Transcript: George H.W. Bush on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the Nov. 4, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Well, today we begin a new series called American Leaders. We'll still cover the big stories and interview top officials here in Washington, but we want to expand the conversation on Sunday talk shows to reach beyond the Beltway and hear from some of the most compelling voices in business, culture and religion.

This week we traveled to College Station, Texas, to the presidential library and museum on the campus of Texas A&M University. There we met with our first American leader, former President George Herbert Walker Bush.


WALLACE: This is the 10th anniversary of the Bush library, and over the School of Government there's a bust of you with the inscription, "Public service is a noble calling."

Where do you and your family — where did you get this commitment to public service?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Some of it was from my parents. I watched my father, early age, not realizing what he was up to, doing a lot of charitable works.

My mother pounded into us early on do something for others, and so we started — we were so lucky from our parents we got. Then I went to a boarding school where part of the challenge was volunteering.

Yale University had that ethos, and I did some extra-curricular kind of charitable stuff there, so it's always been a part of my life, but I really believe it.

I really believe there can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others.

WALLACE: There are famous stories of old Joe Kennedy sitting around the dinner table and drilling his kids on government and service. Did you do that with your kids?

G.H.W. BUSH: No. We didn't have any of these seminars or sessions, or hey, I want to run for governor, I'm thinking of running for president, or anything like that, nor what should I be doing with my life.

You know, both Barbara and I have led active lives, hopefully some of it in helping others, and I hope that that's where our kids picked up their convictions, and they all are involved in doing that.

WALLACE: You like to say that you're big into the grandfather business. As you look at this next generation of Bushes, do you see this same commitment to public service?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, if you define public service as running for office, not necessarily, although one or two of them probably will do that.

But if you define it as doing something for others — most recent example of that publicly is our granddaughter Jenna, who's written a book about a young girl with AIDS.

And Jenna's traveled around, and part of her travels around include, you know, the idea of doing something to help people.

And Barbara, her sister, is doing things with one of the United Nations organizations in Africa, and others have done that. George P., our oldest grandson, Jeb's boy, is active in that.

So it just kind of gravitates down from generation to generation, Chris.

WALLACE: And as grandpa or poppy — what are you?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, poppy is my nickname, but gampy.


G.H.W. BUSH: We're called Gampy.

WALLACE: Do you feel a tremendous sense of pride when you see not just your children but your grandchildren carrying on the family tradition?

G.H.W. BUSH: A total sense of pride and great happiness. I'm not in trying to sit at the head table anymore, Chris. I've done that and I've enjoyed it, and I've had a lot of challenges. But I take enormous pride in these grandkids, all of them, and watching them come along.

The only thing about getting old is, you know, I just don't — I want to be around to see the success in life, not necessarily being elected to something, but giving back and also great happiness for all of them.

WALLACE: I know you're not — you're going to shudder when I say this, but aren't you a dynasty like the Kennedys? Aren't the Bushes?

G.H.W. BUSH: Two words I don't like — dynasty and legacy. But I don't think so. I mean, I think there's a period in the U.S. history where Bushes have been in the forefront, and this happens to be one of them.

My father was in the U.S. Senate, and I was in the Congress and in the presidency, and then George W. was a governor and now president of the United States. Jeb was a governor.

But we don't think of ourselves as a dynasty — onward it goes — I mean, that kind of thing. I really hope some of my grandkids will be actively involved in politics.

WALLACE: And why not legacy, because I would think you would like the legacy of public service and commitment and...

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, what I'd like to do is have somebody else figure out that that's what motivates me and motivates Barbara, and I just think let the historians do it.

Somebody said, "Well, you're going to write your definitive book about your life, biography." No, I'm not. I haven't done that. I wrote a book of letters which, you know, gives an insight into the real me as opposed to the public perceptions of me.

But I'm convinced historians will figure out the things we got wrong and hopefully the things we got right. So I'd rather do it that way.

WALLACE: As you know, we're beginning a new series called American Leaders, and we are honored to have you as our first leader. As you look around the country and around the world, what do you worry about?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, I worry about international terror much more than I used to before 9/11. I worried about it. You know, we've had incidents of terror.

But I worry about international terror as a method for bringing about political change or sociological change in different countries. And this concerns me because our homeland is not — we see now, is not immune from this kind of dastardly attack. And so I worry about that a lot.

