For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
June 9, 2008
Interview of the First Lady by Jonathan Karl, ABC News
June 8, 2008
Q Well, thank you again for talking to us, and for an amazing trip to Afghanistan.
MRS. BUSH: It was great, wasn't it? Really terrific.
Q So tell me -- watching you, it was fascinating to watch you as kind of a foreign policy player, and I'm wondering your thoughts on what the foreign policy role of a First Lady is.
MRS. BUSH: Well, I mean, I think there -- obviously I'm not a foreign policy player. I mean, I'm not privy to all the information that the Secretary of State, obviously, who is a foreign policy player, or the President gets every single day. I don't get that, those sort of briefings. But on the other hand, I do think there's a diplomatic role that the First Lady can play by reaching out to countries that she happens to have a particular interest in.
And so for me that's Afghanistan. I've been very interested, especially in the plight of women and children since September 11th when all of us in the United States looked at Afghanistan and saw how oppressive the Taliban was and how particularly brutal life was for women and for children. And so that's just been something I've been interested in the whole time George has been President.
Q But it seems that recently you've had a very public role on the diplomatic front, and maybe even on the policy front. I mean, you became the -- I think the first First Lady in American history to do a press conference in the White House briefing room -- of course on Burma. Have you -- are you taking a more assertive role than you have in the past?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I don't know if I would call it that. I think I just know more. You know, I'm more educated about the situation in Burma and the situation in Afghanistan, just after having lived here in the White House for seven years. I've just learned more about it and know more about it, and Burma certainly. And especially after the cyclone we all looked at Burma and it's just so difficult and so sad and so really, I think, very, very difficult for people in the United States to know that we had all the help we had right off the coast of Burma and that the government would never allow us in.
There's something that's really disappointing, really frustrating about that. And it's just really one of the most difficult things that's happened, I think, since my husband has been President, and that is to know that we had help there and that they wouldn't allow it in.
Q When you look at that and you consider more than 2 million people affected and all that American help was right off the coast, the --
MRS. BUSH: Should we have gone in?
Q Should we have gone in anyway?
MRS. BUSH: You know, I don't know. I mean, I think that's the question. I think that's what goes over and over in my mind is, I want the people of Burma to know that the people of United States know what their situation is, that we knew what their situation was before even the natural disaster, but the detention of their Nobel Prize winner, the woman whose party was elected overwhelmingly and then never allowed -- that party was never allowed to govern, and the country has been decimated, just like Afghanistan was under the Taliban. But I want the people of Burma to know that, and I don't think they'll ever know, although I do think they listen to Voice of America and BBC and some other radio stations that go into Burma. So maybe they'll know by that.
Q But do you think there will come a time when we look back on this and we realize --
MRS. BUSH: And wonder if we should have --
MRS. BUSH: I don't know. I mean, it's always easy to look back and it's very hard to project what really would have happened if we had done that. And so it's always easy to look back and say, oh, we should have done this or we should have done that, but without knowing what the real consequences would have been. We did fly in over 100 big cargo planes of aid, and I think that was good.
Q Did you ever talk to the President about the possibility of going in?
MRS. BUSH: Yes, I mean, we talked about it off and on the whole time it was there. And I didn't see a lot of coverage. I only saw one news coverage on what was on those ships, the Navy ships that were there on the coast of Burma. And one thing they had were these huge trucks that could drive off with big desalinization equipment so they could make fresh water, a lot of fresh water, and be able to store it or to get -- put it in some other sort of storage so that people who don't have fresh water now because of the effects of the cyclone could have fresh water. And of course water and food is so critical.
Q So getting back to your trip to Afghanistan, I've got to ask you about the welcome you got -- the so-called "Kiwi welcome." What was --
MRS. BUSH: That was unexpected, wasn't it? (Laughter.)
Q What was going through your head as these shirtless guys were charging at you with spears?
MRS. BUSH: I thought that was really great. I actually know about the haka because there's one football team in Texas that won state last year that happens to have a lot of Tongans -- immigrants from -- that live around DFW -- in that area of Dallas-Fort Worth. And they do the haka. If I didn't already know about it and hadn't already seen this football team on television do this, I might have been really surprised by it.
