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In Their Own Words

In Their Own Words

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By Carlos Lozada
Sunday, October 12, 2008

For an administration that initially was very tight-lipped and on-message, the Bush presidency has yielded an abundance of memoirs by insiders ranging from former White House aides to generals and diplomats. Each offers unique glimpses of the president:

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Smiling, casual, appearing completely unstressed and even more unwrinkled, and wearing a standard-issue dark blue suit, George W. Bush stood in front me. . . . Obviously, he said, things were in motion then that might lead him to seek the presidency. At the same time, he emphasized, he had no idea if he was going to run. That, he said, was something he would have to hear from God. . . . He spoke slowly, reflectively, quietly. He seemed to grapple with what was before him. "I don't know if I really want to do it . . . . I know what it means if you run. Then I know what happens if you win. I've seen it all up close. Do I want to spend the rest of my life in a bubble? . . . I'll never walk down a street alone. Never again." -- David Kuo, was deputy director of the White House's faith-based initiative. Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction (Free Press)

Embracing the Maestro

My first meeting with President-elect Bush took place on December 18, 2000, less than a week after the Supreme Court decision that enabled him to claim his election victory. . . . The situation had a familiar feel: I'd briefed five previous incoming presidents on the state of the economy, including, of course, the president-elect's father. In this instance, I was obliged to report that the short-term outlook was not good. For the first time in years, we seemed to be faced with the real possibility of recession. . . .

As breakfast ended, Bush asked me aside for a private word. "I want you to know," he said, "that I have full confidence in the Federal Reserve and we will not be second-guessing your decisions." I thanked him. . . . An Associated Press photo from that morning shows me smiling broadly, as if I'd just gotten good news. Indeed I had. -- Alan Greenspan, was chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World (Penguin Press)

Don't Know Much About Kim Dae-jung

President Bush made his first telephone call to President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea in February 2001. President Bush was reaching out to world leaders in a deliberate manner, giving priority to U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico and then to our allied partners. South Korea came fairly early in that sequence. When President Kim began telling the president about the need to engage North Korea, the president put his hand over the mouthpiece of the telephone and said, "Who is this guy? I can't believe how naive he is!" . . . Later that evening I got a call asking me to write a more expansive paper explaining to the president "who this guy is." -- Charles L. Pritchard, was special envoy to North Korea. Failed Diplomacy: The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb (Brookings)

September 12, 2001

Later, on the evening of the 12th, I left the Video Conferencing Center and there, wandering alone around the Situation Room, was the President. He looked like he wanted something to do. He grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference room. "Look," he told us, "I know you have a lot to do and all . . . but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way. . ."

I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr. President, al Qaeda did this."

"I know, I know, but . . . see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred. . . "

"Absolutely, we will look . . . again." I was trying to be more respectful, more responsive. "But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen."

"Look into Iraq, Saddam," the President said testily and left us. -- Richard A. Clarke, was the president's chief adviser on counterterrorism. Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (Free Press)

Beginning of the End

On December 18, [2002], ten days after Saddam's declaration [to the United Nations denying that Iraq has weapons of mass destrution], President Bush discussed it with his National Security Council. Powell led off, reporting that [chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans] Blix saw gaps in the Iraqi documents. All the Security Council members "recognize there are problems with the declaration," Powell reported, though the British did not want to call it a material breach. "I have no problem calling it a material breach," Powell announced, without explaining why, or what that would signify. Half-stating, half-asking, President Bush responded, "It's clear that Saddam is not cooperating." "That's right," Powell confirmed. The President took this as a grave judgment, and his face showed it. "That's a significant statement," he said. "It means it's the beginning of the end for the guy." -- Douglas Feith, was undersecretary of defense for policy. War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism (Harper)

Mission Accomplished

"Mr. Secretary," I said to Donald Rumsfeld. . . . "The British are going to hold a victory parade when their first combat units return from the Gulf. But our soldiers aren't going home yet. . . . It would be good if the President could acknowledge the success of major combat operations, Mr. Secretary." I tried to find the right words. "The troops have accomplished every mission we gave them. There's never been a combat operation as successful as Iraqi Freedom."


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