I don't worry about superpower confrontation. You know, I lived through the Cold War days, and where everybody was worried about a Soviet Union armed to the teeth. I think we're going to get along fine with Russia, and I don't see them as internationally ambitious.

WALLACE: So you don't see Putin going back in a new Cold War?

G.H.W. BUSH: Not that much, no, not to a new Cold War. He's defining certain things that he believes in, and he's showing a concern about the old Russian view that they're trying to encircle us kind of thing.

But I think Putin — I think we ought not to give up on working with him, because I honestly believe that he's got the — he doesn't have ambitions to build the Soviet Union into — rebuild a Soviet Union and have it be an aggressive challenger to the United States of America.

WALLACE: And as you look around the country and the world, what gives you the most hope?

G.H.W. BUSH: Most hope? Change in China gives me a lot of hope. The fact that we're still the leader in democracy — that gives me a lot of hope, and that's going to stay that way, and so I — I have a lot of reason to be hopeful.

Maybe I'm spoiled because my life is so good, Chris. I'm very happy out of the public eye. Sometimes thinking back — but not so much — and again, family. So I get a lot of hope from that, but that's not the broad philosophical picture.

WALLACE: Beside this extraordinary complex at Texas A&M and the grandfather business, you're also deeply involved in charitable projects, especially volunteerism.

I remember I was on the floor of the 1988 convention when you talked about a thousand points of light, and there were some critics who said, "This is a conservative cop-out. This is somebody who's saying, you know, let's give private responsibility for things that the government used to be responsible for."

G.H.W. BUSH: Exactly.

WALLACE: Volunteerism has had quite some staying power in the last 20 years, hasn't it?

G.H.W. BUSH: Volunteerism has been a part of the United States, a deeply felt part of it, for a long time. But you're absolutely correct.

When we started the Points of Light Foundation or Points of Light Program, people — "Oh, he's copping out," instead we want to get more government money here, more appropriations from this committee or that, he's trying to get private sector to do that which the government should be doing, and I don't agree with that.

I think the spirit of America, one American wanting to make another American's life better, or internationally our desire to see countries do better, or people in countries do better, coming from this concept of volunteerism is a very valid and important part of our internal being.

WALLACE: I can't let this opportunity pass without talking a little politics with you.

G.H.W. BUSH: Go ahead.

WALLACE: Do you agree with your son that Hillary Clinton is going to win the Democratic nomination? And why, as you said in Japan — and I'm going to clean this up slightly — are you going to try to beat the heck out of her?

G.H.W. BUSH: I'm trying to remember if I said that. I don't remember using the word "heck."

WALLACE: Actually, you used another word.


G.H.W. BUSH: Well, look. If she's the nominee, I obviously will be for her opponent. I had thought a few weeks ago that she was almost a gimme, as we say in golf, for the nomination. I'm not sure I feel that way now.


G.H.W. BUSH: Well, there seems to be more kind of internal, in her own party — seems to be more willingness to take her on and to argue about stuff.

But she's a formidable opponent and she's done very well, in my view. Now, would I be for her? No. Would she ever be for the president? No.

You know, I listen to these debates. Everything George says, everything wrong, the president, it's his fault, tide's going out, his fault, his fault, he ought to keep it from going out, fires are burning, it's his fault, he ought to do something about that.

And you know, every one of these people standing there on the debate, when they didn't have an answer, they go, "The president — it's his fault." I get a little tired of that.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that, because the president was quoted as saying that he worries about you because you get so upset about that.

G.H.W. BUSH: He's right. Well, I mean, he's right I get upset about it, but he shouldn't worry about me. We talk a lot, and I have great respect for his positions and for his guts, for his staying in there.

And it would be very easy to go, "Ooh, hey, the Ipsos poll has me four points down. If I only adopted this new position, I'd be up and even." He doesn't do that. Here's what I believe, deals from conviction, and he's got one very proud father sitting right here with you today.

WALLACE: The fact that you've developed such a close friendship with Bill Clinton won't make you go easy on Hillary Clinton?

G.H.W. BUSH: No, I don't think so. I do have a good friendship with Bill Clinton, and I've enjoyed working with him on charitable causes, Katrina and tsunami and all of this. And I might say I even enjoy playing golf with the guy.

