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President George W. Bush

In a wide-ranging interview, President George W. Bush hailed the elections in Iraq as having geopolitical import, outlined his hopes for marginalizing the militants attacking targets throughout Iraq and refused to comment on reported spying by the National Security Agency on people in the United States without a court order.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Mr. President, welcome.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Thank you, sir.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    First, the New York Times story this morning that says that you authorized secret wiretaps by the National Security Agency of thousands of Americans. Is that true?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Jim, we do not discuss ongoing intelligence operations to protect the country, and the reason why is that there's an enemy that lurks, that would like to know exactly what we're trying to do to stop them.

    I will make this point. That whatever I do to protect the American people, and I have an obligation to do so, that we will uphold the law, and decisions made are made understanding we have an obligation to protect the civil liberties of the American people.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So if, in fact, these things did occur, they were done legally and properly?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    So you're trying to get me to talk about a program–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    –that's important not to talk about, and the reason why is that we're at a war with an enemy that still wants to attack.

    I– after 9/11, I told the American people I would do everything in my power to protect the country, within the law, and that's exactly how I conduct my presidency.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Mr. President, in all due respect, don't you believe that answer is going to lead people to believe that you're confirming that in fact you did this?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    We don't talk about sources and methods. Don't talk about ongoing intelligence operations. I know there's speculation. But it's important for the American people to understand that we will do– or I will use my powers to protect us, and I will do so under the law, and that's important for our citizens to understand.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    I don't want to "beat a dead horse" here, Mr. President–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Okay.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    –but the story is now all over the world.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yeah.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    I mean, it's on the front page of the New York Times, the Washington Post, every newspaper in America today, and it's going–it's the main story of the day. So–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    It's not the main story of the day.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Well, but I mean in terms of the way it's being covered–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    The main story of the day is the Iraqi election.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Right, and I'm going to get to that.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Okay.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But I mean, is it correct to say that the National Security Agency is normally told to do surveillance only on international calls rather than domestic calls, without reference to this specific thing?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I– Jim, I know that people are anxious to know the details of operations, they– people want me to comment about the veracity of the story. It's the policy of this government, just not going do it, and the reason why is is that because it would compromise our ability to protect the people.

    I think the point that Americans really want to know is twofold. One, are we doing everything we can to protect the people? And two, are we protecting civil liberties as we do so?

    And my answer to both is yes, we are.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    On the Iraq elections–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yes, sir.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    –were they everything you had hoped they would be?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Ah, yes. I mean, there's a big turnout in the Sunni area. Stories out of Iraq are just fantastic. It's, it's a– it's a very important step because part of our strategy is to encourage a political process that will marginalize those who want to use violence to achieve ends, give hope to people like the Sunnis that there is a democratic future for them, in other words, that minority rights are just as important as majority decisions. That under the Constitution, people's lives will improve, and so it was a major step. It's the third such milestone that the Iraqis have met. They had the elections in January, this year, they met– had the Constitution and today's elections.

    Now, people got to understand that is not going to stop violence. The elections won't say, okay, the security situation has, you know, changed dramatically because there are still people out there that are going to try to affect the political outcome, the political debate, with violence. And there are still the Zarqawi types that are really trying to drive us out of Iraq to establish a safe haven from which to launch further attacks. But it was a great day.

    I just got through visiting with senators from both political parties, particularly Senator Graham and Senator Biden, who were there and came back and reported to a bipartisan group of Senators and me what they saw, as well as the ambassador, George Casey, and of course Condi and Don Rumsfeld and the Vice President. And it was just a feeling that the Iraqis showed great courage and defied the terrorists.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Is it true to say that the next big step, as you mentioned, the Sunnis have to now–they voted, now they have to be given a piece of the pie in order to avoid further violence and civil war?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I think it's a couple of things. One, I think that the Sunnis have to feel that they've got a voice in the future government, that the– and that the security forces are there to represent them as much as anybody else in the country. In other words, that there's a sense of we're Iraqis first and that people will not use their power to seek retribution for a terrible period in Iraqi history when a tyrant abused the Shias and the Kurds.

