Talk with Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley
Aired May 2, 2003 - 08:06 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: In that speech last night, the president making a direct connection between the war in Iraq and the events of 9/11.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose or weaken our resolve or alter their fate. Their cause is lost.
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HEMMER: While the president noted the end of major combat in Iraq, was he also firing the opening salvo, many think, for the reelection campaign of 2004? Quite possibly.
Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian, author of a number of books. The latest is titled "Wheels for the World: A History of the Ford Motor Company."
Douglas Brinkley is our guest, live in Seattle.
Good to have you back, Douglas.
Good morning to you.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Good morning to you.
HEMMER: Your take on the speech last night? What did you hear?
BRINKLEY: Oh, well, it was quite a dramatic day. I mean, from landing in the Viking jet onto the aircraft carrier, walking around with the kind of top gun uniform on, shaking hands with many of the thousands of troops, 5,000 people there, and then with the speech it really took a very campaign like tone. He claimed his credential, I think, last night, that he is a commander-in-chief. He joins the likes of a Lincoln or a Woodrow Wilson or his father as winning a war, albeit this is just one war in the war on terrorism.
And I think the key to the speech last night was his hammering really two times the connection between al Qaeda and September 11, that he hadn't forgotten. And the president clearly seeing the battle of Baghdad as -- linked to the battle of Afghanistan, being linked to 9/11. And I think that was the major point of last evening's speech. HEMMER: You know, it reminds us that this White House continues to see the entire -- well, let's say the entire four year term of this president wrapped up in a 9/11 world.
Do you see it the same way?
BRINKLEY: Absolutely. It's what triggered all of this. It's what's transformed his presidency, the thought that I will not forget. Remember the great moment when he picked up that bullhorn at the rubble of September 11 and you couldn't help but remembering the journey our country has gone through, a year long debate on Iraq, then finally on March 19th the president announcing to our country he committed our troops there. Last night was the bookend to that March 19th speech.
But it did not say fully that the war was over. If we'd completely announced it, then we would have to start dealing with international law on people that we're capturing there in that deck of cards, as it's being played out.
So it was, there was a bit of a hold back there in last night's speech. But it was a lot of patriotic fervor, mission accomplished behind him. He wants the American people and the world to realize that he had an objective, he went about it and he completed it.
HEMMER: Douglas, look ahead for us, if you could. I want you to look at a poll we took last night from a number of people who watched this speech and watched the events on board the Lincoln. This is what they say right now as to what should be given a higher priority now that Iraq is over in terms of combat -- the economy, 46 percent.
How difficult, how easy could this be for the White House to make this pivot?
BRINKLEY: Last night was the pivot. You had to claim that credential. You had to have that evening on the -- the symbolic night on the Lincoln. And now the administration is going to, of course, be continuing rebuilding Iraq, working on the road map to peace, the peace process in the Middle East. So foreign affairs is going to be a big part of what they have to do. But they're going to start putting the compassionate back in conservative.
We've seen that this president can be and is a hawk. The Bush doctrine is considered a very tough, tough doctrine in foreign affairs. The question now is can there be compassion at home? How are we going to work to rebuild our schools? What about Social Security? What about issues of unemployment? How are we going to get the economy going again?
He has to do more than tax cut proposals. He's going to have to show a kind of vigorous, new, really progressive agenda here at home.
HEMMER: Ten seconds left here, Douglas.
Where does this rate last night in terms of presidential moments? BRINKLEY: It's one of the memorable ones of his administration. I think it's a -- because of the first nature of it, the fact that he actually, for a brief moment, flew the plane in the sky when it landed on the aircraft carrier and then the memorable. Americans, anybody likes victory and he was able to declare it last night. It was a lot of good news. You know, we, a big term has been embedded journalists. He was an embedded president last night with our troops.
BRINKLEY: And that goes very well with the American people.
HEMMER: Well stated.
Douglas Brinkley, Seattle, Washington.
Good to talk with you.
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