Cal Thomas met with President Bush on Tuesday afternoon in the Oval Office. After discussing the upcoming State of the Union address, Bush and Thomas covered a wide range of subjects. Following is an edited transcript of their interview.
Q: Iraq's interim President said today he doesn't foresee American troops leaving until the country's security forces are built up and pockets of resistance are destroyed. He said, by the end of year we could see the number of foreign troops decreasing. But you seem to have a goal in mind of when the - you're turning it around - when the goal is achieved, then the troops will come back, not the reverse.
THE PRESIDENT: I think timetables are a mistake. The enemies can wait out timetables; the enemies anticipate a time - the arrival of a date. The enemies will lie low, a timetable happens, then they strike. I have a different view. I believe we ought to achieve the goal, and that's the - that will be the moment - and the goal is to, obviously, help this country realize its dreams. And what the American people saw was a country that has dreams. I mean, people defied the terrorists and went to the polls in amazing numbers. Exciting moment.
Q: Did you have any - the night before, did you have any doubts, any fears that it would come off differently?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I - any time there's uncertainty, you, obviously, think about all the alternatives. But in the end, I had great faith. And I believe truly that if people - if given a chance, people will vote, people want to be free. And the first confirmation of the belief of, just give people a chance, they will express themselves, like the people in our country expresses themselves, happened in Afghanistan. I mean, the vote was overwhelming. And same in Iraq.
Q: Low Sunni turnout bother you at all?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I talked to King Abdullah, in Jordan, who told me that they had a very high turnout of Sunni - of Iraqi voters in Jordan, most of whom are Sunnis, because - which tells me that if the situation is secure, that people will vote. And that's what kind of these polls indicated.
I think you'll find - and again, we haven't found - seen all the results from all the areas. It is understandable in a province like al Anbar, which was - where Fallujah was the heart - where people had been dislocated and there's camps - you can understand why the turnout may be lower than other places. We wanted all the people to vote.
And the key now is, is that there be an expression of inclusiveness, that there be minority rights, that people recognize that the new government is one that will listen to their hopes, as well. And that's why I was very heartened by Allawi's statements, who is a Shia, that said to the Sunnis, we want to work with you. And there's an outreach program going on that is very important.
Q: I want to ask you about the Democrat reaction - not all of them, but some of them - Senator Kennedy, Senator Kerry - Senator Kennedy, especially, in a speech recently has called you a liar, called for a timetable for getting out. Senator Kerry, on Meet the Press, Sunday, sought to minimize your election victory, called it small, cautioned against attaching too much significance to the Iraq election. I know some Republicans would say this is a cry of desperation. How would you characterize those remarks?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think Washington is a town where - you get all kinds of expressions here. And I just - I don't take it personally. I think there is - I just let the facts speak for themselves. And the fact of the matter is the Iraq people, in the face of very tough odds, rejected this notion that the - the sense that somehow certain people don't want to be free. They said loud and clear, in the face of terror activities and beheadings and killings and bombings, we want to be free. And that's the only thing that matters, as far as I'm concerned.
Q: Do you think those remarks encourage the terrorists? I found a quote from Bui Tin, a now retired general in the North Vietnamese army, who told The Wall Street Journal that the North Vietnamese counted on the antiwar movement in the United States at the time as part of their strategy.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q: Now, I wonder if you think some of these remarks -
THE PRESIDENT: I think it's different this time. I do, Cal. I think - I think that the terrorists are really watching how resolute this government is, that they - and the elections confirmed our country's desire to stay there and complete the mission. And they see not only how resolute the government is and that the Congress is willing to fund the troops, but they also see a military that knows the country backs them. And so their spirits are high, and they're desire is very strong to complete the mission.
Q: A federal judge ruled Monday in Washington that the people in prison in Guantanamo Bay have a constitutional right not to be deprived of liberty without due process. The government is going to appeal it, of course. But if the government loses the appeal, do you think this will impede the war on terrorism?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it's best that I not comment on a specific case. I've always felt like the people that we detained on the battlefield who were illegal noncombatants should be treated under the - in the spirit of the Geneva Accords, but that they were - they were unique. It's a unique war, a different kind of war. And so we went out of our way to explain to the American people why Guantanamo was set up, and why it is a different concept. It's now obviously being litigated in our courts, and we'll see what the courts decide.
