WASHINGTON — This is a transcript of the interview aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" with President Bush. The interviewer was Tim Russert.
Tim Russert: And we are in the Oval Office this morning with the president of the United States. Mr. President, welcome back to "Meet The Press."
President Bush: Thank you, sir.
Russert: On Friday, you announced a committee, commission to look into intelligence failures regarding the Iraq war and our entire intelligence community. You have been reluctant to do that for some time. Why?
Bush: Well, first let me kind of step back and talk about intelligence in general, if I might. Intelligence is a vital part of fighting and winning the war against the terrorists. It is because the war against terrorists is a war against individuals who hide in caves in remote parts of the world, individuals who have these kind of shadowy networks, individuals who deal with rogue nations.
So, we need a good intelligence system. We need really good intelligence. So the commission I set up is to obviously analyze what went right or what went wrong with the Iraqi intelligence. It was kind of lessons learned. But it's really set up to make sure the intelligence services provide as good a product as possible for future presidents as well. This is just a part of analyzing where we are on the war against terror.
There is a lot of investigations going on about the intelligence service, particularly in the Congress, and that's good as well. The Congress has got the capacity to look at the intelligence gathering without giving away state secrets, and I look forward to all the investigations and looks. Again, I repeat to you, the capacity to have good intelligence means that a president can make good calls about fighting this war on terror.
Russert: Prime Minister Blair has set up a similar commission in Great Britain.
Russert: His is going to report back in July. Ours is not going to be until March of 2005, five months after the presidential election.
Russert: Shouldn't the American people have the benefit of the commission before the election?
Bush: Well, the reason why we gave it time is because we didn't want it to be hurried. This is a strategic look, kind of a big picture look about the intelligence gathering capacities of the United States of America, whether it be the capacity to gather intelligence in North Korea or how we've used our intelligence to, for example, learn more information about [Abdul Qadeer] Khan[, father of Pakistan's atomic bomb]. And it's important that this investigation take its time.
Now, look, we are in a political season. I fully understand people saying he's trying to avoid responsibility. There is going to be ample time for the American people to assess whether or not I made good calls, whether or not I used good judgment, whether or not I made the right decision in removing Saddam Hussein from power, and I look forward to that debate, and I look forward to talking to the American people about why I made the decisions I made.
The commission I set up, Tim, is one that will help future presidents understand how best to fight the war on terror, and it's an important part of the kind of lessons learned in Iraq and lessons learned in Afghanistan prior to us going in, lessons learned that we can apply to both Iran and North Korea because we still have a dangerous world. And that's very important for, I think, the people to understand where I'm coming from to know that this is a dangerous world. I wish it wasn't.
I'm a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind. Again, I wish it wasn't true, but it is true. And the American people need to know they got a president who sees the world the way it is. And I see dangers that exist, and it's important for us to deal with them.
Russert: Will you testify before the commission?
Bush: This commission? You know, I don't testify? I will be glad to visit with them. I will be glad to share with them knowledge. I will be glad to make recommendations, if they ask for some.
I'm interested in getting -- I'm interested in making sure the intelligence gathering works well. Listen, we got some five -- let me -- let me, again just give you a sense of where I am on the intelligence systems of America. First of all, I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet. He comes and briefs me on a regular basis about what he and his analysts see in the world.
Russert: His job is not in jeopardy?
Bush: No, not at all, not at all. We've got people working hard in intelligence gathering around the world to get as good an information as possible. Intelligence requires, you know, all kinds of assets to bring information to the president, and I want that intelligence service to be strong, viable, competent, confident, and provide good product to the president so I can make judgment calls.
Russert: There is another commission right now looking into Sept. 11.