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President speaks of 'biggest regret'

December 02, 2008|Washington Post

President Bush, who has long brushed aside questions about his legacy, is opening up a bit during his final weeks in office.

At the White House on Monday, Bush called his HIV/AIDS program "one of the most important initiatives of my administration" and praised it as a resounding success.

And in a separate TV interview, the president was unusually blunt in identifying shortcomings during his tenure -- saying that his "biggest regret" was getting the intelligence wrong in Iraq and conceding that he was not ready to be a wartime president when he first took office.

"I think I was unprepared for war," Bush told ABC News. "In other words, I didn't campaign and say: 'Please vote for me. I'll be able to handle an attack.' In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents -- one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."

The self-criticism is notable for a president who has long resisted looking back at his time in the White House.

In the interview with ABC's Charles Gibson, Bush said he wished "the intelligence had been different" on Iraq but declined to speculate on whether he still would have decided to go to war. "That is a do-over that I can't do," he said.

Despite some second thoughts, Bush continued to express confidence in his overall course as president, even though 3 in 4 Americans currently disagree. For example, Bush said he was "sorry" about the severe impact of the financial crisis, but he deflected blame for the meltdown.

"I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived," he said.

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