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THE SITUATION ROOM
Exclusive Interview with President Bush; Hugo Chavez Delivers Tirade at United Nations; Oprah in '08?
Aired September 20, 2006 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, a new vow from President Bush to kill or capture al Qaeda's leaders no matter whose borders U.S. troops would have to cross and that's already making Pakistan very unhappy. Just ahead, my exclusive interview with President Bush.
It's 7:00 p.m. at the United Nations, still in shock as Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, calls President Bush the devil, just the start of a stunning tirade.
And Oprah for president -- one fan already peddling t-shirts and bumper stickers, but will the TV diva block the bandwagon.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
At the end of high-stakes, high-drama visit to the United Nations President Bush joined me for an exclusive interview, from Iran to Iraq to immigration to the pope and Islam. We'll play it all for you this hour.
First though to terrorism and comments that already are generating controversy with a key ally in the war on terror.
BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much for doing this.
You know, I look out at this skyline, and I remember the words you said last week at that news conference. You said, "They're coming again" -- the terrorists. And that's pretty frightening.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes.
BLITZER: What did you mean?
BUSH: It means there are people out there plotting and planning to kill Americans. And that is frightening. And that's you know why it's important that we have the tools necessary to protect us. And I think that was in the context of whether or not we ought to have a program that enables us to get information -- within the law -- from people who may have knowledge about an impending attack. BLITZER: Because you know your critics say you're simply trying to scare the American public to score political points.
BUSH: Well, I get -- they don't sit where I sit. They don't see the intelligence I see. And frankly if anybody thinks there's not an enemy coming to attack us, they just don't see the world the way it is. Because, well, just take the last plot we -- that the Brits found out about and we helped them, and that is that people getting on airplanes are getting ready to blow them up, pure and simple.
And this is a dangerous world, Wolf. And you know I know there are some out there that kind of look at the world the way they wish it would be, but the job of the president -- particularly one who saw what happened to us on September 11 and vowed that day to do everything to protect the people -- is to do just that. That's our most important responsibility.
BLITZER: Now, we're here in New York, we see the skyline. We all remember what happened five years ago. We remember the bullhorn, when you said the people who brought these buildings down, they're going to hear from us pretty soon.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BUSH: And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BLITZER: Osama bin Laden's still at large, Ayman al-Zawahiri is still at large -- what went wrong?
BUSH: Well, a lot went right. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is -- if we can get a good bill out of the Senate and the House -- is going to go on trial. Ramzi Binalshibh, Abu Zubaydah...
BLITZER: But major guys are still at large.
BUSH: Well no question Osama bin Laden's at large, but the man who ordered the attack and about 75 to 80 percent of al Qaeda that was involved in planning and operating the attacks are in...
BLITZER: But the United States is the most powerful country in the world...
BUSH: Can I finish? Let me finish.
BLITZER: Why can't we find these guys?
BUSH: Wolf, Wolf, thank you. Just give me a chance to finish.
Osama bin Laden is in hiding and we're still spending a lot of time trying to find him. But the key thing that the American people have got to know is that security comes not only with getting him -- which I'm convinced we will -- but also doing other things to protect them. One is to dismantle al Qaeda, two is to listen to phone calls if al Qaeda's calling the United States and respond to that. Three is to get information so we can prevent attack. Getting bin Laden is important, but doing -- putting things in place, putting procedures in place that protect you is equally important, and we're doing both.
BLITZER: Do you think the Pakistanis could be doing more, because there's a lot of suspicion that Osama bin Laden, Ayman al- Zawahiri, Mullah Muhammad Omar -- the leader of the Taliban -- they're someplace in Pweda (ph), in Pakistan, Waziristan, and that the Pakistanis, for whatever reason, are giving them a truce, amnesty. They're not doing what they should be.
BUSH: Yes, no, that's not the way I view it. I view it that Musharraf -- they tried to -- al Qaeda that is tried to kill Musharraf several times. And I view President Musharraf as somebody who would like to bring al Qaeda to justice. As a matter of fact, we'll be discussing that with him on that subject on Friday at the White House.
BLITZER: But there are others in Pakistan who may not have his commitment.
BUSH: Maybe -- maybe. There's no question there is a kind of a hostile territory in the remote regions of Pakistan that makes it easier for somebody to hide. But we're on the hunt; we'll get him.
But remember, protecting America is, no question, getting bin Laden, or Zawahiri, as you mention, but it's also making sure that we understand what the enemy is thinking and getting ready to do to prevent these attacks from happening in the first place.
