Bush: 'Presidents Don't Get Do-Overs'

ByABC News
September 7, 2006, 2:49 PM

Sept. 7, 2006 — -- Charles Gibson spent time with President Bush this morning onboard Air Force One. They flew from Washington to Atlanta, where the president gave the latest in a series of speeches about the war on terror. The following is an excerpt from their conversation:

Charles Gibson: Mr. President, five years ago after the attacks of 9/11, we had unprecedented passion for this country. We had support for this country from all over the world.

President Bush: Um-Hmm.

Gibson: On Capitol Hill we had Democrats hugging Republicans, we had Republicans hugging Democrats. How did we lose all that?

Bush: You know, when you have Republicans hugging Democrats, it really does inspire the nation. I think we have some campaigns to come between now and then. You know, we're a democracy we got two political parties competing, uh, and unfortunately politics oftentimes enters into the equation, and my job is to hopefully raise the debate above politics and continue to rally the nation to protect ourselves, and at the same time to lay the foundation of peace but overseas sometimes people agree with the decisions I make and sometimes they don't.

One of the things that the American people have got to understand is that for people overseas, many people overseas, 9/11 was a terrible moment. For us, or for me, and my administration, and for many Americans, it was a change of life, it was a different way of looking at the world, and so in order to protect ourselves, in order to advance what I believe is going to be peace, I made some hard decisions that not everybody agreed with.

Gibson: But isn't the simple answer to that question really one word, what divided the world against us and what's divided us politically? That word being Iraq?

Bush: No question people are concerned about the war in Iraq. Nobody likes war, and I don't like war. But I have to make decisions that I think, are in the interests of this country, and one of the lessons of 9/11, you know, I was right here in this cabin, that I had time to reflect about that fateful day, I realized that we were at war. I also realized that it's really important for this nation to confront threats before they come to hurt us. Oceans couldn't protect us any more from an enemy that's willing to launch attacks and, uh, we saw a threat in the Taliban in Afghanistan, and removed them, and that was not necessarily a popular decision overseas.

I also saw a threat, just like many in the international community, in Saddam Hussein. No question the Iraq War has been a divisive, you know, war, but what the American people have got to understand is, is that failure in Iraq will exacerbate this war on terror, will come home to hurt us. John Abizaid was right when he said, if we believe [sic.] before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here. Success in Iraq will enable us to deal a major blow to an ideological enemy, and what I have called and firmly believe, is the is an ideological war.

Gibson: I heard you say just yesterday, "The hardest thing I have to do is to get people to understand how Iraq is a critical part of the war on terror."

President Bush: Right.

Gibson: And that's the one thing that I question, whether people do have any sense of that. For loathsome as he may have been, Saddam Hussein was not connected to al Qaeda, and he was not behind 9/11.

Bush: No, I understand that people ask, "How can this be a connection, between the war on terror and," you know, "How can Iraq be a connection when Saddam Hussein didn't order the attacks?" And you know, I understand that concern, because he didn't order the attacks. The enemy, however, believes that Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Osama bin Laden has called Iraq central to the war on terror. And if we lose, if this young democracy fails, the enemy will be emboldened. They will have resources in which to launch attacks. They have declared their desire to have a caliphate throughout the Middle East, and one of their targets is to topple modern governments.

Friends, moderates, reformers across the Middle East will say, "Where was the United States?" And so the stakes are incredibly high here, Charlie, and yes, this is a part of the war on terror. It is a central part of the war on terror.

Gibson: But the point that I make and that many of the critics make is that Iraq wasn't a part of the war on terror until we went in there.

Bush: I think we (overlap)

Gibson: Now because of Iraq, they're being produced, because (crosstalk)

Bush: I I listen, I understand it's dangerous and troublesome, but I think it's very important for the American people to ask, "Why, why is it that Osama bin Laden wants to drive us out of Iraq before this democracy can sustain itself?" One reason is they want a launching pad, another launching pad, a safe haven similar to Afghanistan. And the other reason is because Osama bin Laden recognizes that this is an ideological struggle, and the way to defeat an ideology of hate is with an ideology of hope, and that's liberty and democracy.