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A Course of 'Confident Action'

"One of my jobs is to be provocative," he said. "Seriously, to provoke people into -- to force decisions, and to make sure it's clear in everybody's mind where we're headed. There was a certain rhythm and flow to this, and I was beginning to get a little frustrated. . . . It was just not coming together as quickly as we had hoped. And I was trying to force the issue without compromising safety."

Did he ever explain what he was doing?

"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)

"Of course not," he said. "I'm the commander -- see, I don't need to explain -- I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

Later in the interview, he described how he sees his role another way. "I guess it's just I've tried to think a step ahead. A president must do that. And the other job of -- that I have is to ask questions to -- some of them may be the questions that aren't worth asking, but nevertheless, I'm not afraid to ask them. That's one of the things that I'm now very comfortable with. There is no such thing as a dumb question, by me or anybody else on our team."

Full of self-confidence himself, he said he wanted his aides to be just as convinced of what they are doing. "I don't need people around me who are not steady," he said.

Bush said he doesn't expect everyone in his war cabinet to have the same opinion. "I've grown very comfortable with them as human beings and as people that were capable of handling their responsibilities. And therefore I -- and when they give advice, I trust their judgment. Now sometimes the advice isn't always the same, in which case my job -- look, the job is to grind through these problems and grind through scenarios, and hopefully reach a consensus of six or seven smart people, which makes my job easy."

"Sometimes," he admitted, "I get in there and talk too much in these meetings, where I just kind of blow off steam. I say that because that is -- that is not a good habit at times. It is very important to create an environment in which people feel comfortable about speaking their mind."

Rice, who sat in on the interview, interjected that after Bush leaves a meeting, "then we butt heads a little."

"And that's good, by the way," Bush said. " It is -- if everybody had the same opinion and the same prejudices and the same belief structure, it would be a dull administration. I would not get the best advice."

But the media, he said, invariably had an effect on people. "I don't read the editorial pages. I don't -- the hyperventilation that tends to take place over those cables, and every expert and every former colonel, and all that, is just background noise."

He said he realized, however, that not everyone could tune it out. "We've got these very strong people on the National Security Council who do get affected by what people say about them in the press."

A lesson Bush said he learned from his father's presidency was how to organize his own White House. He said he had established a system so that five aides -- Rice, former communications director Karen Hughes, political aide Karl Rove, chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and press secretary Ari Fleischer -- could see him on the spur of the moment. "All power should not go through an individual at the Oval Office," he said.

He had learned this from observing his father's presidency, especially during the first three years when the chief of staff, John Sununu, controlled access with such an iron first that those with bad news often couldn't get through.

Bush added that he does not think access to the president should be confined to the senior staff, because "part of the job satisfaction of being a White House staffer is the capacity to talk to the president one-on-one."

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