President Bush regrets his legacy as man who wanted war
George Bush said he regretted the divisions caused by his rhetoric
Tom Baldwin and Gerard Baker in Ljubljana
President Bush has admitted to The Times that his gun-slinging rhetoric made the world believe that he was a “guy really anxious for war” in Iraq. He said that his aim now was to leave his successor a legacy of international diplomacy for tackling Iran.
In an exclusive interview, he expressed regret at the bitter divisions over the war and said that he was troubled about how his country had been misunderstood. “I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric.”
Phrases such as “bring them on” or “dead or alive”, he said, “indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace”. He said that he found it very painful “to put youngsters in harm’s way”. He added: “I try to meet with as many of the families as I can. And I have an obligation to comfort and console as best as I possibly can. I also have an obligation to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain.”
The unilateralism that marked his first White House term has been replaced by an enthusiasm for tough multilateralism. He said that his focus for his final six months in office was to secure agreement on issues such as establishing a Palestinian state and to “leave behind a series of structures that makes it easier for the next president”.
Mr Bush is concerned that the Democratic nominee Barack Obama might open cracks in the West’s united front towards Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. At the EU-US summit in Slovenia, he pressed for tougher sanctions against Iran unless it agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment programme verifiably: “They can either face isolation, or they can have better relations with all of us.”
Mr Bush told The Times that when his successor arrived and assessed “what will work or what won’t work in dealing with Iran”, he would stick with the current policy.
Shaul Mofaz, a hardline Israeli minister, has suggested that a military strike on Iran is “unavoidable”. But Mr Bush said: “We ought to work together, keep focused. His comments really should be viewed as the need to continue to keep pressuring Iran.”
The President was keen to bind his successor into a continued military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, but offered only cautious optimism about a recent decline in violence. Asked about corruption allegations dogging Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, Mr Bush insisted: “I have found him to be an honest man.”
He also offered words of encouragement for another ally, Gordon Brown, whom he will meet on Sunday. He said that he needed no advice on coping with political adversity. He is “plenty confident and plenty smart, plenty capable — he can sort it out”.
But he delivered a thinly veiled warning to Mr Obama that his promises to renegotiate or block international trade deals were already causing alarm in Europe and beyond.
“There is concern about protectionism and economic nationalism,” he said. “Leaders recognise now is the time to get ahead of this issue before it becomes engrained in the political systems of our respective countries.”
Acknowledging that his refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol once created consternation in Europe, he said that there was now a recognition that that richer countries needed to “transfer out of the hydrocarbon economy”. He insisted, however, that any binding emission targets would have to include China and India to be workable.
The President knows that Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain will have to distance himself from the current Administration. "He's an independent person who will make his decisions on what he thinks is best."
Asked if the US is ready for a black president, Mr Bush says: "I think the fact that the Democratic Party nominated Barack Obama is a statement about how far America has come.
"Having that all that, it's going to be important for the American people to figure out who can handle the task of the 21st Century. It's a challenging job."