Bill O’Reilly interviewed former President George W. Bush today to coincide with the release of “Decision Points,” Bush’s memoir of his years in office. Most interesting were Bush’s comments about Iraq and Afghanistan - and about the media.
O’Reilly asked Bush about the decision to invade Iraq, and whether he had regrets, given the unintended consequences.
Bush said he did not, and pointed out the “intended consequences were also tremendous.”
He spoke of “25 million people liberated” and “a dictatorship that was a threat to America no longer is” as well as a “chance to have a transformative moment in the middle east.”
This middle east commentator could not help but be moved to hear, after all the blood, sweat, toil, and tears, the original thought, the rationale, articulated. To say it is not to be callous about the monumental sacrifices of brave U.S. troops. To the contrary, whether one supports U.S. policy in Iraq or not, to acknowledge the more idealistic reasons for U.S. efforts there and in Afghanistan is to honor both our troops and the people they are assisting to build better lives.
Indeed, tonight on FOX, Bush showed his vintage resolve and certainty. Asked if he had been nervous to champion the troop surge when so few supported his plan, Bush indicated he had not been. “I was convinced,” he said, “if we didn’t put more troops in we’d lose and the consequences would be catastrophic.”
In that vein, he discussed Afghanistan as well as Iraq, saying “I’m optimistic democracy will prevail.” He emphasized democracy-building in both places will take time and added, “I’m not optimistic if we leave [Iran and Afghanistan] soon.” (Words we would be well-advised to heed as our nation and our new President ponder our commitments in both countries).
Asked if the continuous personal attacks “accusing you of being a criminal” had bothered him, he said no.
“What fundamentally matters is, can you look back and say, ‘Did you stick to your principles and did you strengthen the office?’” Bush said. “When I looked in the mirror I knew I didn’t sell my soul.”
He also told O’Reilly, “I harbor no resentment toward the media.”
I have been thinking lately that George W. Bush is the one commander-in-chief of recent memory to never disparage the Fourth Estate. This is a supreme irony, given that Bush was surely the President to receive the worst savaging in our media. Not only his policies, but his intelligence and his integrity were attacked continually from virtually every major media outlet in the country. As his term wore on, he became a kind of national laughingstock; as O’Reilly reminded him this evening, many on the left characterized him as a “war criminal” for instituting polices that President Barack Obama has maintained without being demonized.
Nixon, on leaving office, thundered the press would not have Nixon to “kick around” anymore. If memory serves, Bill Clinton, who was also savaged, complained bitterly about the media, as did Hillary about the alleged “vast right wing conspiracy.” Recently President Barack Obama complained of being treated like “a dog” by the press. And yet, during his term, whenever anyone asked W. about the vociferous protests against him he would simply nod and acknowledge the protestors’ First Ammendment rights. And even now, this former President, branded as dummy, war criminal, election-stealer, murderer, and lunatic, when asked about his views on the media, says he bears no resentment.
Is it possible George W.Bush has a deeper and more visceral grasp of the role of the press as a watchdog of government than those Presidents previously named? That he is simply a more secure individual than they? Would that the press had done a better job upholding our sacred obligation to ask rigorous questions and conduct balanced examinations and analyses of policy rather than engaging in baseless personal attack and unsubstantiated smears (recall the Dan Rather debacle) of a President who showed the utmost understanding of our role.
Say what you will about the man. But when it came to dealing with the press, President George W. Bush - or ‘W,’ as he good-naturedly accepted our branding of him, was - and remains - a class act.
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