MELISSA BLOCK, host:
There are some, perhaps, unintended bursts of candor from the president in a new book about the Bush presidency. President Bush told writer Robert Draper that the administration, in his words, didn't spend a lot of time planning for widespread sectarian violence in Iraq. The president said he believed that post-war violence would be minimized by removing Saddam Hussein and by, quote, "the idea of people being in a position to be kind of free - the universality of freedom concept." The book is titled "Dead Certain."
Author Robert Draper, a fellow Texan, was granted rare access to the president. Six interviews, each about an hour long between December 2006 and this past May.
Mr. ROBERT DRAPER (Author, "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush"): There had been a couple of changes, Melissa, since I had been interviewing him back in 1998 when he was governor. He's a great deal more mature and more disciplined than he was back then. He used to always make goofy facial gesticulations back in Texas. The stakes were a little lower for him. He had a very, very high approval rating. People weren't watching everything he did and said.
He also didn't have much of a sense of history back then. His real template were the administrations of his father and of Ronald Reagan. Now, he's a real voracious reader of history. Now, having said all that, he still remains fundamentally the same guy. He can be very impatient and he can be very dismissive. But he can also be expansive and he can be reflective, and I was fortunate to see that he was those in the course of these interviews.
BLOCK: A voracious reader of history and also a counter of the books he's read. He tells you, I've read 87 books this year. Karl Rove's already up to 102.
Mr. DRAPER: That's right. He has - Rove always beats him on that. They have a really interesting, complicated relationship, I think. I liken it to a relationship between the quarterback of a high school football team and the nerd who takes the quarterback's term papers for him. So, it's a very odd, sort of a brotherly relationship that those two have.
BLOCK: There are some - a number of conversations where you talk with him about leadership and decision making, of course, his famous line, I'm the decider, and he seems to keep coming back to this again and again. It's a very flat, one-dimensional view, it seems, of leadership.
Mr. DRAPER: He's very self-conscious, which is interesting, mostly because he projects himself as a person who doesn't care what people think of him. But his notion of leadership is to speak with clarity and to stick by his decision. He's almost like a baseball umpire in that regard, that if he calls a ball a strike, he's sticking with strike.
And I think that that clarity of purpose, that sort of steadfastness can be seen as a virtue, it can also be seen as stubbornness and as a vice, and it can lead ultimately to a credibility gap. After a while, people ceased to listen to what he's saying. And he said as much to me when he said that David Petraeus is now going to have to sell the surge, he said, because no one listens to what I say anymore.
BLOCK: I want to ask you about a dinner that you describe, a meeting at the White House in April of 2006. And you write that there was show of hands vote. He asked for a show of hands vote on whether Donald Rumsfeld should be forced out as defense secretary. And even though seven people vote that he should be voted out and only four said he should stay; Donald Rumsfeld stayed.
Mr. DRAPER: That's right. Yeah. The meeting wasn't about Rumsfeld, per se, it was sort of about whither of the White House - this was April of 2006 as you mentioned, and things were not going well message-wise and really in any other way in the Bush administration. And so the president convened some of his trusted aides. Someone floated the notion that, perhaps, this would be the time to get rid of Donald Rumsfeld. But in any event, as you mentioned, there was a show of hands. Four people including himself thought that Rumsfeld should stay and that's the way things obviously continued until November.
BLOCK: And did you ask the president about this? Did he confirm that he, in fact, did ask for a show of hands on Donald Rumsfeld?
Mr. DRAPER: He said that he didn't remember the meeting and I don't know what to make of that. The president actually was a little bit annoyed that I had learned about this and wanted to make it very clear to me that this was not the way he ran his administration, by a show of hands. He had given me a different, sort of, tick talk, if you will, about why Rumsfeld left when he left. And in essence, the story that he had told me was that Rumsfeld dictated the timing of his own resignation. I just simply didn't believe it.
And, ultimately, what the president said was that, yes, he had considered at various junctures. He had been watching Rumsfeld closely with a not uncritical eye. But that there was always something else coming up, whether it's the retired generals or a Baghdad security plan that was in effect or getting close to the midterm elections that in his mind made impossible the notion of letting Rumsfeld go.
BLOCK: You talk with the president in one of your last interviews about his future plans after the White House. And one thing that he mentions to you, and I'm trying to imagine whether he was laughing or joking when he says this, as he says, he needs to replenish the old coffers. He's going to go out giving speeches and making a lot of money.
Mr. DRAPER: That's what he said. And he said it, you know, with a certain amount of wry amusement, but nonetheless, leaving no doubt that he intended to do exactly that. I think that he knew that his dad was making a lot of money. That Clinton was as well. He cited those. And I even got into this colloquy of how much money he could make. I said, you know, maybe $50,000 a speech. And he sort of raised an eyebrow, and I said more, like, 75,000, 100,000. And he kept raising his eyebrow, and he said, no, you can make ridiculous money doing this.
Now, the president is not exactly a poor man, but I think he knows there's money out there to be made. And, you know, Bush, as far as I can tell, is not a, you know, he's not greedy man and he's not looking, I think, to capitalize necessarily on his experience. In a way, I think it's more that other presidents have done it, and it's there to be had, so he'll do it, perhaps, in a way, to see his own market value for he's own sake and to enrich himself further.
BLOCK: And he also has plans for a vaguely defined freedom institute.
Mr. DRAPER: Yeah. I found that really interesting. I'd - that, I believe, have not reported before. And what he said was that he wanted a kind of Hoover Institution, which is the Stanford's conservative think tank, but that it would maybe be more active in that it would have visiting foreign leaders from young democracies who could come and meet with American leaders and learn more about democratic processes.
And it was clear that Bush, from what he said to me, that Bush is very interested in promulgating this notion of freedom and how it plays across in other countries. He mentioned that he intended to raise something like $500 million. And Bush is not the kind of guy who likes to talk about the future. He tends to focus on the present, and even to the sort of disdainful of those who suggest that it's time for him to start thinking about retirement. But he talks very comfortably on the subject.
BLOCK: Robert Draper, thanks very much.
Mr. DRAPER: My pleasure.
BLOCK: Robert Draper's book is titled, "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush." And you can read an excerpt at npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.