BLITZER: If you had good actionable intelligence in Pakistan where they were, would you give the order to kill them or capture them?
BLITZER: And go into Pakistan?
BLITZER: Even though the Pakistanis say...
BLITZER: ... that's their sovereign territory.
BUSH: We would take the action necessary to bring them to justice.
BLITZER: And just a short while after that, the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, was asked about President Bush's comment to me that he'd go into Pakistan sovereign territory to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTAN: (INAUDIBLE) we will do it our ourselves. We would like to do it ourselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Pakistani president saying he wouldn't like that at all. And we're going to hear more from President Bush later this hour, including whether he thinks Iran would actually drop a nuclear bomb on Israel.
Plus, was President Bush even before he was even elected thinking about taking on -- taking out Saddam Hussein. Also, would the president support building a fence along the U.S./Mexican border. Some surprising answers to all of those questions in this exclusive interview that will air this hour.
Other news -- it was stunning, a stunning tirade that left jaws dropping even in the jaded audience of the United Nations General Assembly. Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, got everyone's attention today when he let loose at President Bush. Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching this story -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a leader with a long pattern of antagonism toward Mr. Bush, even so, Hugo Chavez was in rare form at the U.N. today.
TODD (voice-over): An extraordinary show of belligerent on the General Assembly floor, Venezuela's president (INAUDIBLE) his Iranian counterpart, personally tearing into George W. Bush, who had spoken at the same spot less than 24 hours earlier.
PRES. HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELA (through translator): Yesterday the devil came here, right here, right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.
TODD: Hugo Chavez was just getting started.
CHAVEZ (through translator): The gentleman to who I refer to as the devil came here, talking as if he owned the world.
TODD: Then came this ominous warning to President Bush.
CHAVEZ (through translator): I have the feeling, dear world dictator that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare because the rest of us are standing up.
TODD: A White House spokeswoman says this is not worthy of a comment. The U.S. Ambassador chimes in.
JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N: We're not going to address that sort of comic script approach to international affairs.
TODD: But Chavez does get serious, repeating claims about an attempt to overthrow him in April 2002.
CHAVEZ (through translator): The U.S. has already planned, financed and set in motion a coup in Venezuela and it continues to support who attempts in Venezuela and elsewhere.
TODD: We spoke with Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric Affairs for President Bush who was involved in a State Department investigation into those charges requested by Congress.
ROGER NORIEGA, FORMER ASST. SECY. OF STATE: The U.S. had nothing to do that. As a matter of fact, we warned Chavez about previous coup plotting. And his reaction was generally yes, we knew all about that, so there's no credibility behind his statements.
TODD: What's more, Chavez's verbal onslaughts could boomerang.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously, I think he made a mistake to do it. I wished he hadn't done it. You know he's not hurting us, he's just hurting himself and his country.
TODD: Hurting himself, analysts say, by undermining efforts to win Venezuela a temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council, jeopardizing oil sales to the U.S. On the assembly floor, Chavez seems unconcerned, leveling the same accusations he did in a recent exclusive interview with CNN Espanol.
CHAVEZ (through translator): The U.S. government has flagrantly violated international agreements and has denied visas to my security team and even to my doctors.
NORIEGA: He relies on Cuban doctors and Cuban bodyguards, as I understand it, perhaps because he doesn't trust his Venezuelan security forces to provide for his own security. The Cuban intelligence runs the intelligence apparatus of Venezuela today. They provide the presidential security. They run the Venezuelan Situation Room.
TODD: And Noriega says Cuba sends operatives to train Venezuelan street thugs to harass Chavez's opponents. He says this is part of a strong grip that Fidel Castro has over Hugo Chavez. We pressed officials at the Venezuelan embassy and the Cuban intrasection (ph) for reaction to those comments, they haven't responded -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Brian Todd reporting. Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty joining us tonight with "The Cafferty File". Hi, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we've got a couple of notes on another mental giant, the world waiting breathlessly last night for the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to address the U.N. What a yawn. To begin with, this guy didn't even have enough class to show up to address the U.N. General Assembly wearing a necktie.
He looked like they dragged him away from serving drinks pool side at some hotel in South Beach. I mean, he was in New York City, we do have neckties here. The speech was more boring than the outfit. Most of the time he was whining about the U.N. It's amazing how all the countries that don't have a permanent seat on the Security Council complained about the few that do.