Q: Speaking of courts, you know the history of Republican, even conservative Presidents and their - the way their nominees to the Supreme Court turned out. It's been a little checkered. Do you have a mechanism in place that will produce the kinds of justices - should you get the opportunity to present some - that would not disappoint your stated conviction that people should interpret the Constitution and not make law from the bench?
THE PRESIDENT: Right. We will do the very best we can to glean from writings and from, obviously, interviews, the way a person would interpret the Constitution - or interpret - or the way the person would handle the duties of judge in regards to the Constitution - is the best way to put it.
We haven't had a Supreme Court pick yet, but my record is pretty clear when it comes to picking judges for the circuit bench. And the record is pretty clear of some people in the United States Senate who don't want these judges to go forward. And I will call upon the Senate to have an up or down vote. I believe they have a constitutional duty to give an up or down vote to every person I nominate. And they have chosen otherwise. They are filibustering not one, but numerous judicial candidates.
So I think people ought to - I know people ought to take a look at the appointments I have made and the nominees I've suggested to the Senate. And there will be a consistency. One, they're very capable of doing the job; and, two, there's a philosophical consistency.
Q: Would you please elaborate a little bit on remarks you made in an interview with The New York Times last week concerning abortion, where you said you will try to convince people to make right choices in life, to understand there are alternatives to abortion, like adoption. It sounded, at least from what they ran, that you were just going to talk about it and not do much else.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we've done a lot, as the President, in terms of the legislative agenda. Partial-birth abortion - signed a ban on partial-birth abortion. I signed a law that said if you were - if you murder a pregnant woman, you're subject to the trial of two deaths, not one. I've made some decisions protecting life unilaterally. So we've been active at promoting the culture of life.
My point was, however, that much of the political debate will be resolved as people's hearts change, in other words, when people begin to respect life and understand the value of life. And I think that's happening. I think more and more people are understanding that a wholesome society is one in which the most vulnerable are protected - is protected.
Q: When we had lunch together, which I know you've forgotten, but I'll never forget, in the Governor's Mansion in 1999, I asked you for some of your favorite Scripture versus and you rattled off two or three from the Gospels. I'm wondering, you have often alluded to, as Lincoln did, that he didn't see, and you couldn't see how someone could be President without faith in God. Gerald Ford said Proverbs 3: 5-6 - "Trust in the Lord with all your heart" -
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q: "and lean not on your understanding" was his favorite when he was here. I wonder if one has particularly sustained you during time of war and the great pressures of this job?
THE PRESIDENT: It's an interesting question. I have said that I don't see how anybody can be President without prayer and a belief in the Almighty, although I'm sure others were able to do so. I think that's an important qualifier, because I'm sure people sat here in the office and felt like they could be President. I recognize that, in my feebleness, I need support from the Almighty, because I believe in an Almighty. And I love the support of the people through prayer.
You know, I can't think of a single verse. I mean, I wish I could. I guess many verses inspire me. You know, Laura had the Bible opened to Isaiah, to the - I can't - it's Isaiah 47, I believe, whatever - 40 -
Q: Those who wait upon the Lord -
THE PRESIDENT: Wait upon the Lord - it's a great Bible verse.
Q: Mount up with wings as eagles.
THE PRESIDENT: That's a great Old Testament verse. You know, I'm reading the Bible this year - I've got a Daily Bible, and last year I read Oswald Chambers. Every other year I read the Daily Bible and pick up a daily devotional guide, devotional. And then the next year I read Oswald Chambers. I've told people I thought Oswald Chambers is an interesting gauge to determine the depths of understanding of the Word, because he's such a provocative writer, and the more clearly you understand Oswald Chambers, the more likely it is the word of God is reaching your heart. That's how I view it.
Q: And four years from now you'll be a former President -
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q: What standard will you use to judge whether you have run the race, kept the faith, and become a successful President?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's really two questions you ask. What standard will I judge is whether or not I gave it my all, the very best I could and as honest a way as I could. The standard about history will be judged by others, not by me. And I suspect that the history - the true history of any administration won't really be known until years down the road, particularly if an administration like ours tries to do big things.
