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From The Times
June 11, 2008

President Bush regrets his legacy as man who wanted war


Tom Baldwin and Gerard Baker in Ljubljana
President Bush has admitted to The Times that his gun-slinging rhetoric made the world believe that he was a “guy really anxious for war” in Iraq. He said that his aim now was to leave his successor a legacy of international diplomacy for tackling Iran.
In an exclusive interview, he expressed regret at the bitter divisions over the war and said that he was troubled about how his country had been misunderstood. “I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric.”
Phrases such as “bring them on” or “dead or alive”, he said, “indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace”. He said that he found it very painful “to put youngsters in harm’s way”. He added: “I try to meet with as many of the families as I can. And I have an obligation to comfort and console as best as I possibly can. I also have an obligation to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain.”
The unilateralism that marked his first White House term has been replaced by an enthusiasm for tough multilateralism. He said that his focus for his final six months in office was to secure agreement on issues such as establishing a Palestinian state and to “leave behind a series of structures that makes it easier for the next president”.
Mr Bush is concerned that the Democratic nominee Barack Obama might open cracks in the West’s united front towards Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. At the EU-US summit in Slovenia, he pressed for tougher sanctions against Iran unless it agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment programme verifiably: “They can either face isolation, or they can have better relations with all of us.”
Mr Bush told The Times that when his successor arrived and assessed “what will work or what won’t work in dealing with Iran”, he would stick with the current policy.
Shaul Mofaz, a hardline Israeli minister, has suggested that a military strike on Iran is “unavoidable”. But Mr Bush said: “We ought to work together, keep focused. His comments really should be viewed as the need to continue to keep pressuring Iran.”
The President was keen to bind his successor into a continued military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, but offered only cautious optimism about a recent decline in violence. Asked about corruption allegations dogging Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, Mr Bush insisted: “I have found him to be an honest man.”
He also offered words of encouragement for another ally, Gordon Brown, whom he will meet on Sunday. He said that he needed no advice on coping with political adversity. He is “plenty confident and plenty smart, plenty capable — he can sort it out”.
But he delivered a thinly veiled warning to Mr Obama that his promises to renegotiate or block international trade deals were already causing alarm in Europe and beyond.
“There is concern about protectionism and economic nationalism,” he said. “Leaders recognise now is the time to get ahead of this issue before it becomes engrained in the political systems of our respective countries.”
Acknowledging that his refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol once created consternation in Europe, he said that there was now a recognition that that richer countries needed to “transfer out of the hydrocarbon economy”. He insisted, however, that any binding emission targets would have to include China and India to be workable.
The President knows that Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain will have to distance himself from the current Administration. "He's an independent person who will make his decisions on what he thinks is best."
Asked if the US is ready for a black president, Mr Bush says: "I think the fact that the Democratic Party nominated Barack Obama is a statement about how far America has come.
"Having that all that, it's going to be important for the American people to figure out who can handle the task of the 21st Century. It's a challenging job."
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From The Times
June 11, 2008