If I want to hear people complain about the United Nations all I have to do is walk down the street. We got about eight million people in New York City. And a lot of the folks here think the U.N. is little more than a waste of time and money. But all hope is not lost, tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360", the Iranian president's going to be grilled by my friend, Anderson. And knowing Anderson, as I do, I can guarantee you it will be a hell of a lot more interesting than that snooze fest at the U.N. last night.
So here's the question. If you interviewed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, what would you ask him? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. That ought to be some good stuff tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: When you think about it, we have an exclusive interview with President Bush. Larry King coming up at 9:00 has an interview with former President Bill Clinton. Anderson, as you point out, has Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on "ANDERSON COOPER 360". Who's not going to be on CNN tonight?
CAFFERTY: Yes, it doesn't get much better than that, does it? We'll get this thing firing on all cylinders.
BLITZER: Pretty impressive.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much.
BLITZER: And coming up, we're going to hear a little bit of what President Clinton has been sharing with Larry King. They sat down for an exclusive interview today. We'll find out what Bill Clinton is now saying about Hillary Clinton and the possibility of her running for president.
Plus, more of my exclusive interview with President Bush, was he thinking of taking out Saddam Hussein even before 9/11 and would he support building a 700-mile fence along the U.S./Mexico border? Wait until you hear his answers.
And Oprah for president? One man's campaign to get her into the White House. Find out why her lawyers are threatening to sue him.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Coming up, more of my exclusive interview with President Bush. We spoke earlier in New York. More of that interview coming up including his thoughts on the Iranian president. Other news we're following though in the meantime, it comes almost in every political conversation, at least here in Washington, a possible White House bid by Senator Hillary Clinton. Her husband weighs in on the speculation tonight in an interview with CNN's Larry King.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I'll say what I said until I'm blue in the face. I think it would be an error for her to think about this now until she is re-elected and has a chance to get a sense of the lay of the land and what her options are from service in the Senate and what her presidential options are. That's what I believe. So I wouldn't even discuss with it with her now.
CLINTON: And the second thing I want to say is if she decided to run, I have no idea if she would win. You know she would be the immediate favorite, but there's a million things that could happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You can see the full interview with the former president on "LARRY KING LIVE". That airs tonight 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific only here on CNN.
This week Bill Clinton is joining President Bush in taking on New York. They're both rubbing shoulders with world leaders, with similar missions but very different styles. Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York. She's going to tell us what both of these presidents are up to -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they may be holding court with world leaders, but they barely ran into each other here in New York as these two presidents set out on separate paths on the international stage.
SNOW (voice-over): On one side of town near the U.N., President Bush meets with the Palestinian president. On the other side of town, his wife teams up with an unlikely partner.
CLINTON: So please join me in welcoming America's first lady, Laura Bush.
SNOW: The first lady joined forces with former President Bill Clinton in his Clinton global initiative aimed at tackling global problems. At the U.N. on Tuesday, President Bush took on other kinds of global problems.
BUSH: Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. SNOW: While the current president met for formal U.N. meetings, the former president held meetings of his own, both sharing the same international stage with separate missions and different styles.
JON ALTERMAN, CSIS MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM DIR.: There's a way in which President Bush leads and says follows me. He sets out the goals. He sets out the agenda and tells people to follow. There's a way in which Bill Clinton says let's all do this together. He's more inclusive and gets people to feel that they're all part of one project.
SNOW: Their paths crossed just once inside the U.N. President Bush introduces predecessor to the Iraqi president. Outside the brief exchange Presidents Clinton and Bush have kept apart with separate agendas.
STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think Bill Clinton is very clever and very shrewd to involve his own, very interesting, nongovernmental, nonprofit organization meeting in New York at the same time.
SNOW: Some observers say for visiting world leaders there are advantages to meeting with the former president and joining his fight against AIDS.
ALTERMAN: You're engaging with the United States on an issue that's popular. And then you can sort of have it both ways. You can say I'm not giving in to the Bush administration, but I'm not anti- American and politically, that's useful for a number of leaders.
SNOW: Observers point out that former President Jimmy Carter is the only former president who has been involved in efforts similar to Clinton's but never held meetings in New York like this to coincide with the U.N. General Assembly -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York, thank you Mary. Good report.
Still to come tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, more of my exclusive interview with President Bush. Does he think Iran would make good on its threat to drop a nuclear bomb potentially on Israel?
