own administration, have been disappointed at the execution of some of your ideals, whether Iraq or Katrina or the economy.

    What would your closing message be to the American people about the execution of these goals?

  • PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    Well, first of all, hard things don't happen overnight, Jake. And when the history of Iraq is written, historians will analyze, for example, the decision on the surge.

    The situation was — looked like it was going fine, and then violence for a period of time began to throw — throw the progress of Iraq into doubt.

    And rather than accepting the status quo and saying, "Oh, it's not worth it," or "The politics makes it difficult," or, you know, "The party may end up being — you know, not doing well in the elections because of the violence in Iraq," I decided to do something about it and sent 30,000 troops in as opposed to withdrawing.

    And so that part of history is certain, and the situation did change.

    Now the question is, in the long-run, will this democracy survive? And that's going to be the challenge for future presidents.

    In terms of the economy — look, I inherited a recession, I'm ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth. And I defended tax cuts when I campaigned, I helped implement tax cuts when I was president, and I will defend them after my presidency as the right course of action.

    And I readily concede I chucked aside some of my free market principles when I was told by chief economic advisers that the situation we were facing could be worse than the Great Depression.

    So I have told some of my friends who've said — you know, who have taken an ideological position on this issue, you know, "Why'd you do what you did?"

    I said, "Well, if you were sitting there and heard that the depression could be greater than the Great Depression, I hope you would act, too," which I did.