And I'm enough older that he has treated me with great deference, and I would say friendship, and so there is a friendship there.

But just as he's not going to tiptoe about his differences with the president, I wouldn't tiptoe with my differences with him. But I don't plan to be all involved in this, Chris. My time is here. It's passed now.

I'm sitting here at the library, which I love, and we'll leave that to successors, younger people who have that — you know, the traditional, tired, old cliche, fire in the belly. I don't have that there.

I want to see change. I want to see my party win. And I think we've got very good people. But I don't want to — I don't want to kind of be an old guy on the sidelines carping, let's go see what the old so-and-so up there in Kennebunkport or Houston, Texas, has to say. I've had my chance.

WALLACE: If Senator Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, there will have been a Clinton or a Bush on the ballot in every presidential election since 1980, 28 years.

In a democracy, how do you explain this attachment to two families?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, I don't know that it's an attachment to families. I think it's being in the right place politically at a certain time.

I'm not sure that — you know, again, I want to be on record as saying I don't necessarily believe Hillary is going to win the primary, say nothing of the general election.

But the American people have a way of sorting these things out, and they go to the caucuses or go to the primaries, and just work — grind your way up the — to whatever lies ahead. And that's what's happened. It hasn't been any anointing in the process.

WALLACE: I assume you're not going to tell me who your favorite for the Republican nomination is.

G.H.W. BUSH: Very valid assumption.

WALLACE: OK. But I do have another question, though, in that regard. This is the first real Republican race post-9/11, because your son was running for re-election in 2004. Do you think that national security may now trump social issues among Republican voters?

G.H.W. BUSH: Yes, I do, because I think 9/11 guaranteed that national security is going to be in the forefront of every election.

The president's done a good job. Homeland security is doing a good job. The agency — intelligence is doing a good job. The Congress even here have taken the steps to support the initiatives on homeland security.

But I don't think any domestic issue, at least in the foreseeable future, is going to transcend the interest of the American people in keeping our homeland safe.

WALLACE: Even more than social issues.

G.H.W. BUSH: Yeah, that's my view. Maybe it's — maybe that's my own personal view and, therefore, I don't know what others think, but, you know, if you could predicate there'd be a national depression or something when the economy's been pretty darn good, let's face it, then you might have somebody say, "Well, that will trump national security."

WALLACE: Let's talk about George H.W. Bush, which I know you were brought up by your mother not to do.

As I prepared for this interview, I was reminded that you have led the most remarkable life — war hero, successful businessman, ambassador to the U.N., liaison to China, CIA director, vice president, president, elder statesman.

How do you explain it? How was George H.W. Bush able to accomplish so much?

G.H.W. BUSH: Oh, I guess some of it is — you know, might be ambition, which is not a particularly worthy way of describing it.

But I think more importantly the concept of service that we talked about earlier enters into this, and I've been very blessed.

When I was down, a president comes along. He gives me an interesting assignment. You know, and that's happened two or three times in my life. So I don't really find it that remarkable, looking back.

I find that I've had a very exciting and wonderful challenge of a life, but then I don't miss a lot of the things that I used to live — I used to pick up that paper or listen — turn on the Fox and listen to the news and say, "Listen to this. Look at this so-and-so. Why is he saying that?" I don't do that anymore. I'm a kind of a calmer, quieter old guy.

WALLACE: Kinder, gentler.

G.H.W. BUSH: Kinder, gentler. Well, I really am. But it doesn't mean I've lost interest in it. And again, it all goes back. I've got a grandson that would make a wonderfully able public servant if he ran, George P. And Pierce, Neil's son — they have an interest in politics.

And I sit there by the sea or in my house in Houston saying, "Isn't this wonderful? They want to do something." But it's not — we're not trying to push them into anything. I've been very proud of Jenna and her sister Barbara. They travel around to help fight against HIV/AIDS.

WALLACE: Finally, I know that you had a hip replacement operation in January. You marked your 80th birthday by jumping out of an airplane. Do you still intend to do it again when you turn 85?

G.H.W. BUSH: Definitely when I turn 85. Definitely, because...

WALLACE: And let me just ask the question that I'm sure Mrs. Bush is asking. Why?

G.H.W. BUSH: Two reasons. One, it feels good. When you get to be my age, you don't have that feeling of running in the fields and jumping around and running the five miles and all. You don't get that charge.

