Jan. 13, 2005 — -- President Bush says he is "excited, hopeful and appreciative" as he prepares for his second term. The president is unwavering in his commitment to the war on terror, but he will be a bit more disciplined with his rhetoric in his second term, he told ABC News' Barbara Walters in an exclusive White House interview.
Watch Barbara Walters' full report Friday at 10 p.m. on "20/20."
"I watch what I say. ... I said some things in the first term that were probably a little blunt. 'Bring it on' was a little blunt. I was really speaking to our troops, but it came out and had a different connotation, different meanings for others," he told Walters.
Bush used the phrase in July 2003 to say U.S. troops would not be scared off by Iraqi insurgents' attacks. During the presidential election campaign, his rival, Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, used the line to criticize administration policy. "If the White House wants to make this election about national security, I have three words they understand: 'Bring, it, on!' "
More recently, guerrillas in Iraq have used the president's words in a propaganda video narrated in English, according to the Reuters news agency. The narrator of the video says, "George W. Bush, you have asked us to 'bring it on.' And so help me, [we will ] like you never expected. Do you have another challenge?" The video then shows explosions around a U.S. military vehicle.
Bush told Walters that the first lady criticized him for pledging after Sept. 11 to get al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden "dead or alive."
"I'll be more disciplined in how I say things," the president, adding, "I have to be cautious about conveying thoughts in a way that doesn't send wrong impressions about our country."
Bush repeated that his administration will continue to make the war on terror a priority and continue its pursuit of bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Despite the recent release of taped messages in which bin Laden suggests that more attacks on American interests are being plotted, Bush said he believes the al Qaeda leader "is not as strong as he was."
"He's going to be weaker, and I intend to use our resources to bring him to justice," the president said. "We will stay on the hunt."
The president also told Walters he has no regrets about his administration's decision to wage war in Iraq, despite inspectors' failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in the country -- the chief rationale for the March 2003 invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The White House acknowledged Wednesday that there is no longer an active search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The final report from chief U.S. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, due out next month, has concluded that "the former regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD."
The Bush administration does not hold out hopes that any weapons will ever be found.
"I felt like we'd find weapons of mass destruction -- like many here in the United States, many around the world. The United Nations thought he had weapons of mass destruction," Bush told Walters. "So, therefore: one, we need to find out what went wrong in the intelligence gathering. ... Saddam was dangerous and the world is safer without him in power."
Despite the deaths of more than 1,300 U.S. military personnel and the multibillion-dollar price tag, the ouster of Saddam justified the invasion, he said.
"The removal of Saddam Hussein has made America safer because a dictator, a tyrant, a thug, with whom we had been at war in the past, who was destabilizing a vital part of the world, who was paying the families of suicide bombers, is no longer in power," Bush said. "And he no longer has the capacity to reconstitute a weapons program. ... Yes, it's worth it."
The president and first lady also discussed the South Asian tsunami and the enormous humanitarian challenge it left in its wake. The tragedy has given Americans an opportunity to show the Muslim world their compassion, Bush said.
"Our public diplomacy efforts aren't very robust, aren't very good, compared to the public diplomacy efforts of those who would like to spread hatred and vilify the United States," he said.
Through America's outpouring of private and government contributions in response to the tsunami, which struck the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, hardest, Bush said, "Many in the Muslim world have seen a great compassion in the American people."
Through the presence of U.S. troops, aid organizations and money in the affected countries, "people are seeing the concrete actions of a compassionate country," he told Walters.
Bush's second-term inauguration will take place Jan. 20, just 10 days before Iraqis are set to vote in their first national elections since Saddam's overthrow. While the pending vote is fraught with danger, as insurgents continue to target U.S. troops and U.S.-trained Iraqi officers, Bush said he is committed to moving the political process forward in Iraq.
He said he had no timetable for the removal of U.S. troops, saying they need to stay to train more Iraqi troops. "We have to stay to train Iraqis so they can get rid of them. And I think that's how you solve this riddle," he said.
"It's a miracle they're voting, by the way, I think," he said. "What a spectacular three months when you think about it. Afghanistan had a vote. The Palestinians voted. And Iraqis will vote on the 30th, and right after that, we look forward to working the newly constituted assembly that will form a government."
In the presidential campaign, pundits characterized the country as largely polarized between Republican and Democratic states and Bush was criticized by Kerry as having failed to unite Americans during his first term.
While the president said he doesn't feel Americans are as divided as the media suggest, he said, "I intend to work to unite the country. People go out and explain their positions. No candidate gets 100 percent of the vote. In modern history, most elections are very close."
Chief among his domestic policy goals, Bush said, will be a major overhaul of the Social Security system. Bush has said he wants to foster an "ownership society," giving Americans more responsibility for managing their health care and retirement investments.
To avoid anticipated shortfalls in Social Security funds, Bush proposes restructuring the system by basing it partly on private accounts. "I believe the dynamics have shifted on Social Security … I believe there's a lot of young people in this country that want to see leadership, because they're pretty sure they'll never see a dime unless the system is strengthened and modernized."
Saying the system will be in the red by 2018 and broke by 2040, Bush said his first task will be to "convince Congress that we have a problem."
The first lady has her own goals for the next term as well. She said she'll continue to focus on education and encouraging more young people to pursue careers in teaching.
But, she said she wants to work with adolescents -- particularly adolescent boys. "I feel like over the last several decades maybe we've neglected boys a little bit," she told Walters.
Noting that more boys drop out of school than girls and that more girls are pursuing college degrees, the first lady told Walters, "I just think it's time for Americans to sort of shift our gaze to boys and see what we can do to nurture boys and give boys the life skills that maybe we automatically teach to girls but that I think boys are left out of."
Laura Bush said she is grateful that she and the president will have another four years to serve the country and that she feels blessed to have the privilege of living in the White House.
President Bush is still working on the speech he'll deliver at his second inauguration, but he agreed to share his thoughts with Walters on what he hopes his legacy will be.
"I hope that 50 years from now people will look back and say, 'Thank goodness old George W. stuck to his beliefs that freedom is an agent for change to make the world more peaceful and that all people deserve to be free.'"