George W. Bush on Iraq, Afghanistan: Drones Alone Would Not Have Defeated Taliban, ‘We Needed Boots on the Ground’

If former President George W. Bush had it to do all over again, he would still send troops into Iraq and Afghanistan.

“If I thought it was a better strategy, I would have used it in the first place. I didn’t think so,” Bush told ABC News’ Bob Woodruff in an exclusive interview Sunday. “I don’t think you could have removed the Taliban from power by using only drones. We needed boots on the ground.”

“One of the interesting things about history,” he continued, “It’s hard to remember what things were like ten years ago.”

To the 30 percent of service members who, in a recent Pew Research Center poll, said that the wars weren’t worth fighting, Bush had this to say: “I hope history proves them wrong.”

“The only way for there to be peace is for free societies to emerge. And, you know, history takes a while to unfold,” he said. “I happen to think it was worth fighting. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have put them into combat.”

The veterans with whom he has met have all indicated that they were “proud to serve …,” Bush said in an wide ranging interview that touched on his book, the decisions he made as president and his efforts to aid wounded veterans through the George W. Bush Institute.

The interview took place head of the Bush Institute’s 2011 Warrior Open, a golf tournament in suburban Dallas for military service members who were severely injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The tournament began today and continues through Tuesday.

Asked if he had any advice for President Barack Obama on how to handle the troubles in the economy, but the former two-term president refused to weigh in on any current policy matters.

“I don’t want to criticize my successor. He’s got a tough enough job as it is,” he said.

He also wouldn’t comment on the current campaign for the next GOP presidential candidate.

Bush said he’d “strongly support” his party’s nominee, and added that he was comfortable remaining out of the spotlight, except for special occasions.

“Listen, I loved being president. But there’s a time to get off the stage. And I had eight years in the White House. And I gave it my all. And, and I’m through,” he said. “It may be hard for some people to realize, but for me, politics is not addictive in the sense that, you know, I need to stay actively engaged in it. I don’t.”

Asked if he would still commit American troops in the Middle East if he knew how many casualties would result, the president replied that he would.

“I think that the removal of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein was international interests. It made us safer … You make the best judgment call you can at the time. And I believe those were the right decisions to make,” he said.

Woodruff asked him if he still felt that way, even after it was revealed that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction. That was a key reason for the U.S. going to war, but it was later proven that much of the intelligence upon which the U.S. government relied as a justification for war was later proved to be faulty.

“No, there were no weapons. And of course, that was discouraging,” Bush said. “But that man (Saddam Hussein) had the capability of making them.”

Four organizations that supported the recovery and rehabilitation of 2011 Warrior Open competitors and their families will be recognized during the golfing event. The organizations are Hope For The Warriors, Salute Military Golf Association, Semper Fi Fund and Troops First Foundation.

Bush said he had “a special kinship” with the veterans.

“I love these guys, love the women in service. And to the extent that I can help them, I will,” he said. “To the extent that I can herald their courage, I will. And the two ways I’ve chosen to do so are riding mountain bikes and playing golf.”

The Warrior Open is the second of two events of the Bush Center’s Military Service Initiative emphasizing the importance of sports — such as mountain biking and golf — to the rehabilitation process for many of those seriously injured on the front lines.

According to the Associated Press, more than 1,680 military members have died in Afghanistan since the U.S. began bombing there in October 2001, while more than 4,470 military members have died in Iraq since the war began there in March 2003. Another 46,000 have been wounded in both campaigns.