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Bush Defends Iraq Invasion, Military Record & Economy In Rare NBC Interview

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In a rare one-on-one interview with Tim Russert, Bush defends his record as his national poll ratings sink to new lows. We get response from Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson who exposed that Bush missed a year of service in the National Guard, and Robert and Christopher Scheer, co-authors of “The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq.” [Includes transcript]

In a rare one-on-one interview with Meet the Press, President Bush this weekend defended his decisions to invade Iraq, his tax cuts and his military service during the Vietnam War.

Bush described himself as a “war president” and mentioned the word war at least two dozen times in the hour-long interview.

He repeatedly said the decision to invade Iraq was shaped by the Sept. 11 attacks and said the war was necessary even if no weapons are found.

Bush said “This is a dangerous world. I wish it wasn’t. I’m a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind.”

He also defended his record in the National Guard which has come under criticism from Democratic frontrunner John Kerry and others. Bush said “I put in my time.” The controversy arose four years ago when the Boston Globe found there was no evidence that showed Bush fulfilled his duties between May 1972 and May 1973. Bush told Russert “There may be no evidence, but I did report.”

Bush also defended his economic policies despite the surging national deficit. He claimed he would cut the deficit in half in five years.

Bush’s performance was criticized by many.

Writing on the Wall Street Journal website, conservative commentator Peggy Noonan wrote that Bush was not impressive. “The president seemed tired, unsure and often bumbling. His answers were repetitive, and when he tried to clarify them he tended to make them worse. He did not seem prepared.”

John Podesta head of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress said “President Bush sought to restore his credibility today and he clearly failed to do so.”

  • Walter Robinson, editor of the Pulitzer Prize winning Boston Globe Spotlight team. He has been reporting with the Globe for nearly three decades. Read his original article.
  • Christopher Scheer, co-author of “The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq.”
  • Rober Scheer, columnist at the Los Angeles Times and co-author of “The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq.”


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AMY GOODMAN: President Bush gave an hour-long interview to Tim Russert on Meet the Press. He defended his decision to invade Iraq; he defended George Tenet, his National Guard service, his tax cuts and economic policies. The interview was the first of its kind for Bush during his presidency. It was held Saturday in the oval office, and aired in full on Sunday morning. Today we’re going to take a look at some of Bush’s comments, and we’ll continue to do that through the week.

We’re going to begin with Tim Russert’s questioning of Bush on his Vietnam era service in the National Guard.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. President, this campaign is fully engaged. The chairman of the democratic national committee, Terrence McAuliffe said this last week. “I look forward to the debate, when john Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of metals, stands next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama national guard. He didn’t show up when he should have showed up.” How do you respond?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Political season is here. I was serving in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I had an honorable discharge. I have heard this…I have heard this ever since I started running for office. I have put in my time, proudly so. I would be careful to not denigrate the guard. It’s fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I would not denigrate service to the guard, and the reason I wouldn’t is there’s a lot of fine people who are serving in the National Guard and serving today in Iraq.

TIM RUSSERT: the Boston Globe and the Associated Press have gone through the records and said there’s no evidence that you reported for duty in Alabama in the summer and fall of 1972.

PRESIDENT BUSH: They’re just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report. Otherwise I would not have been honorably discharged. You don’t just say I did something without there being verification. The military doesn’t work that way. I got an honorable discharge. And I did show up in Alabama.

TIM RUSSERT: You did…you were allowed to leave eight months before your term expired. Was there a reason?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I was going to Harvard Business School and worked it out with the military.

TIM RUSSERT: When allegations were made about John McCain and Wesley Clark and their military records, they opened up their entire files. Would you agree to do that?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. People have been looking for these files for a long time. Trust me. Starting in the 1994 campaign for governor, and I can assure you in the year 2000, people are looking for those files as well. Probably you as well. Absolutely. I mean…

TIM RUSSERT: would you allow, pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. If we still have them. The records are kept in Colorado as I understand, and they have scoured the records. I’m just telling you, I did my duty. It’s politics to ascribe all kinds of motives to me. But I have been through it before. I’m used to it. But what I don’t like is when people say serving in the guard is…may not be true service.