I get it in my speed boat, but I — it feels good. It's a challenge, and it's a — there's an exhilaration when you look down 13,000 feet with no visible means of support.

But the other reason, which I think is a more serious reason, is it sends a message here and abroad, former president, that old people can still do stuff. Oh, you don't have to sit there drooling in the corner. You can get out there and do something fun and challenging.

And, Chris, all over — when I travel around the world to Korea or Japan or China a lot, Russia, people ask about that. It's surprising how many people know about it.

And it sends a message of hope to people, old people. Get in the game. Get off the bench. Do something, even if it's something as frivolous as jumping out of a plane.


WALLACE: Up next, Mr. Bush takes us behind the scenes of his presidency. We'll deal with a crisis in the situation room, only this time I have to make the decisions and he gets to second-guess me.

We'll be right back.


WALLACE: We're back now with our new series, American Leaders. After sitting down with former President Bush, he gave us an inside look into his years in the White House, with a private tour through never-before-seen areas of his presidential library.


WALLACE: Walk through the Bush library and you walk through the events of his presidency. We started with the re-creation of the Oval Office. And I asked Mr. Bush if he ever lost his sense of awe for the room.

G.H.W. BUSH: You always feel that it's a special place for the American people and for foreign visitors. A lot of them stand outside, American citizens — I'm going to go in there and tell this guy off, you know? And they get in there and they start shaking. They don't tell you off. And it has a majesty to it.

WALLACE: It's been called the ultimate home court advantage.

G.H.W. BUSH: It's true. I hadn't heard that, but that's very true.

WALLACE: When you're here at the desk in the Oval Office making presidential decisions, what's the feeling?

G.H.W. BUSH: Every single day when I walked into this office from this door over here, you feel a sense of awe and a sense of respect, and I tried to treat the office with respect.

But I have many happy memories. I look down there and there was a secure phone in there, and I remember Colin Powell coming in one day, and they said, "Well, it's time to end the shooting in Kuwait."

And he picked up the secure phone right there and was on there to Schwarzkopf in about 45 seconds. "Get me Schwarzkopf." And they got him on there, and they confirmed that it was time to end the battle.

WALLACE: We moved on to 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union

Well, this has got to be one of the high points of your presidency.

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, it is. It is. And of course, the wall coming down and then the subsequent reunification of Germany — I think the unification of Germany is going to be the most historic thing that happened on my watch.

And I think it's probably, in terms of the last century, one of the most significant international events, because it all but ended the Cold War in a definitive way, and I think my people and hopefully me — hopefully I handled it well, and not a shot was fired.

WALLACE: That day, as I'm sure you were watching in the White House on television, as the people stormed the Berlin Wall and started tearing it down, what were you thinking?

G.H.W. BUSH: I was thinking this is amazing. This is absolutely amazing after all these years to see this coming down.

But I got a little criticized, Chris, because I didn't go and do, as Gephardt and Mitchell suggested, and dance on the wall. One, I'm a terrible dancer. And two, it would have been a stupid thing to do.

I think I'd have been sticking my finger in Gorbachev's eyes, and who knows how the Soviet military would have reacted. And so to go get a couple of points in the polls by dancing on the wall to show your exuberance — which I felt in my heart would have been stupid.

WALLACE: Although the library is 10 years old, they have just done major upgrades, such as this version of the situation room where President Bush and his team handled crises.

G.H.W. BUSH: Exact replica. I mean, there's a little more room from here to that wall now.

WALLACE: But the wood panels and the desk and the...

G.H.W. BUSH: Oh, yeah. Yeah. That's the way it was. Now, these are on here as modern technology.

WALLACE: He's talking about touch screens where you can have an interactive experience making decisions as events unfold, only this time I was the president, and Mr. Bush was second-guessing me.

G.H.W. BUSH: Now, I'm going to sit down and watch you at work.

WALLACE: Here's August 8th, 1990. One of the conditions insisted upon by King Fahd when he agreed to accept U.S. troops on Saudi soil was that no public announcement be made until the troops had actually arrived and it was a fait accompli.

They were choices President Bush had to face during the first Gulf War, such as when to tell the American people he was sending U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia to confront Saddam Hussein.

WALLACE: Make the news known immediately — that wouldn't be prudent.