And Oprah Winfrey has legions of fans, could that translate into votes -- the new "Oprah for President" campaign. That's ahead.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Story just coming into CNN right now. Let's check in with Zain Verjee. She's in New York tonight with details -- Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, this is just coming into CNN. The owners of a New Orleans area nursing home have been charged with cruelty and negligent homicide in connection with the deaths of 35 patients following Hurricane Katrina. The couple was first arrested just two weeks after the storm. They are currently free on bond.
The chief of Thailand's Army says the bloodless coup ousting the country's unpopular prime minister is now complete and he's promising to restore civilian rule within a year. Meanwhile, state media reports Thailand's king has now endorsed the coup.
California's attorney general is suing the six largest carmakers in the United States and Japan. Their federal lawsuit accuses the companies of harming the health of Californians by producing smog- causing cars. The lawsuit names Chrysler, G.M., Ford, Toyota, Honda and Nissan. The attorney general, Democrat Bill Lockyer, denies that his lawsuit is meant to gain votes in his current race to be state treasurer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain thanks very much. And when we return, even before he was elected, did President Bush think about taking out Saddam Hussein. I'll ask him. And border insecurity, does the president support building a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border.
And why is Oprah Winfrey threatening legal action against a man who wants her to run for president? We're going to tell you.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, fire and brimstone, red-hot rhetoric from the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez calls President Bush the devil who acts quote, "as if he owned the world".
The Shuttle Atlantis and UFOs -- that would be unidentified floating objects. Three more mystery objects are seen today, but NASA says they are not a threat and that Atlantis is safe to land tomorrow.
And investigators may be closing in on the source of that tainted spinach. The FDA says the E. coli contamination has now been traced to growers in three California counties. The outbreak has killed one person and sickened 146 others in 23 states.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
They faced off at the United Nations without ever coming face to face. President Bush and Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are standing firm in their nuclear standoff. I asked Mr. Bush about that in my exclusive interview.
You're here in New York. The president of Iran is here in New York. You have a chance -- I don't know if you still have a chance, but you had a chance to meet with him. Given the stakes involved -- a nuclear confrontation -- what do you have to lose by sitting down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
BUSH: Our position is very clear to the Iranians that if they want to sit down with American officials that they first must verifiably suspend their enrichment program. They know our position, the world knows our position, and I clarified it at the United Nations...
BUSH: ... over the past couple of days.
BLITZER: But if it would help -- if it would help to sit down, talk to them and try to convince them. You know, there have been other moments where great leaders have made that major decision, have a breakthrough -- Nixon going to China, Sadat going to Jerusalem. What would be wrong to just sit down with them and tell them, you know what, here are the options before you.
BUSH: Yes, well, he knows the options before him. I've made that very clear. Secondly, Wolf, in order for there to be effective diplomacy, you can't keep changing your word. At an important moment in these negotiations with the EU3 and Iran, we made it clear we would come to the table, but we would come to the table only if they verifiably suspended their enrichment program.
And the reason that's important, that they verifiably suspend, is because we don't want them to have the technologies necessary to be able to build a nuclear weapon. A nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran in the middle of the Middle East would be a very destabilizing and troubling occurrence.
BLITZER: India and Pakistan already have a nuclear weapon. Israel has a nuclear weapon. Why would it be so bad if this Iranian regime had a nuclear weapon?
BUSH: This Iranian regime is -- promotes militias like Hezbollah to create instability. This Iranian regime has made it abundantly clear that they would like to destroy Israel, who is our ally.
BLITZER: Do you think they would drop a bomb or launch a missile on Israel?
BUSH: Wolf, my judgement is you've got to take everybody's word seriously in this world. Again, you can't just hope for the best. You've got to assume that the leader, when he says that he would like to destroy Israel, means what he says. If you take -- if you say, well, gosh, maybe he doesn't mean it, and you turn out to be wrong, you have not done your duty as a world leader.
BLITZER: So you take him seriously at that?
BUSH: Absolutely I take him seriously, just like I take al Qaeda seriously when they say they're going to attack us again, just like I take these extremists seriously when they say they're trying to disrupt democracy.
BLITZER: George Voinovich, the Republican senator from Ohio, has compared him to Hitler.
BUSH: Yes, you know, I mean, people have got strong opinions about him, and I can understand why. He's a -- look, Olmert -- Prime Minister Olmert of Israel reaches out to President Abbas of the Palestinian territory to try to help establish a democracy, and there's an unprovoked attack by Hezbollah on Israel.