TIM RUSSERT: But you authorize release of everything to settle this?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Absolutely. We did so in 2000, by the way.

TIM RUSSERT: Were you in favor of the war in Vietnam.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I support supported my government. I did. I would have gone had my unit been called up, by the way.

TIM RUSSERT: But you didn’t volunteer or enlist to go.

PRESIDENT BUSH: No I didn’t. You’re right. I served; I flew fighters and enjoyed it. And I provided a service to our country. In those days we had what’s called the air defense command and was part of the air defense command system. The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back is that it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions. It’s lessons that any president must learn, and that is to set the goal and objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. Those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush being questioned by Tim Russert on Meet the Press. We turn now to Walter Robinson, who is a Boston Globe editor, head of the Pulitzer prize-winning Spotlight Team at The Globe. He has been reporting for the Boston Globe newspaper for 3 decades. Welcome to Democracy Now!

WALTER ROBINSON: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: You are the reporter who broke the story on president Bush’s military record in 2000. Can you respond to what he says about his service?

WALTER ROBINSON: Well, what the president said yesterday didn’t shed any new light on the situation. He claims that he did put in his time. The question was narrowly focused on a six-month period when he was in Alabama, away from his Texas base, and whether he attended drills in Alabama. What we found, and what the records show, is that for an entire year, from May of 1972, to May of 1973, Bush attended no drills, either in Alabama, which he was supposed to do, or when he returned to Texas for the first six months of 1973. So, there was a year’s period when First Lieutenant Bush, who had been trained as a pilot of an F-102 fighter interceptor jet didn’t perform his duty.

AMY GOODMAN: What about his records? The opening of his records?

WALTER ROBINSON: Well, you know, first of all, the privacy rules apply. If you ask formally for anybody’s military records, all you get is three or four pages. The Globe and subsequently other news organizations during the last campaign obtained roughly 160 to 170 pages of his records. Some of the items are redacted. For instance, the question to which we now know the answer, “have you ever been arrested?” He had been for driving under the influence in Maine when he was a young man. But the records that we do have, and they do not include pay stubs which would prove the point absolutely whether he appeared, show that his attendance was in fact lacking for a year. And we interviewed the commanders in both Alabama and Texas, and they say, and the records confirm this, that he was not observed for that year. There’s a document in the records from the two colonels who were his superiors at the Texas base, one of whom was a friend of his, who say in may of 1973 in the document, we could not review Lieutenant Bush’s performance for the last year, because he has not been seen at this base.

AMY GOODMAN: Was there anything that surprised you about his response to the question?

WALTER ROBINSON: Not really. I guess I expected with all of the powers of the presidency that they would have…if there was anybody in either unit in Alabama or Texas who could stand up and testify that he in fact appeared for duty during that period that that person or those persons would have been found by now. And the president essentially said yesterday that, you know, whatever the records show, I insist that I showed up and that’s it.

AMY GOODMAN: Walter Robinson, I want to thank you for being with us, editor of the Boston Globe, broke the story on Bush’s military service for four years ago and continues to write about it. You are listening to Democracy Now! As we turn now to another statement of George Bush during the interview.

PRESIDENT BUSH: It’s too late in this new kind of war. That’s why I made the decision I made.

TIM RUSSERT: Mr. President, the director of the CIA said his briefs had qualifiers and caveats, but when you spoke to the country, you said there was no doubt. When Vice President Cheney spoke to the country, he said there’s no doubt. Secretary Powell–no doubt. Secretary Rumsfeld–no doubt. We know where the weapons are. You said, quote, “the Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency. Saddam Hussein is a threat that we must deal with as quickly as possible.” You gave the clear sense that this was an immediate threat that must be dealt with.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think if I might remind that you, that in my language, I also called it a grave and gathering threat, but I don’t want to get in word contest, but I do want to share with you my sentiment at the time. There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America. No doubt.