    One of the real big issues as you alluded to is that some might seek revenge. I remember talking to an Iraqi woman recently who said, I cannot believe you're giving a Saddam Hussein a trial like that. I said, well, first of all, we're not, you are. And secondly, it's important that he have a fair trial because it stands in stark contrast to the way he treated people. What I found interesting was that she wasn't interested in fair trials. She was interested in sudden retribution, and that's one of the real big issues we're going to have to work with the new Iraqi government on is to reconcile years of bitterness.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You say the violence is not going to be affected by this election in and of itself. Have you asked Secretary Rumsfeld and the military commanders for some kind of projection as to when the violence is in fact going to start diminishing?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Well, interestingly enough, General Casey today gave us a report for November that the amount of suiciders has gone down from 60 to 29. I'm not exactly sure of the exact time table, but it was a substantial reduction. However, one suicide bomber well placed is–you know, it's a very effective device. Obviously, it's effective on who it kills, but it's also effective on getting on our TV screens. And, you know, I think if we have a policy of zero violence, it won't be met, but the policy of getting the Iraqis in the fight and marginalizing those who are trying to stir up trouble will be effective.

    And the definition of victory which is really an important thing for the American people to understand is that we have an ally in the war on terror, that democracy is able to sustain itself and defend itself, and the Iraqi people feel that the security forces that we've trained up are capable of defending themselves against the violent.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Mr. President, does that go counter to most definitions of victory in a war?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    I mean, the violence goes on but that we have victory anyhow?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Well, I think that this is a different kind of a war. I mean, in World War II we think of the USS Missouri and Japan– We surrender. However, if you think about World War II, there was still a mission to be accomplished, that Harry Truman saw through, which is to help an enemy become a democracy. We achieved a, by kicking Saddam Hussein out, you know, a milestone.

    But there's still work to help this country develop its own democracy and there's no question there's difficulties because of the past history and the fact that he starved an infrastructure and the reconstruction efforts have been uneven.

    But victory is, against a guy like Zarqawi, is bringing him to justice. Victory is denying safe haven to al-Qaida, and victory is marginalizing those who would destroy democracy.

    I'll give you an interesting example. I think it is. That would be the FARC in Colombia. You'll remember there was a period of time when there was a real battle about the heart and soul of Colombia. Slowly but surely FARC has become–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    That's the left-wing rebel group.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Right.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    That used profits from drug sales and arms to enforce its, enforce its way. That at one point in time, if I'm not mistaken, looked like the, the, the–democracy was in the balance. And slowly but surely they're becoming marginalized and becoming–now they're still dangerous, don't get me wrong, but they're not nearly as dangerous as they were a– you know–a decade ago, for example.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Well, what would you say, then, Mr. President, if somebody would say, well, wait a minute, are you suggesting that the United States is going to have to stay in Iraq for years and years and years while this kind of mild form of insurgency, violence, continues?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    No, not at all. As I said, that one of our objectives is to train the Iraqi security forces and police, so they can take the fight. As the political process marginalizes people, now one of our prime– and I've also said, by the way, as the Iraqi forces become more capable, and they are becoming more capable, that we'll be able to focus more on training and more on hunting down high-value targets like Zarqawi, and that's a very important part of the strategy, Jim.

    We cannot allow Iraq to become a safe haven for al-Qaida.

    Let me make another point for you, if you don't mind, on security forces, while we're on them.

    We have made good progress on the security forces. Witness the fact that more Iraqis are in the lead on operations, more territory is controlled by the Iraqis. However, as General Casey said, we're behind when it comes to training the police forces or helping train police forces, and one a the real challenges is to make sure that the police force does not become a haven for militia, so that political people can use police forces to seek retribution in society.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Is there any connection between what happened yesterday and the beginning of drawing down U.S. forces from Iraq?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Well, there will be a draw-down from the force level that we are now at, primarily because we kept 30,000 people, more or less there in order to effect the elections, and so we will be drawing down, as planned, as announced prior to the election.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Excuse me. That's 160,000 there now… then go to 137,000.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yeah.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And then–then what?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Well, that's going to be up to General Casey, to make those recommendations.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Have you sat down with anybody and said can you project, in some way, what–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Not really.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    –how long it's going–when we can really take our troops down further? I don't mean a timetable, necessarily, but just a ball park.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I think there's a general feeling that these Iraqis are– you know, the way I tried to put it, in a way that American people can understand it, is as they stand up we stand down and I think there's a general feeling from our advisers– military commanders on the ground and the advisors in the Pentagon, that they're more and more standing up.