Hezbollah's funded and armed by Iran. Iran wants to stop the advance of democracy and peace, and I can understand why people have strong opinions about the Iranian regime. Our goal is to have a diplomatic solution, starting with convincing the Iranians that they either face isolation and possible sanctions if they don't give up their weapons programs.
BLITZER: The foreign minister of Israel told me the other day that they believe -- the Israelis -- there's only a few months left, a few months of a window before they get to a point where there's literally a point of no return and they've learned how to enrich uranium and effectively could go forward and build a bomb. How much time does the world have to resolve this?
BUSH: First, if I were the Israeli foreign minister, I'd be deeply concerned about somebody in my neighborhood whose stated objective was the destruction of my country, and the desire of that country to end up with the capacity to do so. And so I can understand her concerns. I'm not going to discuss with you our intelligence on the subject, but time is of the essence.
BLITZER: Is it a few months though?
BUSH: Well, time is of the essence, and that's why here at the United Nations I spoke with our allies. Condi Rice met last night with foreign ministers of the EU3 and Russia, and I think China was there as well, urging them to follow through on the resolution we got passed at the United Nations Security Council.
I'm concerned that Iran is trying to stall, and to try to buy time, and therefore it seems like a smart policy is to push this issue along as hard as we can and we are..
BLITZER: Because a lot of experts say short of regime change in Iran, or military action, there's no way this leader in Tehran is going to give up that nuclear ambition.
BUSH: We'll find out. The country can face isolation. They could face, you know, sanctions, or they can choose a better course. The choice is the Iranian leader's choice. I spoke yesterday at the U.N. and I spoke directly to the Iranian people.
It's important for the Iranian people to know this, that we respect their heritage, we respect their history, we respect their tradition. We believe this can be a great nation if the government, you know, relies upon the talents of its people and encourages and nurtures those talents.
BLITZER: Is there anything you heard from him in his address last night or your analysts that was encouraging?
BUSH: Not really. BLITZER: Let's move on and talk a little bit about Iraq.
BLITZER: Because this is a huge, huge issue, as you know, for the American public, a lot of concern that perhaps they are on the verge of a civil war, if not already a civil war.
BLITZER: I'll read to you what Kofi Annan said on Monday. He said, "If current patterns of alienation and violence persist much further, there is a grave danger the Iraqi state will break down, possibly in the midst of a full-scale civil war." Is this what the American people bought in to?
BUSH: You know, it's interesting you quoted Kofi. I'd rather quote the people on the ground who are very close to the situation, and who live it day by day, our ambassador or General Casey. I ask this question all the time, tell me what it's like there, and this notion that we're in civil war is just not true according to them. These are the people that live the issue.
BLITZER: We see these horrible bodies showing up ...
BUSH: Of course you do.
BLITZER: ...tortured, mutilation. The Shia and the Sunni, the Iranians apparently having a negative role. Of course, al Qaeda in Iraq is still operating.
BUSH: Yes, you see -- you see it on TV, and that's the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there's also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people. Twelve million people voted last December.
Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is -- my point is, there's a strong will for democracy.
These people want a unity government. The unity government is functioning. I'm impressed by President Maliki. I've talked to him. I've seen the decision-making process that he's put in place. The Iraqi army is still recruiting and training.
BLITZER: You weren't upset when he went to Tehran and gave a big hug and a kiss to Ahmadinejad.
BUSH: Excuse me for a minute. I was on a brilliant point, as you know. The Iraqi government and the Iraqi military is committed to keeping this country together. And so therefore, I reject the notion that this country is in civil war based upon experts, not based upon people who are speculating.
I fully recognize it's still dangerous and there's more work to do. The enemy has got the capacity to get on your TV screens by killing innocent people, and that should speak volumes to the American people about the nature of these people ...
BLITZER: The visit from Nuri al-Maliki to Iran ...
BUSH: To Iran.
BLITZER: ...that was a picture that -- a lot of Americans saw that picture, big hug, big kiss, and they said, hey, what's going on here?
BUSH: What's going on here is you've got the president of a sovereign nation going to a neighbor, making it clear to the neighbor to stop meddling with their new democracy, that he would expect there to be support of this new government and not undermining the new government.
This is a man who is dedicated and committed to a unity government. He has taken great risks to advance the cause of peace and unity is his country, and so ...
BLITZER: So the bottom line, you have confidence, because a lot of other people are beginning to lose confidence.