But it was fun and it was exciting and I think it's just an example of how the international community is so involved in Afghanistan. And this is a PRT from New Zealand. They're very, very happy about the work they're doing for Afghanistan. This group that are there are new -- they just had come over the last couple of months, I think, replacing the former team from New Zealand. But it shows that the international community is very involved and that there are these groups representing governments -- obviously all the NATO allies as well that are working in Afghanistan.
And I think that's encouraging as we go up to this week's donors conference in Paris, and that is to continue this support from all around the world for Afghanistan. One of the things you and I both saw was how poor Afghanistan is and how complete, really, the destruction of 30 years of war and the last regime, the very brutal Taliban regime -- how difficult it is to build a country when you already have that much poverty, no infrastructure -- none of the things that any country that wants to thrive economically needs to build.
Q And you said that the rest of the world, the international community needs to do more.
MRS. BUSH: Well, I mean, I hope they will at least sustain their commitment at this donors conference. There was a donors conference a couple of years ago -- there was, I think, very good commitment on the part of the international community, and this is just a way for the international community to assure Afghanistan that they'll stay with them, with all of these big projects that are going to take a long time to do.
Q And this is -- and you made reference -- this is a long-term project.
MRS. BUSH: It's a long-term. You can tell that from seeing it. None of these things are easy. None of the big, big infrastructure items like highways or hydroelectric power or electricity to parts of the country that have never had electricity. Plus you have this country that's mountainous, many, many very remote villages, very, very cold winters, when it makes it almost impossible because there are no roads to get into a lot of these remote mountainous villages. And if they should suffer this year, like we're afraid several parts of the world will with the food crisis, then it'll be very difficult to even get food to those rural parts of Afghanistan.
Q If you were to -- you know, looking out in the future -- obviously Yogi Berra said predictions are difficult, especially about the future. But, I mean, a long-term commitment to Afghanistan is clearly necessary -- you suggested it. How many years do you think the United States is going to be there on the ground involved in a significant way in Afghanistan?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think people -- I think the United States will be very involved, not with troops necessarily, I hope -- I mean, I hope the Taliban is routed and that the people of Afghanistan, as they build their own police force and own army, which they're in the midst of doing -- we saw those women, police women recruits when we were there, which is very encouraging -- but I hope that we'll stay involved with these humanitarian commitments.
And we've done that in other parts of the world over our history, and I hope we'll do that here because it will take a long time because they're not only building the infrastructure, physical infrastructure, but they have to build a civil society infrastructure -- but written a constitution. I mean, that's really incredible that they've written a constitution. They have a democratically elected government, and now they need to continue to build that infrastructure of laws, of business law and contract law and civil society so they can attract capital from around the world and be able to build finally a driving economy -- and the schools that they want.
And they're desperate for education, and that was the message I got from all those young people I met who are either in college there or still in high school.
Q And one other question about the Kiwi welcome. The thing that was going through my mind -- I mean, what -- obviously you knew it was coming and everything else, but --
MRS. BUSH: It was sort of a shock when -- especially the one, he did say afterwards, "how did you like my special move?" that jumped up to me and then slid and fell. That was very funny.
Q And the Secret Service -- what's going through their -- those guys' minds --
MRS. BUSH: Well, they knew. They knew what the haka was going to be like, I think. But you're supposed to stare at them straight in the eyes. And, of course, I was wearing sunglasses because of the sand in my contacts -- (laughter) -- and the sun. But I was really trying to stare them straight in the eye.
Q Now, I have to ask you about politics here. We have, of course, about the time you were leaving on this trip, former First Lady Hillary Clinton formally conceded the race. Is there any part of you, in any way, that was disappointed that for this time anyway the opportunity for a woman President in the United States has been lost?
MRS. BUSH: Well, of course, I want the woman President to be a Republican woman. But I will say I watched the campaign, and I admire Hillary's grit and strength. And I know what it's like to run those campaigns and I -- or, to be the candidate, and how very difficult it is, both emotionally and physically. It's a huge endurance -- process of endurance. And so I'll have to say I have a lot of admiration for her endurance and her strength.
Q How do you think she did?
MRS. BUSH: I think she did great. I mean, I know it's hard. It's hard to do that, and I think she did great.
