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'BUSH AT WAR' | An Expansive World View

A Course of 'Confident Action'

Bush Says Other Countries Will Follow Assertive U.S. in War on Terrorism

By Bob Woodward
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 19, 2002; Page A01

This report is adapted from an interview for the book, "Bush at War," an inside account of the debate within the Bush administration that led to U.S. military action in Afghanistan and the decision to confront Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Simon & Schuster ©2002 by Bob Woodward.

President Bush has outlined an expansive, even grandiose, view of the role the United States must play in combating terrorism and tyranny that suggests a tension in his own mind -- and the minds of his aides -- between the need for international cooperation and the belief that at times this country will have to act alone.

"A president has got to be the calcium in the backbone," Bush told Bob Woodward. "If I weaken, the whole team weakens." (Eric Draper -- The White House)

"We're never going to get people all in agreement about force and use of force," he said in an interview. "But action -- confident action that will yield positive results -- provides kind of a slipstream into which reluctant nations and leaders can get behind and show themselves that there has been -- you know, something positive has happened toward peace."

It is perhaps Bush's most direct statement on the need for unilateral action by the United States as the shaping force in the world. The interview took place Aug. 20, before the president adapted a more internationalist approach in the confrontation with Iraq by seeking -- and winning -- a United Nations resolution to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. At the time, he said, he had not made up his mind about what steps should be taken against Iraq.

"As we think through Iraq," he said, "we may or may not attack. I have no idea yet. But it will be for the objective of making the world more peaceful."

In the 21/2-hour interview at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., Bush, dressed informally in jeans, a short-sleeved shirt and cowboy boots, answered a variety of questions about the war on terrorism, his management style and the lessons he learned from his father's presidency.

Reflecting on his own personality, he described himself at various points as "fiery," "impatient," "a gut player" who liked to "provoke" people around him and someone who likes to talk -- perhaps too much -- in meetings. He admitted that first lady Laura Bush had told him to tone down the "tough guy" rhetoric on terrorism. And he said he had a clear idea of his own priorities.

"First of all," he said, "a president has got to be the calcium in the backbone. If I weaken, the whole team weakens. If I'm doubtful, I can assure you there will be a lot of doubt."

But it was his vision of the broad global role he says the United States must play that seemed to reflect a change in his thinking since the world -- and his presidency -- was transformed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"At this moment in history, if there is a world problem, we're expected to deal with it," the president said. "It's the price of power. It is the price of where the United States stands. We will."

The problems Bush believes the United States must confront are not just strategic, but also humanitarian.

"Let me see if I can articulate this," Bush said. "Yes, in some ways it is, that a person that thinks in terms of liberating a country, and at the same time fighting a war, is someone who also understands that we've got to deal with suffering."

It was for this reason, Bush said, that he had pressed Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to drop humanitarian aid into Afghanistan before the U.S. bombing campaign began.

"I was sensitive to this [accusation] that this was a religious war, and that somehow the United States would be the conqueror. And I wanted us to be viewed as the liberator," Bush said. Humanitarian concerns, he said, were also behind the necessity of confronting Iraq and North Korea.

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