BAGHDAD, Dec. 14, 2008— -- President George W. Bush spoke with ABC News' Martha Raddatz Sunday following an incident in which an Iraqi reporter threw two shoes at the president. Bush told Raddatz he wasn't insulted by the shoe-throwing, and that stranger things have happened to him.
He also spoke about his legacy, standing by the invasion of Iraq as the right thing to do, but also saying his presidency was about a lot more than taking down Saddam Hussein.
The full transcript of the interview follows:
Martha Raddatz: Let's start with what just happened. And that is someone threw a shoe at you, whether it's an Iraqi reporter?
President Bush: Yeah, I think it's a reporter. At least that's what they told me on the way out, that it's a person who works in the Iraqi press, stands up and throws his shoe. And it was amusing. I mean, I've seen a lot of weird things during my presidency and this may rank up there as one of the weirdest. On the other hand, I do remember when the president of China came to the South Lawn, and a member of the press corps started yelling. I think it was Falun Gong slogans at the Chinese president. So this happens and it's a sign of a free society.
Raddatz: It's also considered a huge insult in this world, the sole of a shoe, throwing a shoe.
Bush: I guess. Look they were humiliated. The press corps, the rest of the Iraqi press corps was humiliated. These guys were just besides themselves about, they felt like he had disgraced their entire press corps and I frankly, I didn't view it as, I thought it was interesting, I thought it was unusual to have a guy throw his shoe at you. But I'm not insulted. I don't hold it against the government. I don't think the Iraqi press corps as a whole is terrible. And so, the guy wanted to get on TV and he did. I don't know what his beef is. But whatever it is I'm sure somebody will hear it.
Raddatz: Let's talk about this trip. Your last trip to the region as president. Your last trip to Iraq. Surely your legacy will be largely about this war. Talk to me about how that feels being here? The last trip and what you really think that legacy will be.
Bush: Well, first of all I think a president's legacy is going to take time. We've accomplished a lot in my administration. Like No Child Left Behind; 52 months of uninterrupted job growth; PEPFAR, which is the AIDS initiative in Africa; fighting malaria, where there's poverty; faith based; I mean there a lot that people will be able to judge this administration on.
Clearly, one of the most important parts of my job because of 9/11 was to defend the security of the American people. There have been no attacks since I have been president, since 9/11. One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take ...
Raddatz: But not until after the U.S. invaded.
Bush: Yeah, that's right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they're going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand. And they're becoming defeated and I think history will say, one, the world was better off without Saddam, two, along with the Iraqi troops we have denied al Qaeda a safe haven because a young democracy is beginning to grow, which will be an important sign for people in the Middle East.
Raddatz: Just let me go back because you brought this up. You said Saddam Hussein posed a threat in the post-9/11 world. They didn't find weapons of mass destruction.
Bush: That's true. Everybody thought they had them.
Raddatz: So what threat?
Bush: Saddam Hussein was the sworn enemy of the United States. He had been enriched by oil revenues. He was a sponsor of terror. I have never claimed like some said that he -- you know, oh, that he was directly involved with the attacks on 9/11, but he did support terrorists. And, uh, Saddam Hussein had the capability making weapons of mass destruction.
I did not have the luxury of knowing he did not have them, neither did the rest of the world until after we had come and removed him.
Raddatz: So would you have gone in anyway?
Bush: … Excuse me for a minute. And finally we gave Hussein a peaceful way out. It was his choice. And when he refused to allow for inspections, when he refused to disclose or disarm, then a large coalition of troops took him out. And ...
Now the question is are we going to stay and help this young democracy thrive. What happened was after Saddam leaves, al Qaeda says this is the second front in the war on terror. And I take the words of a terrorist leader seriously and ... so we have worked with the Iraqis to try to help their democracy grow and thrive [and] at the same time eliminate al Qaeda safe havens.
Raddatz: Did you imagine it would -- the war would go the way it went? And you'd be sitting here today with signing a SOFA, a ...
Bush: First of all, it has taken longer then we hoped and it is more expensive then we had hoped, so in one way I guess I was -- it didn't meet expectations.
However I am pleased that we are now in a position to have signed these agreements. Because it's a signal of success, but there were some pretty tough moments and you know better than anyone because you covered them during 2006.
I had a tough call to make and that was whether or not to pull back and hope the chaos didn't spread beyond certain parts of Iraq and beyond the borders of Iraq or send more troops in order to achieve victory and I chose the latter and the signing of these agreements, the strategic forces agreement and the SOFA, I mean the strategic framework agreement and the SOFA is a sign of success. I was asked does this mean, you know, are you taking a victory lap. No, it means that this is a stable platform to continue forward.
Raddatz: [You] said again and again -- that there would be no arbitrary timetable.
Raddatz: Three years now ... and they want U.S. forces out, why is that signal the enemy something with timetables?
Bush: What I talked about timetables, was a political timetable imposed upon Iraq by people who didn't think we should have been in there in the first place. This is an agreement between the sovereign government of Iraq and the U.S. government with the considered judgment of our military commanders at the core of, uh, of the agreement. It basically says that the situation is such that we can start bringing our troops home now and should be complete by 2011.
Raddatz: Obama's plan -- he still says 16 months -- think it is a possibility?
Bush: His plan -- the numbers didn't come up -- but one of the things I assured the Iraqi government of is that President-elect Obama is, uh, will honor the agreements that we have just signed -- and I think it is very important for them to know he is obviously going to listen to the commanders. He will listen to [Defense] Secretary Gates and Gen. Petraeus, Gen. Odierno, but ... I'm not gong to speak for President-elect Obama. That is what he will do for himself, once he is sworn in as president.
Raddatz: His nominee for cabinet member for V.A. -- Shinseki, what did think of that appointment?
Bush: I thought it was in many ways a brilliant appointment because Gen. Shinseki served with great distinction and he is an honorable man and cares deeply about the vets and he is obviously capable of managing entities and the VA is a large entity.
Raddatz: Think he was treated fairly in your administration by [former Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld? Should you have listened to him?
Bush: I did listen to Gen. Shinseki when he came in with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They came in and spoke to me in the Cabinet room and every member of the joint chiefs had their say.
Raddatz: He said we need several hundred troops. To stabilize this country...
Bush: I can't remember the exact conversation, but that one does not...
Raddatz: Do you think he was treated fairly?
Bush: Wait a minute, let me finish your penetrating question please. You, you, you, I, I must confess, I don't remember those exact words being spoken to me by Gen. Shinseki. I must confess I don't remember those exact words being spoken to me, by Gen. Shi… he may have said it.
Raddatz: He was on the Hill...
Bush: I don't remember him coming to talk to me specifically with the other generals on the joint chiefs, but I just don't remember that conversation. It may have happened at the White House, I don't think so, but it could have. He's an honorable man and I appreciate his service
Raddatz: Afghanistan deteriorated -- your concerns?
Bush: No question the violence is up because the Taliban is making firm moves. In Afghanistan, you said it is deteriorating? It is no question though, no question there is a need for more troops, which I announced earlier this fall, but also no question that we will succeed.
Raddatz: Did you ever imagine your presidency ending, and I know it's not over yet, without capturing Osama bin Laden?
Bush: We have done great damage to al Qaeda. We have denied them safe havens, a safe haven in Iraq. We are pursuing them in Pakistan. We have got them on the run. We're keeping the pressure on them full time. And do I wish we had brought Osama bin Laden to justice, sure. But he's not leading a lot of parades these days.