What's amazing about this period of time is that we have seen freedom evolve in places that were dark and run by tyrants very quickly. But a lot of times it takes time for movements to develop and reformers to be inspired and tyrants to fall. And so I don't anticipate some of the big changes that will take place as a result of what we started to take place until down the road. I don't think you can expect cultures to shift instantly. I don't think you - and so - I know that the only true history that can be written about a President will be with the advantage of time, to determine whether or not big goals were set and results were achieved.
It's easy - you can see short-term legislative successes. And that's - don't get me wrong, that's a very important part of the job. For example, we were confronted with a recession, taxes were cut, the economy is now growing. That's easy to measure. But peace, culture of life, personal responsibility, respect for your neighbor, compassion for the less fortunate, those are all values and accomplishments that take a while. And I don't expect one administration to be a part of - to be "the answer." Administrations help propel movements and sometimes start movements.
What Ronald Reagan started, for example, in cultural change, the Bush administration - both Bush administrations will be a part of advancing, for example. The change for respect for human life and human dignity. My only point is that - just rambling here, but the point is, is that -
Q: Ramble all you like.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, history - and so a President shouldn't worry about history.
Q: Richard Nixon said something very similar.
THE PRESIDENT: Really?
Q: Yes. He was asked about his place in history. He said, that depends on who writes it.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I say that all the time, as well, because the person who writes it in the short-term is somebody who is not going to have the advantage of time to look at history, look at the true history of the presidency.
You know, it's amazing that - there's kind of an interesting George Washington now - Ellis has written a book which I'm reading now, and David McCullough is writing a book on George Washington. I read one earlier on Washington - I can't remember the name of it - Washington Crosses The Delaware - something - it was a very interesting book about some of the many - how he organized the army. The Alexander Hamilton book by Chernow, which is obviously about Hamilton, but it was about the time of George Washington and Washington plays a prominent role.
It's very interesting, there's a resurgence in analyzing Washington, the first President, during the time of the 43rd President, which makes my point - that there's - history is always evolving, and people's appreciation of a President changes over time, as well - one way or the other.
Q: Who would be your choice for DNC chair? (Laughter.) Come on, you know you'd rather have Howard Dean than anybody else. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I thought you were going to say, who was the greatest President. There he is, right there. That's the seat of honor for the greatest President - Lincoln.
Q: Indeed. But you don't want to make a pick for the DNC chair?
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no. I'm keeping my attention on the State of the Union address. That's what I'm thinking about.
Q: I think during the campaign, the 2000 one, one of my favorite remembrances of you - and you probably won't remember this - we were in a church in Des Moines, Assembly of God, and I was sitting over -
THE PRESIDENT: Right, yes. Saw the preacher.
Q: Did you?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q: And you motioned me over to come sit next to you. So they're going on and clapping and all this stuff. And I said, you ever been to one of these before? And you said, no, I don't think so. I said, you know, it's not like the Methodist church. You said, no, it's not? I said, no, after an hour they're just getting warmed up.
THE PRESIDENT: That's right.
Q: You were glad to get out of there.
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, it was a great sermon. I know the guy, and I'm trying to remember his name - I'm campaigning in Des Moines in 2004, and it's at the end of the campaign, it's the last day of the campaign - I'm not kidding you - and I'm working the rope line, and there he's there. And I said, "Pastor, I remember coming to your church in 2000." He said, yes, you were there. And it was just one of those moments.
Q: He said, well, who was that guy next to you? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: And they had the songs - didn't they have the songs -
Q: On the screen, yes. Very good.
THE PRESIDENT: I know.
Q: You know, you play this dumb thing really well. (Laughter.) You go through these books and everything, this is a strategy of yours, isn't it? You are - this is amazing - you go through these three books you're reading - Peter Hanford I think may have been that other author you were - he's written a book on George Washington, or he's got a short book -
THE PRESIDENT: Pretty long. I'll get you the name of it. I read a lot.
Q: I know.
THE PRESIDENT: And I like to read. And it's - that dumb thing, that's the elites who put that out.
Q: It's great, it works well for you.
THE PRESIDENT: I like it. I like it.