G.H.W. BUSH: No, it wouldn't, wouldn't be prudent. Not gonna do that.

WALLACE: Not gonna.

G.H.W. BUSH: Not gonna do that.

WALLACE: I'll try three. Yes, congratulations.

G.H.W. BUSH: Amazing roll you're on here, Chris.

WALLACE: I understand that. Now, here's the question, though. You're sitting around a room. These are obviously complicated situations. How do you make the choices?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, I'll tell you how I did it. I was blessed with a strong national security team, and we'd sit around here and they'd review the various options.

WALLACE: But are there times — and you had two very good men in Cheney and Baker — where Baker is saying X and Cheney is saying Y...

G.H.W. BUSH: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

WALLACE: ... and they both make very strong cases?

G.H.W. BUSH: Yes, there are. And then the president has to make the decision. And therein I was blessed with Scowcroft. I'd say, "Look, here's what — Cheney says this one, and Jim says that. And tell me what you really think," or, "Do you — what the rest of the departments are saying."

So there are times — and it's not easy. I mean, you have to do what you think is best for the overall good.

WALLACE: Easy for you to make a decision, or would you agonize about it a lot?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, when they say we need a decision by 5 o'clock today because we want to move forces or something, I had no problem doing that. But you always kind of hoped you were right.

WALLACE: Finally, we see what happens when a president makes a decision, walking into the kind of tent where U.S. soldiers camped in the Saudi desert during Operation Desert Storm.

It's got to be the hardest thing for any president, to send troops into combat.

G.H.W. BUSH: Oh, that's the toughest decision a president make, no question. Nothing compares to it when you send somebody else's kid, somebody else's son, somebody else's daughter, whatever it is, into harm's way. There's nothing like it. You can't blame someone else. You've got to say this is — I'm making this call.

WALLACE: And on a personal level, how do you live with it?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, you — with all respect, you pray and you rely heavily on a team of experts, but in the final analysis you live with the decision. And sometimes things work out great, and sometimes I was very worried they wouldn't.

When you suit up to be president, that goes with the territory. And it's not easy. Those things are not easy. But I never, you know, felt sorry for myself because I knew — my mother would say, "You're doing your best," and I knew I had a wonderful group of advisers.

But we couldn't see how it would all play out, I will confess that.

WALLACE: The library has a powerful film that puts you right in the action. January 16th, 1991, the night the air war is launched.

G.H.W. BUSH: I'll never forget that night.

WALLACE: What...

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, just the fact that we're watching and knowing when the war was supposed to start. It started earlier. The skies lit up earlier on. I called the situation room and said, "What's going on here?" And I don't know what — don't remember the answer, but the battle had begun.

WALLACE: Now, you must be thinking, as this is going on, you know, get home. Everybody get home.

G.H.W. BUSH: Yeah. Bring them home.

WALLACE: The president remembered the courage and humanity of American soldiers and he grew emotional.

G.H.W. BUSH: My favorite picture is a picture of American soldiers surrounding a guy in a foxhole, Iraqi soldier, and the American guy says, "We're not going to harm you. We're American soldiers."

WALLACE: This really brings back the sacrifice, doesn't it, sir?

G.H.W. BUSH: Sure does. You see, that side of the war never got — the fact that he treated those people with respect in spite of the fact that they were the enemy was really good.

WALLACE: Then some final thoughts about the decisions he had to make.

G.H.W. BUSH: I still think Saddam Hussein thought he would — one, we wouldn't fight and, two, if we did fight, somehow talked himself into believing he'd win in the ground war.

WALLACE: And then the decision to end it...

G.H.W. BUSH: Yeah.

WALLACE: ... when we were slaughtering them — and again, I mean, I...

G.H.W. BUSH: I think we made the right decision. I've subsequently been criticized for that. But we had an objective. We formed a coalition based on not killing Saddam, not conquering, capturing Baghdad, but on ending the war, ending the aggression. And we did it.

And so we did what we said we were going to do. Had we not done that, that coalition would have fallen apart in a minute.

WALLACE: Mr. President, thank you so much. This has been such a wonderful...

G.H.W. BUSH: All right. Well, Chris, thank you for coming all this way.


WALLACE: And a special thanks to everyone at Bush Presidential Library for all their help during our time in Texas.