BUSH: Yes. No I have -- I don't only have confidence in him, but General Casey and, again, our ambassador. That's how I learn it. I can't learn it -- I frankly can't learn it from your newscasts. What I've got to learn it from is people who are there on the ground.
And so I ask them all the time, how are things going? Give me the decision-making process of Prime Minister Maliki. Is he growing in the job? The guy's been there for about 100 days, and I am impressed by his strength of character.
BLITZER: I woke up in New York like you did this morning. I read ...
BUSH: What are you reading now?
BLITZER: ...the "New York Times." There's a paragraph in here -- I'll read it to you -- about your dad's former secretary of state, James Baker. "In his 1995 memoir, Mr. Baker said he opposed ousting Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf war in 1991 because he feared that such action might lead to an Iraqi civil war, to criticism from many of our allies, and to an eventual loss of American support for an occupation."
BUSH: He was writing before September the 11th, 2001, and the world changed that day, Wolf.
BLITZER: But Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
BUSH: Excuse me for a minute, please. The world changed that day because we had to deal with threats. No question Saddam Hussein did not order the attacks. On the other hand, Saddam Hussein was viewed as a threat by the Congress, by the United Nations, and by the United States administration. And so James Baker was writing before the world changed.
And we took out Saddam Hussein because he was viewed as a threat. He was a state sponsor of terror. He had used weapons of mass destruction. He had invaded his neighbors. The decision was the right decision, and now the question is, will this country and our coalition partners have the will to support this new government, a democracy in the heart of the Middle East.
BLITZER: And up ahead, before he even took office, was George W. Bush thinking about taking out Saddam Hussein?
And was it a mistake for the president to use the words Islamic fascist? More of my exclusive interview with President Bush. That's coming up next.
And Oprah Winfrey for president. That's enough to make the former talk show host want to sue. Jeanne Moos with that. Stay with us.
BLITZER: You just heard President Bush defend the invasion of Iraq. In my exclusive interview earlier today he said the world changed on 9/11 and that while Saddam Hussein didn't order those attacks, he was a threat. But had an invasion crossed his mind earlier.
BLITZER: You know, you were thinking, dealing with Saddam Hussein long before 9/11.
BUSH: I wasn't in office long before 9/11.
BLITZER: No, let me remind you ...
BUSH: I wasn't in office that much longer.
BLITZER: I'm going to remind you of an interview you and I did ...
BUSH: 9/11, 2001 and I swore in in January of 2001.
BLITZER: But when you were a candidate for president, you were still the governor of Texas, you and I sat down in Iowa ...
BLITZER: ...just before the Iowa caucus, and we had this exchange. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We shouldn't be sending mixed signals and, if at anytime I found that the Iraqis were developing weapons of mass destruction they wouldn't exist anymore.
BLITZER: Who wouldn't exist? The weapons?
BUSH: The weapons of mass destruction, yes. I'm not going to -- they just need to hear that from a potential president, that if we catch them in violation of the agreement, if we in any way, shape, or form find out that their developing weapons of mass destruction, that there will be action taken, and they can just guess what that action might be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The point though being that, at least to my mind, the weapons of mass destruction issue, in your mind even as a candidate running for president, was a trigger potentially that could lead to war.
BUSH: Well of course, Saddam, I've used Saddam Hussein for what he was, a threat. He was declared a state sponsor of terror, Wolf, by previous administrations.
BLITZER: But, there are other countries that have been declared state sponsors of terror, like North Korea, like Syria, Cuba. You don't go to war against them.
BUSH: Well, North Korea hadn't invaded its neighbors. North Korea hadn't made declarations of intent. North Korea's relatively isolated compared to Iraq. Every threat must be taken seriously. And, every threat must be dealt with in different fashion. I strongly stand by my decision to remove Saddam Hussein.
BLITZER: And, you don't look back with any regrets?
BUSH: I regret when people lose lives. But, presidents don't get to do do-overs. But, I believe that the decision was the right decision. And, now we've got to help this young democracy survive.
And, what's interesting is extremists and radicals aim to destroy young democracies. Whether it be Hezbollah, or whether it be Al- Qaida, who you mentioned in Iraq. And, that's the real challenge of this century. It's a challenge between moderation and reform versus extremism and radicalism. Those extremists and radicals are willing to use terror and murder as a weapon to achieve their objectives.
