WASHINGTON – President Bush described himself as a "true believer" in the idea that the United States should spread the concept of liberty to other parts of the world.
"I'm a believer. I’m a believer in the power of liberty to transform societies, and I believe we have a duty, I believe we have a duty to spread liberty so that our children and grandchildren can grow up in peace," Bush told FOX News' Bill O'Reilly.
"I believe that peace is coming, and I believe that we’re more free. I believe we’ve done our duty to our children and our grandchildren to fight these ideologues of hate and to spread freedom and peace at the same time," Bush said, referring to people in Iraq and Afghanistan who lived under repressive regimes before the U.S.-led wars fought during Bush's tenure.
In the interview, Bush reflected back on Sept. 11, 2001, and said he didn't immediately get up from a session with Florida schoolchildren because he didn't want to spread panic.
"I was thinking America was under attack, I was collecting my thoughts, and I wasn’t about to panic a bunch of kids," Bush told FOX's Bill O'Reilly.
Bush has been criticized — most colorfully by filmmaker Michael Moore — for reading to a group of kids for several minutes after Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispered into his ear that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. John Kerry (search), Bush's rival for the presidency, has also mentioned Bush's actions that day as a reason why Bush should not be re-elected.
"The program was winding down, I waited for the end of the program, I excused myself and I went into action," Bush said.
"What the American people will judge me on is whether or not I handled that crisis in a way that lets them know that, that I’ll lead in this War on Terror, that's what they need to look at, and I think they are looking at it that way," Bush told O'Reilly.
Bush talked about his faith — he is a born-again Christian — and why some people get upset when he mentions his faith.
"I mean, I do rely on prayer, and I am empowered by the fact, I’m empowered by the fact that people pray for me," Bush said before correcting himself and saying that he's "sustained" by people's prayer, not "empowered" by it.
The president said faith is an important part of his life.
"I don't see how you can divorce religion and how you live your life," he said. "And I make decisions based upon what’s best for this country. And I pray for wisdom, I pray for strength, I pray for others who are in harm’s way. I pray for the soldiers, I pray for their families ... [but] I make decisions about earthly matters, I make decisions about how to get out of recession, or how to improve education, or how to spread the peace."
In earlier parts of the interview, Bush said that if his Air National Guard unit had been called up to serve in the Vietnam War, he would have gladly gone overseas.
"I was on active duty for a little over a year and a half and I proudly served. And had my unit been called up, I’d have gone," Bush told O'Reilly in the interview segment that aired Tuesday night. "I fulfilled my duties … I did exactly what my commanders told me to do."
The comment comes as controversy continues to brew over whether Bush received preferential treatment to get into the Texas Air National Guard (search) more than 35 years ago to avoid going into active duty.
Asked if he thought he got special preferential treatment getting into the Air Guard, Bush responded: "No. I don’t. As a matter of fact, the general that, or the commander of the unit, Buck Staudt, said, said the same thing: 'No.'"
Ret. Col. Walter Staudt (search), who commanded the Texas Air National Guard in which then-Lt. George Bush served three decades ago, said the president received no favoritism in getting into the Guard and that his record was never "sugarcoated," as questionable memos aired by CBS earlier this month alleged.
In the portion of the interview that aired Monday night, Bush said he wouldn't think twice about donning a flight suit and boarding an aircraft carrier again to thank U.S. troops personally for fighting abroad.
"These kids had been on a very long cruise," Bush told O'Reilly. "They'd been on a cruise to both, in two theaters of war now, Afghanistan and Iraq. I flew out there, and said, 'Thanks. Thanks on behalf of a grateful nation.' You bet I'd do it again."
O'Reilly told FOX News that the interview is 100 percent Bush, uncut and unedited, that viewers will see.
"We didn't cut it, we didn't do anything to it, we gave him a fair shake," O'Reilly said.
When asked by FOX News' Shepard Smith why his usual raging tone and demeanor wasn't used toward the president, as it is toward many of his guests, O'Reilly said he toned down his voice out of respect.
"There are three people in the world I have to be different with when I interview: the president, the Pope and my mother," O'Reilly said. "You have to be respectful to the office. I pushed the president … as far as I could on the border, on Iran. … Here, I'm trying to give the viewer an insight to who the man is and if Sen. Kerry comes in, I'll treat him the same way."