Interview with President George W. Bush - Part Two

Interview with President George W. Bush - Part Two

Tom Bevan and John McIntyre - December 19, 2008

"I am the very last President not to really have to worry about YouTube" while campaigning for the White House, President Bush told RealClearPolitics in an exclusive Oval Office interview last week, discussing the role the Internet and new media played in the November 4th elections. (Read Part One of the interview here).

"The 'gotcha' moments in my campaign in the past were few and far between," the President recalled, noting that with the advent of YouTube candidates have to be "really careful" what they say or "you're liable to see yourself on the Internet, along with 20 million other people."

President Bush said his was "a transition administration in terms of information," adding that when it comes to fluency with the Internet, President-elect Obama "brings an awareness to the Oval Office that, frankly, I didn't have."

"He [President-elect Obama] grew up in a Blackberry world" the President said, calling it "a whole other culture in many ways, in terms of information technology."

The President said he thought Democrats had taken the lead over Republicans in using information technology to their advantage in the political arena, pointing out that they had done an effective job at copying the GOP's recent success of "micro-targeting" voters and getting them to the polls.

The discussion turned to energy and the environment, where the President stressed the need to use advances in existing technologies as a safe and effective way of transitioning to renewable energy sources.

"If you're really interested in global warming," the President said, "the best way to make sure you can have good environmental policy and economic growth, which is necessary to be able to have new technologies, is through nuclear power."

The President talked about the move toward plug-in hybrid vehicles that will be able to drive the first 40 miles on electricity. "The question that comes is, where are you going to get the electricity?" the President said. "And the answer is through nuclear power."

"The market has a way of helping sell policy better than speeches can at times," the President responded when asked if the recent spike in energy prices had changed the public's mind about the tradeoff between environmentalism and energy production.

"In this case," the President continued, "the market caused people to say, 'wait a minute, do we want to continue shipping this amount of money overseas when we may be able to find enough reserves to take the pressure off here at home?' And so the offshore drilling debate changed dramatically because of the marketplace. The logic didn't change. The advocacy didn't change."

The President said he thought energy could be a potent political issue for Republicans in the future, "so long as they say we're bridging to a new era." But he also said that too often in politics the environment and energy become "litmus test issues, and so logic never really ends up being able to prevail. It's like, if you're for ANWR, you're just against the environment - no ifs or buts. And, you must be against ANWR otherwise you're not an environmentalist."

"What's been one of the most frustrating parts of the last eight years," the President continued, "is to take a rational position that would help the national interest and try to explain it so that it fights through some of the propaganda."

"I want to become less dependent on foreign oil as much as anybody," the President said, "because it is in this Oval Office where dependency on oil often causes there to be a national security concern."

On the topic of national security, President Bush said that "one of the real difficulties of the presidency has been to keep in people's mind the notion that we are in a war."

"The farther we got away from September the 11th," the President continued, "the harder it was for people to see the connection between al Qaeda in Iraq and their own security."

President Bush attributed these difficulties to the "unusual" nature of the current war.

"In the past it was nation state versus nation state. This is shadowy networks hiding in failed states just waiting," the President said. "And therefore in order to conduct the war one has to have pinpoint intelligence, like listening to phone calls from known terrorists. One has to have a military that's light and lethal. One has to have allies willing to get in the fight and to help rout out these cells where they hide. And one has to have faith in the transformative power of freedom to help extinguish - or at least compete with an ideology of hate and eradicate pockets of hopelessness so that these guys can't go recruit young, frustrated, hopeless kids to be their foot soldiers in asymmetrical warfare."

The President said the public sometimes gets "a glimpse of the enemy" - citing the recent terror attacks in Mumbai, India - but said that much of the hard work of the war is obscured from public view. "We're winning victories," the President said, adding, "Victory is difficult. There is no surrender ceremony."

President Bush said his administration has done "a good job of protecting the country and putting tools in place that the next President will be able to use" to continue to keep the country safe, and he expressed confidence that his successor will remain vigilant in combating the threat of terrorism.

"I believe President-elect Obama, when he hears the same thing I hear will recognize that the most important duty of the President is to protect the country, and he will not let his guard go down," the President said.

But, alluding to his own experience in the White House, the President said decisions on national security are tough and may not always be popular.

"Sometimes as President you have to do what you think is right regardless of what the popularity polls say," President Bush told us. "That's what Presidents do: take the information at hand, recognize the threats, and lead. And when you're protecting the security of the United States you don't have the luxury of saying, 'Oh, I don't think I'll do this because the polls say not to do it.' You have to lead. President-elect Obama, I'm confident, will recognize the threats as they are and at the same time understand that our duty is to secure the country."

President Bush reiterated that he views the current war as part of a broader ideological struggle that will take years, if not decades, to win.

"The great debate is, by the way, is freedom universal? And I believe it is. I happen to believe freedom is a gift from the Almighty to every man, woman, and child," the President said. "And if you believe that, then you shouldn't be surprised to see people take a risk for freedom. And if you believe that, it is in our interests not to become isolationists, but to help advance freedom - all places, all times - because that is ultimately what's going to lead to peace."

Tom Bevan and John McIntyre


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