I suggested to him that he has acquired a sense of time shared by our enemies. Radical Islamists have said that Americans have watches, but that true believers have time. To successfully defeat such an enemy, one needs to think as the enemy does, to see time from the perspective of real stars rather than rising political ones.
That's a tough concept for a drive-thru nation accustomed to insta-everything and gratification at the tap of a button. Five years at war in Iraq is an eternity for impatient Americans, but it's a blink of a camel's eye if you're set on destroying the Great Satan.
Bush has learned to watch the camel.
"It's real important for the president to not be making moves based upon political calendars," he told me. "I really view this as a first chapter of a long struggle -- not the only chapter, not the last chapter, but the first chapter.
"And I've told our people, we're going to write it ... so that the next president will have an easier task of dealing with the threats. And that's why it's so important that we get the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) issue right, and that's why it's so important to get the detainee issue right, because presidents are going to need the information that comes from those programs in order to defend the homeland."
I asked the president if he found comfort in the possibility that, assuming democracy ultimately flourishes in the Middle East, history will vindicate him.
No, he said. Bush finds comfort in knowing that he didn't betray principle for popularity, that "I didn't sacrifice my soul for politics."
Finally, I asked about bin Laden. Bush said getting bin Laden is still important, but warned that his death won't end "extremist views" or the al-Qaeda threat. Only free societies will.
This is surely true. The question is whether Americans have the patience for such a long journey.
Time will tell.
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