TIM RUSSERT: In what way?

PRESIDENT BUSH: He had the capacity to have a weapon, make a weapon. We thought he had weapons. The international community thought he had weapon, but he had the capacity to make a weapon and then let the weapon fall into the hands of a shadowy terrorist network. It’s important for people to understand the context in which I made the decision here in the oval office. I’m dealing with a world in which we have gotten struck by terrorists with airplanes, and we get intelligence saying that they want to harm America. The worst nightmare scenario for any president is to realize that these terrorist networks have the capacity to arm up with some of these deadly weapons. And then strike us. And the president of the United States has the solemn responsibility to keep this country secure. And the man was a threat, and we dealt with him. And we dealt with him because we cannot hope for the best. We cannot say, “let’s don’t deal with Saddam Hussein. Let’s hope he changes his stripes or let’s trust in the goodwill of Saddam Hussein. You know, let’s let us–you know, try to contain him.” Containment doesn’t work with a man who is a madman. Remember, Tim, he had used weapons against his own people.

TIM RUSSERT: But, can you launch a preemptive war without ironclad, absolute intelligence that he had weapons of mass destruction?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Take a step back for a second. There’s no such thing necessarily in a dictatorial regime of ironclad, absolutely solid evidence. The evidence I had was the best possible evidence that he had a weapon.

TIM RUSSERT: But it may have been wrong?

PRESIDENT BUSH: What wasn’t wrong is the fact that he had the ability to make a weapon.

TIM RUSSERT: But this is an important point. When you say that he had biological and chemical weapons, and unmanned aerial vehicles…

PRESIDENT BUSH: Which he had…

TIM RUSSERT: …and they could come and attack the United States. You are saying to the American people, “We have to deal now with a man who has these things.”

PRESIDENT BUSH: That’s exactly what I said.

TIM RUSSERT: If that’s not the case, do you believe that if you had gone into the congress and said, “he should be removed because he is a threat to his people, but I’m not sure he has weapons of mass destruction,” congress would authorize war?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I went to congress with the same intelligence…congress saw the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at. And they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had. The same information, by the way that my predecessor had, and all of us…you know, we all made this judgment that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed. But, you mentioned preemption. If I might…I went to the United Nations and said, “here’s what we know, at this moment. And you need to act. After all, you were the body that issued resolution after resolution after resolution and he ignored those resolutions. So when you mention preemption, it almost sounds like saying, “Mr. President, you decided to move.” What I decided to do is go to the international community and see if we could not disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully under international pressure. You remember, the U.N. Security council resolution 1441 clearly stated: show us your arms, and destroy them. Or show us your programs and destroy them. We said, there are serious consequences if you don’t. That was a unanimous verdict. The U.N. Security Council said we’re unanimous, and you’re a danger, so it wasn’t just me and The United States. The world thought he was dangerous and needed to be disarmed. Of course, he defied the world once again.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush being questioned by NBC’s Tim Russert yesterday on Meet the Press. When we come back from our break we’ll be joined by Robert and Christopher Scheer to respond.

AMY GOODMAN: To respond to President Bush’s rare interview, we are joined by Christopher and Robert Scheer. They are co-authors of the book, along with Lakshmi Chaudhry, of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq. Christopher Scheer is a staff writer at AlterNet, an alternative news and commentary website and Robert Scheer the long-time columnist for The Los Angeles Times has written six books, is currently clinical professor of communications at The Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s start with you, Robert, your response.

