RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's hear more this morning from George W. Bush. His new book is called "41: A Portrait Of My Father." The former president sat down with our colleague David Greene to discuss his and his father's time in the Oval Office and also to talk about the very different choices they made about going to war in Iraq.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Father and son of course had more in common than time in the White House. They also had a common adversary - Saddam Hussein. In 1991, the elder Bush took the nation to war after Iraq's president invaded a sovereign neighbor - Kuwait.
You talk about your father's handling of Iraq a lot.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I actually...
GREENE: His mission.
BUSH: Yeah, that was actually about 20 pages of it, but that's OK.
GREENE: What impressed you about the mission that your father took this country into?
BUSH: Well, he had a clear goal. And he wasn't going to - he wasn't going to let Saddam Hussein bully allies. He had a strategy to deal with Saddam Hussein. And then when he said, this will not stand, he meant it. In other words, he understood that when a president speaks, he's got to mean what he says.
And in the book, I lay out that the strategy that I used was in some ways similar to his. We both went to the United Nations to get a resolution. In other words, this wasn't a unilateral American action. We both put together large coalitions of nations. And we both gave Saddam Hussein a chance to make a choice. We both care deeply about the plight of the, you know, citizens in the region. And as I put in the book, the removal of Saddam from Kuwait was the right decision. And the removal of Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision.
GREENE: The younger President Bush of course has many critics who say there was no justification to invade Iraq in 2003. He argued at the time that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. No weapons were ever found. And at times, George W. Bush's message would shift, focusing more on bringing democracy to the people of Iraq.
The war he began in Iraq was passed to his successor, President Obama, who faced his own criticism from some who said he should have kept American troops there longer. The reality is it's been 11 years since President Bush ordered that invasion. The militant group ISIS controls parts of the country, and violence rages on, which led us to ask President Bush this...
Was your mission as clear as your father's?
BUSH: Yes. I think in many ways it was. It was more complex because this decision was made in a post-9/11 world. In other words, the removal of Saddam from Kuwait was definitely in our national interest. But it didn't necessarily mean that the United States's homeland would be threatened or not threatened depending upon his actions. In our case, the 9/11 attacks changed the strategic equation for the United States, and we had to deal with threats before they fully materialized.
GREENE: What do you think when people compare the two wars and say that your father's approach was wiser?
BUSH: I can understand that. And then I ask them to read the book.
GREENE: You can understand that?
BUSH: Yeah. I mean, I think - sure - I think people - you know, I can understand the comparisons between he and me. I mean, it's a way to do things. I don't agree necessarily that - wiser or not wiser because the situation was different and in many ways more complex.
GREENE: You talk about the current situation in Iraq and the growth of ISIS. And you look at that country today, there are atrocities. There's violence. There's chaos. Can you argue today that that country is a safer place and a better place than it was when Saddam Hussein was in power?
BUSH: For the security of the United States, yes. I would argue with you that had the United States once again turned a blind eye to the threat that Saddam Hussein posed - I say once again, there were 17 resolutions by the world demanding, you know, accountability - that one could envision a nuclear arms race between Iran and Iraq. The man, Saddam Hussein, would have a lot of revenues, a result of high prices of oil. And even though there wasn't, you know, a - we found a dirty bomb, for example, he had the capacity to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. And so there's, you know - that's all very hypothetical. But, yeah, I could argue that we're much safer without Saddam. And I would argue that the people of Iraq have a better shot at living in a peaceful state.
GREENE: You argue that the United States is safer even though we hear all these very ominous warnings about ISIS, you know...
GREENE: ...Coming and bringing their fight to U.S. soil.
BUSH: No question that they're dangerous. And, you know, so was the first iteration of this radicalism when they killed 3,000 people on our soil. And after 9/11, we were very concerned that an enemy of the United States, in this case Saddam Hussein, would be willing to give a network the capacity to destroy on even greater scale. And, you know, ISIS is dangerous, and they need to be dealt with. I would remind you, David, that in 2009, in 2010, the violence in Iraq was settling down. And the democracy, even though it was not perfect - kind of like ours was initially, not perfect - was beginning to work.
GREENE: Are you saying there are decisions that you would've made that were different than President Obama that might have prevented the chaos that we're seeing today?
BUSH: Well, one of the things that I'm not going to do is second-guess our president. On the other hand, as I put in the book, I hope we deal with ISIS firmly.
GREENE: Just on a broad level...
BUSH: They don't like the idea of free societies emerging. And this was a - we're dealing with a network of people who exist where they find safe havens or vacuums or failed states. You might remember the Bush Doctrine. And it was, if you harbor a terrorist, you're equally as guilty as a terrorist. So in order to secure our country in the post-9/11 world, there has to be certain strategies that are outlined and follow through with. And that's what I did.
GREENE: I guess I just wonder broadly what you tell Americans who look at the chaos today and link it back to your decision to invade in 2003. And...
BUSH: I just say the condition elsewhere matters to the security of the United States, and we cannot become isolationists.
GREENE: That's former President George W. Bush. We spoke to him in his office in Dallas.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.