Monday, January 12, 2009

Bush waves goodbye to the press

In his last press conference George W Bush stepped down with a certain grace and wished Barack Obama luck. He also thanked the journalists that have followed him on his 8 years in office. “It only seemed like yesterday I was on the campaign trail” he said in his opening remarks, “but through it all I have respected you. Sometimes I didn’t like the stories you wrote, and sometimes you missunderestimated me.”

Moving on to Obama, the outgoing president said, “I wish him all the very best and I find him a smart and engaging person”. But then the more serious questions came.

With violence continuing in the Middle East, Bush was asked why he hadn’t managed to broker a much hoped for peace before he left office. “There will not be a sustainable ceasefire if they [Hamas] keep firing rockets”, Bush insisted. And he said if peace were to be achieved, “Countries that supply Hamas have got to stop providing them with weapons”. He said that Israel had a right to defend themselves but asked that their response be measured. “We worked hard to advance a two state solution”, Bush told reporters, “The challenge has been to lay out the conditions so that a two state solution could emerge”. But he said the plan had been “Complicated by people that are willing to use violence that stop free states from emerging”. In this he pointed a particular finger at Hamas and al-Qaeda.

Returning to Obama, he said the new leader would face many challenges. He “should be guarded on any possible attack on the United States, an attack on our homeland,” George Bush said, and insisted there was “Still an enemy out there”.
“North Korea is still a problem”, Bush said. But while he hoped the six party talks would lead to a solution, a threat was still evident. “They’re still dangerous and Iran is still dangerous” he added.
As regards how people might look back on his presidency he gave a strong indication that he thought he would be shown to be right. “When the history of Iraq is written, historians will look at the decision of the surge” Bush told the assembled reporters. “The situation did change. But will democracy survive? That’s a challenge for future presidents.”

He talked briefly about the economic downturn and insisted he had made the right decision to put forward his bail-out plan. “These are difficult economic times and I readily concede the economic position we are facing could be worse than the great depression” he said, saying this was why he pushed through his plan. He said he would help the new administration by releasing the remaining funds. Later in the afternoon it was confirmed that President Bush has agreed to President-Elect Barack Obama’s request to release the final $350 billion in economic bailout plans. But his successor would need a lot of luck in the coming months, President Bush said.
“When I get out of here I’m getting off the stage” and once again offered his successor good luck. “I wish him all the best” President Bush said, “The stakes are high, there’s an enemy out there, there’s an enemy that wants to attack America and Americans, there just is and I wish him all the best.”

He was then asked what single mistake stood out in his mind. The last time he was asked the question he stumbled and said he wished he‘d come better prepared adding that something would eventually “pop into his head.” This time he had a short list of what he called disappointments. However, he said that “putting mission accomplished on an aircraft carrier was a mistake” claiming that it had sent the “wrong message”. He also conceded that he had made mistakes in the way he said things. “Some of my rhetoric was not good”, he told reporters. But as regards the more critical issues he was more reserved. Prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib he said were a “huge disappointment”. And he said Iraq not having “weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment, I don’t know if you want to call those mistakes or not but things didn‘t go according to plan, let’s put it that way”.

Asked whether America‘s image abroad he was adamant that the US was highly respected. “I strongly disagree that our moral standing has been damaged”, Bush said. “I understand Gitmo has created controversies” he continued. He recognised that in the minds of some the rejection of Kyoto protocol, the backing of Israel and the war in Iraq hadn’t been popular. “I wouldn’t worry about popularity,” Bush said. It was more important to protect American interests. But he insisted the US was still held in high esteem. “Most people around the world respect America. They see us as strong, compassionate and of upholding the universality of freedom”.
But Sky’s International correspondent, said that while certain African states and a few eastern European countries look to the US in a good light, their moral standing has been dented as shown by many opinion polls.

He also has the lowest popularity ratings of any president since polls started. But while many voters will be glad to see the back of him, others will miss his jovial wit and malapropisms. In fact Bushisms as they have come to be known, became not only a hallmark of the President but also the subject of jokes, cartoons and a small industry in books and other media. While the satirists will no doubt be able to make fun out of Obama, many will miss the humour and satire of George ‘dubbya’ Bush [BBC / Sky News / CNN].

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