    And that's measurable, not just in numbers of soldiers, but measurable in the amount a territory that they now control, as well as the– how they, how they perform. By the way, as more Iraqis take the lead in the fight and control more territory, it means less coalition and less U.S. patrols, less U.S. presence, and more ability to focus on two specific missions, which is training, which will require less troops, as well as using our best forces and special forces to find the al-Qaidas.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Just in general terms, Mr. President, how major a priority is getting U.S. troops out of there–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Well–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    –to you?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yeah. It's, it's–the biggest priority is winning.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Right; okay.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    And see, the problem, Jim, earlier in the year, was that I think a lotta people might a begun to feel like the biggest priority was to get out, and that–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Those are not related, in your opinion?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Well, I think– but you see, if you say the priority is getting the troops out, it really sends the wrong message to the troops, the Iraqis and the enemy. And I can understand people wanting to get the troops out. On the other hand, but if you don't put that in a context of achieving objectives. In other words, wars are fought on objectives, not on timetable, and that's why I've been so insistent upon not allowing ourselves to have policy driven by time table, but by objective. So victory means troops are coming out, but troops are coming out may not mean victory. And so that's why I'm making the case to the American people that our strategy there is to achieve a victory.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    The war has now been going on 2-1/2 years. This week in fact the one-thousandth day went by, and more than 2,100 Americans have died.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yes, sir.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    When you made the decision to go to war, did you expect this kind of casualty rate?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    First of all, I knew there would be casualties. I never tried to guess.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Did you ask General Franks or Secretary Rumsfeld, what's the risk here, what's the casualty possibility?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I think everybody understood the risks, Jim. I'll never forget making the decision in the Situation Room, and it affected me. I mean, it was– I got up out of the chair and walked around the South Lawn there and I thought, you know, I knew the decision I had just made, a decision, by the way, that I had been wrestling with for months, was the right decision in my judgment, or obviously I wouldn't have made it, but also one that would have consequences for Americans and families and members of the soldiers who died.

    We run a danger of trying to say the casualties are less than other wars or more than expected. It's just everybody matters, every person matters, and what really matters is having the strategy and the will to make sure any death is not– is honored by achieving an objective.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But the risk factors that you took into consideration in making the decision did not involve specific numbers that, oh my goodness, this could cost us this many lives? Or how about Iraqi lives? You said this week that 30,000 Iraqis have died.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Was that on the table when you made the decision?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I think, well, first of all, I said 30,000, that's because it's kind of the general talk. And I don't know if we know specifically how many died. Nor do I think you don't sit around in a planning session and say, gosh, I wonder how many– how many people are going to die because of suicide bombers or because of politics or– I know this, that when we went in we had a plan to target the guilty and spare the innocent and with our precision weaponry and a military that is a humane group of people that we did a good job of that.

    But war is brutal, war is death, war is– and I knew that going in. I just don't remember people, you know, trying to guess.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And you didn't– what I'm really getting at is these numbers, we know the real numbers on Americans.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Absolutely.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And the speculative number, the approximate number on Iraqis is 30,000. Is that about what you expected? You didn't–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    You know, I just–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You didn't think in those terms?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I just–I can't–I really didn't. I mean, I would hope for zero but realistically understand that in war people will die. And I also keep in mind the fact that there's hundreds of thousands who were killed by the tyrant. And what's really important is which I tried to do the other day, is to make sure that this war in Iraq stays in context, that we were dealing with a threat.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I know there's a debate about– here in America now about whether or not, you know, why we're there. Some say oil, some say Israel, some say, you know, made-up intelligence. But the truth of the matter is, if you step back and remember the period, one of the lessons of September 11th is take threats before they fully materialize. In other words, take every threat seriously. And secondly, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. He was a sworn enemy. He declared that America was the enemy. He had used weapons. I mean, I don't want to go through the whole litany.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sure. Absolutely.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Go ahead.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    No, I was just going to say in that respect directly, do you have any second thoughts now about not having first eliminated Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida before taking on Saddam Hussein and Iraq?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    No, I really don't because– and I know we can do more than one thing at a time. We have got special operators and capable intelligence folks on the hunt all the time, and we've done a very good job of dismantling al-Qaida's operating structure, at least the operating structure that was in tact before September 11th, like Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shaibah, and mainly Osama bin Laden himself has not yet been brought to justice.