BLITZER: We invited some of our viewers to send me some questions that they would want to ask. I'm going to read one of them. Ray Fridela (ph) from Cordo (ph) Madero, California. "Why is it taking so long to secure our borders," which is a fair question, given the debate over immigration.
The House has passed legislation that would support building a 700 mile fence along the US-Mexican border. Senator Fritz told me yesterday that he's going to put that now before the Senate. Even though it's not part of what you want, comprehensive immigration reform. If the Senate passes what the House has passed, will you sign it into law.
BUSH: It's a part of strengthening the border. And, we're in the process now of spending the money that they appropriated last session, and to modernize the border. And, one reason, the question the guy's question, Ray's question was, why is it taking so long. It's a long border. It takes a lot of man power and new equipment to enforce that border. And Ray needs to know things are changing quite dramatically.
BLITZER: So, will you sign it into law?
BUSH: One thing that has changed is catch and release. Prior to the expenditure of the money that these guys, the Senate and the House have appropriated, we would catch somebody trying to sneak in and just release them back into society. That's been ended. And, so a lot of reform has taken place.
Yes, I'll sign it into law. They're appropriating money, I believe that's what you're talking about, and it's a part of the appropriations process...
BLITZER: ...just a narrow focus on border security without the Guest Worker Program, or the other issues. You'll just take that for now.
BUSH: Well I just, that's what I did last time when I signed the appropriations process. I firmly believe the Senate and the House need to work together on a comprehensive plan to solve this problem. I would view this as an interim step. I don't view this as the final product. And, I will keep urging people to have a comprehensive reform.
You can't enforce the border until you have a rational Guest Worker Program. Those people should come here on a temporary basis and then go home. People are sneaking across to work. And, no matter how much equipment you have on that border, people will find ways to do so. And, so it is a rational way to enforce the border. What their talking about in the House and the Senate is a temporary step. If you're question is, will I stop trying to push for a comprehensive reform. The answer is, no, I won't stop trying to push for comprehensive reform.
BLITZER: Alright, but you'll go along with this, if they pass it.
BUSH: Just to remind you, last legislative session they passed an appropriations bill that was essentially security only and, I signed that. And we're implementing that right now to get the border enforced.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk, because we only have a minute left or so, the Pope. He's got some controversy right now over what he said about Islam. Did he do the right thing? What do you think of this?
BUSH: I think he, I was appreciative of the fact that he tried to clarify what he meant. This is a struggle not between religions, and that's what people have got to understand. It's a struggle between people who use religion to kill and those of us who are for peace. And, to the extent that that issue gets muddied up it confuses people. And, so the clarity helps people get back to the real issue we face.
People say it's a struggle of civilizations. I strongly disagree with that. I think this is a struggle for civilization. And, to the sense the Pope clarified the issue, I think it helps those of us who are trying to make it clear to the Muslim world in particular, we're not fighting Islam. We're protecting ourselves, and trying to help you protect yourself against people who kill in the name of religion to achieve a political objective.
BLITZER: This interview is being seen on CNN and CNN International around the world. There has been some concern, a lot of concern in the Muslim world, and your addressing Muslims and the Arab world a lot lately, that your use of the phrase Islamic Fascists is sort of prejoriative and it makes Muslims seem to be fascist. You have an opportunity right now to address the Muslim world and the Arab world here on CNN...
BUSH: Well thank you, I...
BLITZER: Tell them what you mean, what's in your heart.
BUSH: What's in my heart is that Islam is a great religion and a peaceful religion. I fully believe that most people that live in the Muslim world, by far the vast majority, want peace and they want their children to grow up in a hopeful society. There are people in your midst who want to kill innocent people to create fear and terror so that they can achieve their objective of extremists caliphate. And, the goal of America is to protect ourselves. But, the goal of America is also to stand with moderates and reformers who long for the same thing we want, which is peace.
BLITZER: Is it a mistake to use that phrase, Islamic Fascists?
BUSH: That's what I'm referring to. I'm referring to extremists and radicals, totalitarians. The point I was making is these people share a common ideology that represses women, doesn't give people the right to dissent, that has got their narrow view of the freedom of religion. I don't believe these people represent the true spirit of Islam.
BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much.
BUSH: Yes, sir. Pleasure.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And just ahead, what if Oprah Winfrey ran for president. It's not the thought, but a slogan that's making the talk show host bring out her top legal guns.
And what would you ask the Iranian president Mahomoud Ahmdinejad? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail. All that still to come right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here with "The Cafferty File." Jack?
