Bush Scales Back the Rhetoric

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," January 14, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, "Bring them on."



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want justice. And there's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, "Wanted, dead or alive."


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Those are two good ones, but they did cause a little trouble.

Teddy Roosevelt (search) was fond of the old proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." President Bush on the other hand, has raised a few eyebrows with some of his off-the-cuff remarks, mainly those two. But the President now says that he's mindful that sometimes his words can have unintended consequences.

Maryanne Marsh (search) is a Democratic Strategist and FOX News Political Analyst. Rick Lazio (search) is a former Republican congressman from New York.

So Maryanne, I'll bet this was one of the happiest days of your life.

MARYANNE MARSH, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: How did you know, John? I'm so surprised.

GIBSON: You've been waiting for the day he would admit it and today he admitted it.

MARSH: Yes, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. George Bush said, "Bring it on" and they did. But I think what you have to really look at here, John, is he said this very deliberately. This was in the context of a campaign to taunt our enemies and his political opponents, and the reality is it's come back to bite him.

But when you're not the one doing the fighting, it's pretty easy to talk tough. But in playing cowboy, the fact is George Bush didn't get the bad guys.

GIBSON: Now, but wait a minute.

Now Maryanne, he said today, "One of the things" — I'm going to read this quote, because this came in a roundtable with a bunch of newspapers in Florida. And he was asked once again, for the umpteenth zillionth time, "Do you regret anything?" And he thought about it a while.

And he said, "OK. One of the things I've learned," Bush said, sounding wistful, "is that sometimes words have consequences you don't intend. 'Bring them on' is a classic example. I was really trying to rally the troops and I fully understood what a great job they were doing. Those words had an unintended consequence, some interpreted it to be defiance in the face of danger."

Now, him having said that, do you really think, do you stand by what you just said that he was purposely trying to stir up a hornet's nest?

MARSH: Well, look all of this was so orchestrated. Look at the landing on the aircraft: "Mission Accomplished." That was probably the most orchestrated photo op in the history of presidential campaigns, number one. Number two, the fact is, that wasn't...

GIBSON: That wasn't a campaign then.

MARSH: No. Oh, we were well into the campaign season at that point, John. But now look at the last several days. "Oops, no weapons of mass destruction. Oops, the words have consequences. Oops, the war might have been a mistake."

It might have all been a mistake.

GIBSON: Nobody said that.

MARSH: Well, he's come close. You have to look at these words today in the context of it might have been.

GIBSON: Rick Lazio, let's just imagine that Maryanne had had her fondest dream come true and that Bush had made this admission, that he made a mistake, before November 2nd.

RICK LAZIO, FORMER NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN: Yes. You would have had Headline News, James Carville tearing into him, all the democratic attack dogs...

GIBSON: Joe Lockhart.


So, you can't possibly rationally expect that a candidate for office for president was going to expose himself like that right before the election. The fact is, he's reflective after the election. As you said, this is in the context of talking to a number of reporters and editors from different regional papers where he's thinking about things. He said "Yeah, as a matter of fact, there have been regrets over four years."

GIBSON: OK. Let's look ahead, as Maryanne did. She said we're about to hear the war was a mistake. You think you're going to hear that out of George Bush?

LAZIO: No. I think he absolutely believes in his heart, like the majority of Americans do, that going in and taking out Saddam Hussein, that eliminating that death machine, that moving toward free elections, establishing democracy, it is hard work, there are enormous sacrifices. I think he believes in his heart that this is the right thing to do for the long term security of America. And I think most Americans do as well.

GIBSON: Maryanne, the other thing is, as much as people hollered about it, and you were one and Joe Lockhart and all of them that were opposed to President Bush, the American people really did like it. When he talked like that, they liked it. His poll numbers went up.

MARSH: But now they, too, have seen the consequences of his words. And I think this is what you're going to see. We're not even at the elections yet and those don't look like they're going to go well.

GIBSON: You're telling me that even now Americans don't like Bush unplugged? I get the sense they do.

MARSH: I think Americans always like the tough talk, but then they see the real pictures, like we just saw. The fact is, I think Bush is now signaling before the Iraqi election that a softening stance of either withdrawing troops completely or reducing the troops, and then you can almost say when you look back at these words that he maybe did make a mistake and maybe this war was a mistake.

But I think it's going to be a lot sooner than any of us thought during the campaign that we may be out of Iraq.

GIBSON: But you just heard, Maryanne Marsh, wait a second. We just heard guys at the top of this show saying, There's a whole lot of difference between "Maybe it's time to get troops out because it's fueling an insurgency" and "The war was a mistake."

MARSH: That has been happening from day one. What did he think was going to happen when he says these things? He thought by saying this that more militants weren't going to come to Iraq? He opened up a holy war.

GIBSON: What would happen, or can you imagine that the President some day is going to sit down and write a book, like Robert McNamara did about Vietnam and said, "You know what? It would have been better had I left Saddam Hussein in that place?"

LAZIO: It's unimaginable. It's like saying we should have left Adolph Hitler in place. We should have punted on that. Saddam Hussein is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Under the best case scenario...

GIBSON: Do you think he was a threat to this country?

LAZIO: Absolutely. I think he was providing...

GIBSON: Maryanne, do you think he was a threat to this country?

MARSH: No. He was a toothless tiger that was hiding in a little hole. There were no weapons of mass destruction and that's why we went to war...

GIBSON: You don't think those weapons are in Syria?

MARSH: And we still don't have Usama bin Laden.

GIBSON: You don't think the U.N. ...?

MARSH: No. They're not anywhere.

GIBSON: The U.N. believed they were there, John Kerry believed they were there, John McCain believed they were there.

LAZIO: That's exactly right.

MARSH: Everybody was wrong. The fact is, we went to war for the wrong reason: no weapons of mass destruction.

LAZIO: So then we should not have a Security Council in the U.N. because that...

GIBSON: But Maryanne, you're saying that Saddam Hussein should still be in Iraq, should still be in charge; that the world would be a just and fair place if he were?

MARSH: I'm saying we should have never rushed to war so ill prepared to go get him.

GIBSON: That's what it means. You really think it'd be better if he's there.

MARSH: And had we waited — no — and had we — we could have taken him out much easier than what we ended up doing. And look at how many people have been killed in the process.

LAZIO: I used to remember a Democratic Party that really cared about humanitarian concerns; that really cared about the values of democracy, of making sure people weren't tortured, that they actually had the rule of law, that women had a certain amount of rights.

And I'm not hearing that from some cores of the Democratic Party anymore. What you're hearing now is just because we want to criticize George Bush, that we want things to fail and we thought things were pretty good during the years of Saddam Hussein and his terror chambers.

GIBSON: Maryanne, I...

MARSH: Nope. No one ever said they were good, but no one ever deserved this, especially the over 1,000 American soldiers who've died and the tens of thousands or more who have been maimed or life.

GIBSON: Maryanne Marsh, Rick Lazio, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

MARSH: Thank you, John.

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