    But we dismantled al-Qaida, and they're constantly trying to reconstitute themselves and we're constantly on the hunt which is what America is going to have to do for quite a period of time.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So you don't think going into Iraq affected our ability to get Osama bin Laden and eliminate al-Qaida?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Not at all. As a matter of fact, al-Qaida has gone into Iraq to fight us which is– and that's why we've got to defeat them there. And I appreciate you bringing this up because al-Qaida is very dangerous and they want to hit us. That's what people– I think I've always known that, and I remember thinking about this right after September the 11th, this is such an unusual kind of war and so different from what– how, you know, people think of war.

    That it's likely we would lower our guard at some point in time. And they don't lower their guard. These are the toughest of the tough. They kill innocent people to achieve objectives and–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Does– that of course is my point, in a way. They did in fact hit us. They killed three thousand of our people.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Right.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So the question is, was there intelligence at the time, that you had, that indicated that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were capable and about to do the same kind of thing–hit the continental United States in a 9/11 type attack?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    No, and others have said, well, you know– there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the attack of 9/11. I agree. I've never said that and never made that case prior to going into Iraq.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So they're not related, in a way, directly?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Well, I think they are related in the war on terror because he had terrorist connections, as you might remember. Again, he was a sworn enemy and he'd had weapons of mass destruction, had used them. Now we all thought he had them. When we got in there, we found out he didn't. I say "we," all being intelligence services from around the world, thought the same thing. There was also a diplomatic effort going on with Saddam Hussein.

    Apart from the fact that he was shooting at our airplanes, we were having a diplomatic effort, and one thing Charles Duelfer did find, he's the guy who went in to look for weapons, and the weapons inspector inspector–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Right.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    –found out that Saddam Hussein still had the intent of weapons, had the capacity and the intent, and had used the Oil For Food program to try to slip out from underneath the sanctions. Guilford was convinced that when the world looked the other way, Saddam would have weapons. And that's dangerous.

    Now there was also a bunch of U.N. resolutions or–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Which he ignored, and the question at the time was why would he ignore them? And a lot of people asked that question. I fully understand that people in our country didn't think I should use force, and a lot of people did think I should use force. But that's– I have to make a judgment. I made the judgment and I stand by the judgment.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    The public opinion polls show you that you are losing the confidence of the American people in the way you're, been conducting the war. Do you think that the election results could fix that?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Look, I mean, I'm not the right person to talk about polls, to ask about polls, because they go up and they go– They go up and they go down.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sure; sure.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I fully understand that I have a job to explain, as clearly as I can to the American people, the stakes, why we're there and how we intend to win, and that's what I have attempted to do over the past series of weeks. Some people think we shouldn't have been there in the first place and I– you know, I respect that and understand that I disagree.

    Some people think that we ought to get out of there now. Some people are wondering whether we got the will to win. And my job is to continually speak to the people. Look, I like being with you but one a the reasons I'm with you is to continue to make the case–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sure; sure.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    –that we have a plan to win in Iraq. And it's in our interests that we win in Iraq. Let me, let me, if I might, just talk about one geopolitical point that I think your listeners will find interesting.

    One of the real issues we're going have to deal with, and are dealing with is Iran. Iran's got a president that, that, you know, second-guessed the Holocaust–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    –and has announced that the, sort of destruction of Israel. Iran's a threat.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    For the record, his foreign minister said today that that was misinterpreted–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Okay. Well–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    –just for the record. Right.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Which part? The part that he wants to destroy Israel? Or the Holocaust?