CAFFERTY: Wolf, if you interviewed the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, what would you ask him, which is exactly what Anderson Cooper's going to be doing tonight at 10:00 Eastern time. You ought to be checking that out. That ought to be pretty good television.
Howard writes from Texas: "President Ahmadinejad. If Islam is a reasoned, non-violent, peace-seeking religion and you promote the total annihilation of a sovereign nation (Israel), what religion is it that you practice?"
James in Wichita, Kansas: "Do you understand that a nuclear attack on Israel or the United States would have a high probability of causing Tehran to glow in the dark for a thousand years?"
Timothy in California: "First, did you have anything to do with the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the holding of American citizens for 444 days? And second, how do you feel today about that action?"
Marina in Philadelphia: "I'd ask him if he remembered what happened to the last anti-Semite who had global domination ambitions."
Maria in Texas: "Mr. Ahmadinejad, you preach democracy, dignity, respect and peace for all people while praising God. Yet you oppress your own people, support terrorist organizations, call for the annihilation of Israel and for the enemies of the United States to join forces with you against America. Are you a paranoid schizophrenic or are you the great deceiver, the anti-Christ?"
Tony writes: "Have you called President Bush and thanked him for invading Iraq and empowering Iran in the Middle East?"
Cecil in Bogota, Columbia: "Jack, I'd ask him how his spider hole is running along."
And Ronnie in Santa Fe, New Mexico: "So who really broke up the act, you or Dean Martin?"
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and read more of these online. And I think, we got a call from one of Anderson's producers, you may see some of these on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" tonight as well. We've got a lot of mail and they called, they're interested in maybe using some of these.
I like the one about who broke up the act, you or Dean Martin. BLITZER: It's a little off, but it's good. It's good, Jack. Thanks very much, we're going to be watching Anderson's interview 10:00 p.m. tonight. You're going to want to see that here on CNN.
Millions of viewers vote her into their homes every day, so one man says the queen of talk should be the leader of the free world. But what does Oprah Winfrey think about that? Jeanne Moos with the story. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: When Oprah Winfrey talks, people listen. And with million of fans, one man thinks Oprah could easily turn her viewership into votes. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine this was Oprah in her inaugural gown.
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: We are buying you a house.
MOOS: How about the White House?
(on camera): Oprah for president?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've got to be kidding.
MOOS (voice-over): Tell that to the guy behind this T-shirt and that bumper sticker.
PATRICK CROWE, NATIONAL DIRECTOR, OPRAH FOR PRESIDENT: It will take a presidential ah-ha moment.
MOOS: That's the phrase Oprah herself uses to describe the moment when an idea calls her to action. Retired Kansas city teacher and car wash owner Patrick Crowe put it on the cover of his "Oprah for President" book.
There's only one catch. Oprah's lawyers are telling him to stop all this. The Smoking Gun Web site got hold of the legal papers accusing Crowe of infringing on Oprah copyrights and trademarks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oprah has charisma, Oprah's got style.
MOOS: Oprah has her own campaign song, even if she doesn't know it, it's on the Web site where they don't ask for dollars, they ask you to write on dollars, "Oprah for President" and put it into circulation.
As for possible Oprah running mates, Dr. Phil for V.P.?
DR. PHIL MCGRAW, TALK SHOW HOST: When she comes into a room, everybody in the room feels better.
MOOS: Other suggestions for V.P.? Hillary Clinton or even Barack Obama.
(on camera): Oprah for president?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fantastic, she knows how to get things done.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't like Oprah. She's just someone that seems really fake.
MOOS (voice-over): As a candidate she would have to avoid moments like the one recently where she fumbled trying to pump gas, saying she hadn't done it since 1983.
WINFREY: Well this can't be possible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is.
WINFREY: That you do it just like that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you have to hold it.
WINFREY: Well this is going to take all day.
MOOS: Sort of like when the first President Bush fumbled with a grocery scanner. Patrick Crowe says that barring a court order, he'll keep pushing for an ah-ha moment.
(on camera): Oprah for president?
CROWE: Better than George Bush.
MOOS: Anything else?
CROWE: Much better than George Bush.
MOOS (voice-over): And though the campaign may bomb, Oprah wouldn't.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She wouldn't say, bombs away.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: That's all the time we have. Thanks very much for joining us. "PAULA ZAHN NOW" starts right now. Soledad O'Brien sitting in for Paula -- Soledad?
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