President George Bush starts talking language of a dove



Hurtling at more than 500 miles per hour across the Atlantic, President Bush is in a hurry to demonstrate that he still matters. The clock is ticking down on a turbulent presidency whose passing will be unmourned, even celebrated, in most of Europe and — if polls are correct — much of America.
Both at home and around the world, attention has already turned towards the young black man who could succeed him. The excitement surrounding Barack Obama almost matches in intensity the loathing felt by many for the man who will soon be gone.
But President Bush is so eager to show enthusiasm for his final six months that he leaps on a question about whether the Democratic Party has had enough of the War on Terror to tell us all about himself. “You don't have to worry about me. I've got all the energy I need to sprint to the finish,” he says. “The great thing about the American scene is the president gets to set the tone for foreign policy.”
His scheduled 20-minute interview rolls on for 45 minutes, covering almost every corner of the globe.
On what is likely to be his last trip to Europe, he takes his time to ponder successes — and admit some failings - in his presidency. He betrays signs of regret at his own low standing in the world, a sense that not enough people understand the challenges that face any president in the Oval Office.
Most of all on the big issues — Iran, climate change, trade - he says that there has been convergence between the US and European governments in the past four years. He seems frustrated that America is not given more credit for its good works, dismissing polls that show he in particular — and the US in general — are viewed in Europe as “a force for evil”.
He says: “I don't buy into that theory. America is a force for good. America is a force for liberty. America is a force to fight disease. We've got the largest HIV/Aids initiative in the history of the world. We've got a malaria initiative that's saving babies.”
And there's still a hint of defiance. The demonstrations that usually gather everywhere to protest at his presence do not bother him, but make him think that “I must be doing something. I must be using my position to embrace change.”
Seven years after his first trip to Europe, also to Slovenia, as it happens, a period that has encompassed some of the worst moments in modern transatlantic relations, he reflects on the ructions over Iraq and disagreement about climate change that “created consternation”. Now, he says, they have “realised that we have commonalities on climate and we need to work together”.
In Slovenia yesterday, compared to his earlier visit, even the protests had dissipated. Much of the anger is a spent force, like his presidency. At the summit with the EU, one of the main items on the agenda was how the US uses chlorine to clean poultry. The hawk who took the world to war has been reduced to talking chickens.
These days Mr Bush's language is much less jarring, more conciliatory than it once was. His humour is self-deprecating. Speaking about the dangers of protectionism and isolationism, he says he addressed the issues in his 2006 State of the Union speech “which I'm sure you have memorised”.
But the most striking change of tone is in his approach to dealing with the pressing international issues. On the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, he no longer sounds like a wild-eyed unilateralist, bent on military action.
Instead, he attacks his critics for being insufficiently multilateralist. Mr Obama's proposal to speak directly to the Iranian President, he suggests, will undermine the careful diplomacy Mr Bush has pioneered in the past few years. “I believe when people get in and take an assessment of what will work or what won't work in dealing with Iran, they'll understand the wisdom of having not only our friends and allies in Europe at the table but also China and Russia.”
He still has warm words for Vladimir Putin, the President-turned-Prime Minister of Russia, singling him out for praise for his efforts to get the Iranians to develop civil nuclear power rather than a military programme.
And he insists that his plan is to have a diplomatic legacy, not only for Iran, but for all the pressing global crises: “My focus in the remaining time of my presidency is to leave behind a series of structures that makes it easier for the next president to be able to deal with the problems that he is going to have to face. The six-party talks, for example, in the Far East, in dealing with North Korea, the Iranian multilateral framework, hopefully a Palestinian state defined by Israel and the Palestinians.”
Of course, he defends his decision to invade Iraq five years ago. But the swagger, the rejection of criticism as invalid is gone, and he acknowledges that the diplomacy should have been handled better. “Look, I think that in retrospect, you know, I could have used a different tone.”
But, said Mr Bush, what most people “don't know is that it's very painful — at least it has been for me — to put youngsters in harm's way”.
He adds: “I try to meet with as many of the families as I can. And I have an obligation to comfort and console as best as I possibly can. I also have an obligation to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain.”
He added: “One of the untold stories of Iraq is that we explored the diplomacy a lot — we all wanted to solve this ‘disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences' in a diplomatic fashion. After all, I went to the United Nations Security Council.”
While recent months have shown a sharp decline in violence — particularly in Iraq, where there were fewer American casualties in May than in any month in the past four years — Mr Bush expresses only cautious and understated optimism.
And he is quick to avoid claiming vindication. “I don't look at this thing in personal terms. I view it as confirmation of certain fundamental truths that are necessary, and will be necessary, to bring peace.”
Mr Bush seems slightly niggled that so much attention is already focused on his successor, bridling at repeated questions about what he thinks about the challenges likely to face Mr Obama or John McCain, the Republican nominee-in-waiting.
“You guys are just like, unbelievably focused on this,” he chuckles. “You just can't help yourself.”
But he suggests the yearning for change that Mr Obama has tapped is always a powerful one, saying: “I've campaigned for change ever since I ran for office, except for 2004 — then I wasn't for change!”
As a President who appointed two black Secretaries of State, he also recognises the historic significance of Mr Obama's victory in the Democratic nomination race. It is “a statement about how far America has come”, he says. “Having said all that, it's going to be important for the American people to figure out who can handle the task of the 21st century. It's a challenging job. It requires tough decision-making, clear thought, and an experience level.”
Such comments run as a theme throughout the interview. “It's not easy,” he says, helping people to move from tyranny to freedom. Asked about allegations surrounding Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, he defends his ally as “a realist” who is “working hard to help his country develop”.
As a politician known for a no-holds-barred approach to opponents, he points out that Mr Karzai is fighting for re-election. “Some of the rhetoric coming out of Afghanistan is very interesting to watch. It's reminiscent of other campaigns. But it's a sign that democracy is beginning to move.” He says the criticism of Mr Karzai is “what happens when you're president - sometimes it happens to the best of us”.
Mr Bush says the arrows aimed in his direction over the past seven years are the consequence of taking “tough decisions” and are “what comes with the position I'm in”.
“There are going to be moments when the world becomes fatigued, or those of us who are responsible for trying to protect our citizens from international terrorism get tired,” he says. “It's easy for negativism to creep in, and there's kind of an exhaustion that comes with staying on offence.”
But not this President, not yet. While critics are impatient for the Bush era to end, and most of his initiatives appear to be running into the sand, Mr Bush sneers at the hundred would-be “secretaries of state in the United States Senate that think they can do a better job”. His own, Condoleezza Rice, he says, is heading to the Middle East this week and he has work to do in Europe ahead of next month's G8.
“There's plenty of energy on the democracy agenda, the Freedom Agenda, right now.”
Bellicose Bush:
“There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on.” At the White House in 2003
“I don't care, dead or alive - either way. It doesn't matter to me.” Vowing to bring Osama bin Laden to justice in 2001
“Rid the world of the evil-doers.” Pledge in aftermath of 9/11
“This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” September 16, 2001
“One of our objectives is to smoke them out and get them running and bring them to justice. We are smoking them out. They are running.” 2001 White House ceremony
“You are either with us or against us.” Press conference with Jacques Chirac, French President, 2001
Bush now:
“I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric ... It's very painful ... to put youngsters in harm's way.” On his attitude to war
“Whoever the American president is will realise that co-operating and working with others on a common agenda is more likely to yield the results that we want.” On Iran
“I found him to be a very charming person.We didn't spend a lot of time talking political philosophy.” On David Cameron
"That the Democratic Party nominated Barack Obama is a statement about how far America has come.” On Obama