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Right.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Or both? He's a– I'm worried about a theocracy.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah; yeah.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I mean, he can't, he can't deny the fact that there, got an organization called Hezbollah that they support, which is trying to derail a Middle Eastern peace process.

    My only point to you, geopolitically, in dealing with Iran one of the real fundamental ways to help encourage the reformers in the country is for there to be two democracies– democracies on the Iran– two new democracies — Afghanistan and Iraq.

    So the stakes in Iraq are beyond just making sure that Iraq is not a safe haven for al-Qaida.

    The stakes are geopolitical in nature and I believe that democracies are– people want to live in free societies, democracies are the best way to do that, and that if people see democracies in the neighborhood, and the Middle East flourishing, they'll demand the same thing.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Let me go through some other things here.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Sure.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Robert Novak, a columnist, says that– he's the guy who the whole world knows first printed Valerie Plame's name as being a CIA operative. He says now that you know, he's certain you know and leaked her name. Do you?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    You know, I'm not going talk about the case. I've been asked not to talk about the case by the prosecutor and I'm not going to. I appreciate his bold assertion, however.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    In other words, you don't– you're not going say anything about this?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    No, I'm really not.

    I, you know, I'm– you know, I made a statement the other day about another case about Tom Delay, and my point in bringing up Tom Delay's name in terms of another case going on in Texas was, is that people are innocent till proven otherwise. All people are. And I feel the same way about the Fitzgerald investigation but it's an ongoing investigation. There are still loose ends that evidently he's looking at and I'm just not going discuss–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But is there's nothing to prohibit you, by law– in other words, answering–just saying yes, I know who leaked the–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Well, I don't know if there's by law–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    No. I'm just asking. I don't know.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I don't know either.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah; okay.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I'm not a lawyer. But I do know that Mr. Fitzgerald, and people that do know the law, had advised me not to talk about the case.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Well, why would Novak say something like that?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Better ask him. I don't know.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You don't know. Okay.

    The–you mentioned Tom Delay. Why did you say he was innocent?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Well, I was–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    This is an interview with Brit Hume.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I did and– but the point I was making was innocent till, until otherwise proven, and I was also asked did I hope he would come back to Congress. The answer was yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But you– I looked very carefully at that transcript. I mean, you essentially said he was innocent. I mean, you weren't– that wasn't– you weren't really saying that then. You were just saying he's presumed innocent?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I– that's exactly what I was saying.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Okay.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Thank you.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You feel the same way about Lewis "Scooter" Libby, is–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Innocent until proven otherwise.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah; yeah. But I mean it's not–it's in the same league–your feelings about him are in the same league about Tom Delay.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    It's not a pronouncement, it's a–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yeah. It's a, it's a– it's a belief in the system, that– and that's not always the way people are treated here in Washington as you know. Some people are guilty until proven innocent.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sure. You agreed yesterday to accept the McCain language in this torture amendment.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I did.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    There had been threats that you were going to veto it and all of that.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    What caused you to change your mind?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Well, first of all, the language that we accepted was worked out with John. As you know, I have said constantly we don't torture, and we don't. And Condi went overseas and clarified that the United States holds the Convention Against Torture both here at home and abroad, and this law makes that very clear, and at the same time provides the standard for those who might be interrogating.

    And it's important that we use interrogation techniques within the law, Jim, because when we capture somebody on the battlefield or capture somebody, and if that person has knowledge about an attack on the American people, I think we need to know that without torture.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    The impression, Mr. President, is that you did this reluctantly.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    No.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Is that not correct?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I don't think so. I don't think– I mean, Washington loves the game of who's up and who's down.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sure. Yeah. Yeah.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Dealing with John McCain is not a reluctant adventure for me. I enjoy it. We're friends. People say, well, they're rivals. We're not rivals. We're interested in working together to achieve common objectives. And he's a strong-willed fellow who's got the best interests of America at heart, and we worked with him to come up with something that we can both live with.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Last week, members of the 9/11 Commission were unanimous when they said there's been a serious failure to do what's needed to protect the country from future terrorist attacks.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yeah.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you agree with that?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    No, I don't. I mean, I think there's– I think some of the points they pointed out like not having the band available for communications, whether it being in a disaster or an attack it's not available, they're right about that. But I think this country is making good progress towards securing the country.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Jim Thompson, Republican.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Former Governor of Illinois, let me quote you what he said, "The American people ought to demand answers. Why aren't our tax dollars being spent to protect our lives? What's the rationale? What's the excuse? There is no excuse."