Q And what do you make of Barack Obama?
MRS. BUSH: I don't know. I mean, I just don't know that much about him. Obviously I'm for John McCain, and I think John McCain will make the better President. I think he's by far much more experienced. But it will be interesting. These election years are always very interesting in the United States, and this is a particularly interesting one. I'm glad we're not in it. (Laughter.) It's great to watch one from the sidelines, really for the first time in a long time for us, because we had George's dad as Vice President, and then as a presidential candidate, and so it's sort of nice to watch from the sidelines.
Q Are you going to miss it?
MRS. BUSH: I'm going to miss, obviously, living in the beautiful White House and all the people that we know in Washington, both the people that work at the White House, our own staff, and all of those people. But I look forward to a private life again, and a more normal life.
Q And is there any way that you'd ever get involved yourself?
MRS. BUSH: Run myself? No, absolutely not. I mean, I'm looking forward to continuing to work on things I've worked on like Afghanistan and Burma and literacy and education -- all the things I've always worked on, and I hope I'll be able to do that through George's presidential library. And then I'm very interested -- we're going to move back to Dallas -- in doing things in Dallas -- not political things, but things that I think will be supportive for our city and our state.
Q You've probably seen that Michelle Obama has come under fire for a number of different things, but, one, when she said for the first time in her adult life she's proud to be an American. What did you make of that?
MRS. BUSH: I don't know. I don't know what -- I think she probably meant, "I'm more proud," you know, is what she really meant. You have to be really careful in what you say. I mean, I know that, and that's one of the things you learn. And that's one of the really difficult parts both of running for President and for being the spouse of the President, and that is, everything you say is looked at, and in many cases, misconstrued in some. It's just -- I think it's something you learn over time, and that is to be pretty careful.
Q Is it a legitimate issue in a campaign to bring up what a spouse has said or done? I mean, is that legitimate to a campaign?
MRS. BUSH: Every issue ends up being legitimate to a campaign. I mean, every -- whether they're legitimate or not, they get brought up. I think it's very hard to say we can't talk about this, or can't talk about that. People are going to talk about it anyway.
Q I wanted to ask you the legacy question. Eight years is almost over. You are, by all the polls, perhaps the most -- I mean, undoubtedly the most popular figure associated with the Bush administration, approval rating twice that of the -- twice as high as the President's. What do you think will be the most important -- your most important legacy? And what unfinished business do you think that you're leaving behind that you would like to --
MRS. BUSH: Well, certainly -- and I'm sure the President would say this -- exactly the same thing for him -- that part of the unfinished business is obviously the international part that's going to last longer than any presidency, and that would be Iraq and that would be Afghanistan and Burma -- those three countries that I've been particularly interested in, and he has too. But I do think those are things that I can continue to work on. I won't have the platform I had before, but I can certainly continue to pay attention to those countries.
I hope that things like the National Book Festival that we started in 2001 will continue. This will be its eighth year this year, and so I hope every fall people -- that it will be an institution, and every fall people can go to the National Mall to meet their favorite authors.
And, I mean, it's easy to look at eight years and see what you accomplished and see what you wish had been accomplished, and I think that happens for everyone, for anybody who serves any time -- looks at -- in any role as an elected official -- not just President, obviously. But I think we -- my husband has a unbelievable legacy, and I know he may not be that popular right now, as you say, but we've liberated two countries; 50 million people have been liberated from very brutal regimes, and I think that's really important. The President stood on the side -- and the United States has -- of all the emerging democracies here in Central Europe, where we are now -- and I think he really -- he's going to have a really unbelievably great legacy, with the advantage of hindsight.
Q So you're confident history will vindicate the President.
MRS. BUSH: I am, absolutely. I think it's -- we've been -- these are some of the most interesting and challenging historical times -- times in history ever for the United States, with what happened on September 11th and the whole idea of terrorism. And it's something we didn't expect in our country. We felt like we weren't vulnerable -- we were protected by the Atlantic and the Pacific -- but come to find out we were.
Q Thank you so much for talking to us.
MRS. BUSH: Thanks a lot. Thank you, Jonathan.
Q Appreciate it.
MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much.