ROBERT SCHEER: Well, what you had here is a lesson in Lying 101. He isn’t a very good student. The lie about the National Guard is that yes, we should respect the National Guard. Most National Guard people now are stuck in Iraq, broken away from their families. They don’t get to get to the Harvard Business School. They don’t get to disappear for six months working on a campaign in Alabama, and no one covers for them. They’d be thrown in jail. They would be thrown this jail if they acted the way the president acted. But the biggest lie and the one that Russert didn’t expose is the president said he went to the U.N., we had to go, there was urgency. Nonsense! That’s the big lie. U.N. Inspectors were crawling all over Iraq at the time. They were in Saddam Hussein’s bathrooms. They were interviewing anyone they wanted to see. And if Bush had some tips as to where the weapons were, they should have shared it with the U.N. Instead, he said that the U.N. was not doing its job. He denigrated Hans Blix and said we have to act now. The reason they had to act now is they knew damn well that Hans Blix was not going to find anything and there weren’t any weapons. It was clear on a CIA posting, quite early with all those caveats that they were not likely to find these weapons. Instead, they went with the wisdom of two or three experts from the émigrés who were desperate to get in power in a country they hadn’t seen for decades. And we went with their story. But to my mind, the sad thing about that NBC program, even though Russert was tough on a number of questions, is that he dropped the ball on the biggest question. You had no evidence of ties with September 11. The U.N. was doing its job. There was no reason for an invasion at that time. And you did it for political reasons. Did you the very thing you said that was wrong with the Vietnam War-that the Vietnam War was fought for political reasons. There’s never been a more political war. There was no military justification. It was done to boost your sagging ratings in the polls and to make you seem tough and heroic when the nation was scared over September 11. You undermined the war against terrorism by diverting our attention from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. We now know that Pakistan, which does have weapons of mass destruction, had supplied them to Iran, North Korea and Libya. That was admitted this week. Yet, this president lifted the sanctions on Pakistan. We have not gone after Pakistan. We have not gone after Saudi Arabia. They were the backers for the Taliban and Bin Laden. This president knows and has even admitted that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein was tied to the event that shocked the American people. Yet, he exploited it. He played a shell game and took the fear in one direction and he exploited it for political advantage, whether to even a old score or grab the oil, whatever your theory is, to a country that had nothing to do with September 11, which is Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Scheer, you co-authored this book, The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq. How did the lie, what you call the lies, fit in with what President Bush said this weekend?

CHRISTOPHER SCHEER: I mean, many of the lies that we deal with, I mean…

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you enumerate them?

CHRISTOPHER SCHEER: We deal with the biggest one is number one, which are the ties to Al Quaeda, which didn’t exist, the idea that this is part of the war on terror. To me, that’s the thing that he has been driving on since the state of the union, and again with Russert, is that it doesn’t matter what you “principled people” as you said in the state of the union who are against war, it doesn’t matter about the weapons of mass destruction. My trump card, as I have been playing it since September 11 is the word 9-11, is the words war on terror. As long as I’m a wartime president. As you said in your intro, he mentioned this over and over in the state of the union, over and over again-we are at war! We are at war! We are at war! As long as he can use that code word, then for the American people and for him, the ends justify the means. And so it doesn’t ultimately matter whether he had the weapons or didn’t. All he has to say is “in war we do what we have to do.” The other lies that we enumerate in the book are the big lie about the chemical and biological weapons. A) That they were dangerous to the United States. B) That they were there. C) That they still worked; all of these lies that we enumerate in the book are now falling apart. Nuclear weapons didn’t exist. Now he is still is repeating the idea they could capably make a weapon than could end up in the shadowy terrorist networks. Well, the fact is they couldn’t make a nuclear weapon. And so, therefore, there wasn’t going to be, as Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and others have said, a nuclear mushroom cloud over Manhattan. And as Bob said yesterday, Saddam Hussein by himself, while a danger to his people, you light him in the middle of Manhattan, nobody dies. There’s a big difference from being Saddam Hussein in allegedly being a weapons of mass destruction himself as Joe Lieberman said, and actually having those weapons. So, you know, he repeats the same lies ad nauseum until it sinks in somehow.

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