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yes. I'm not sure of the context, but we are spending money to protect them, and we've got– you know, we're paying money for intelligence officers that are trying to find out what the enemy is up to within the law. We're paying for first responder training. I mean, there's a whole extensive area. We've got a brand-new way of, you know, handling people getting on airplanes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So you're comfortable with what's being done?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    I'm comfortable we're making progress. I am not saying that the report card they put out, you know, that they've identified some areas we need to continue working on–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    There were 41 things, F's, C's, D's, A's, B's, whatever.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yes.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Look, I called in Fran Townsend who happens to be the national security adviser for a terrorist event, take a look at these and let me know. And so she went out and spoke to them and they're right on some and they're wrong on others.

    For example, I think in there they gave us kind of a mediocre grade on dealing with Pakistan. I would disagree with that. I think we ought to get good marks for dealing with Pakistan. Pakistan was the country that was near– making decisions about the Taliban or otherwise, and right after 9/11, Pakistan realized that joining America in the war on terror was in their interests. We've worked very closely with President Musharraf to do that. Anyway–

  • JIM LEHRER:

    On Katrina–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    By the way, they did–they did a service. I mean, the 9/11 Commission in investigating what went right and what went wrong was part of the lessons learned, and that's a very important part of any society adjusting. Just like it would be important in Katrina, by the way.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    I was going to ask about Katrina. Are you following that closely, the rebuilding?

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Very.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You know, there are an awful lot of complaints, stories, 82 percent of the low-income people in New Orleans who've applied for loans to rebuild their homes have been rejected because they don't make enough money to qualify for federal loans. I mean, that's the kind of thing that people are wondering–

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yeah. Look, I'm concerned about that, too. I'm concerned about stories that people feel like they're going to get kicked out of hotels, evacuated.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Yeah. Right. Yeah.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Evacuated. We don't want evacuees being evacuated again. And so part of our efforts is to make sure we explain policy. For example, if you're in a hotel room, there's gonna be a representative to help you understand, there's $26,000–there was $26,000 available for you to use for housing.

    Now some of that 26,000 has had money deducted as a result of the $2000 checks we immediately provided for, for evacuees.

    Let me take a step back if you don't mind.

    First of all, Mississippi and New Orleans are dealing with a different problem. Mississippi's got a huge refuse problem, piles of junk that they're slowly but surely getting rid of. They've got land, however, in which to put trailers, and so trailers are now beginning to move in and people are able to get temporary housing close to their, to their lots, so that they can begin rebuilding their lives.

    New Orleans obviously is a compact city not as much land for trailers, and so the housing issue is a little different. More people are able to get back to Mississippi than to New Orleans right now, because there's not a lot of trailers there.

    And so we're working through the housing issues, providing, making sure people know there's temporary help to continue their status as a, if somebody's not home, and trying to get a, kind a change the notion of risk inside New Orleans by giving assurances that there will be a levee program that will be better than the levees for Katrina, and that's the announcement we made yesterday with the mayor a New Orleans and that's a very important psychological announcement.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Because the people didn't want to go back because they thought there was going be another hurricane.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Yeah. Nor will insurance people write insurance, nor will people invest money.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Sure; sure.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    But listen, I'm– I'm very aware what's going on. This is an issue that is an important issue for me. I told the people down there we're going help New Orleans rise, and help Mississippi get back on its feet and I meant it, and $62 billion on the table that's been appropriated on behalf of both areas. Hopefully we're spending that money as wisely as possible.

    But there's no question there's bottlenecks. One bottleneck is SBA approvals. Another, as you said, is housing loans, and we're working those issues with Congress now.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Mr. President, thank you very much. Happy holidays.

  • PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Thank you, sir.

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