OTR Interviews

For George W. Bush, Empowering Women in Afghanistan Lays a 'Foundation for a Lasting Peace'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 31, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: You remember September 11th, 2001? Who doesn't? Immediately, President George W. Bush became consumed with terrorists hiding out in Afghanistan. Now almost 10 years later his attention remains on Afghanistan, trying to help the women of Afghanistan escape oppression under the Taliban.

In 2002 while still president, President Bush and Afghan President Karzai formed the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council. Today President Bush is still hard at work on his mission to help the Afghan women. He sat down to talk about this year's conversation which had a cyber-visitor, President Karzai himself.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. President, always nice to see you, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: In is a big event isn't it, sir?

BUSH: It is. It is big because it will have an impact over the years. The idea of liberating women, empowering women, encouraging women, educating women in Afghanistan is all part of laying a foundation for lasting peace.

My concern of course is that the United States gets weary of being in Afghanistan, it is not worth it, let's leave. And Laura and I believe that if that were to happen, women would suffer again. We don't believe that's in the interests of the United States or the world to create a safe haven for terrorists and stand by and watch women's rights be abused.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think we forget how different it is for women in this country. We have a lot to improve, but how vastly different for women in that country.

BUSH: We've seen what it is like under the Taliban. Even though it was a decade ago, surely we can remember the fact that for example, young girls couldn't go to school and women were jailed in their own homes. If they expressed themselves publicly in a way that irritated the Taliban they were brutalized. That is not in our interests to see that kind of behavior.

We liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban, because of providing a safe haven for Al Qaeda. I believed then and now we have an obligation to help this young democracy in Afghanistan survive. And thrive. And one of the best and most effective ways is to empower women.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm curious, I imagine living the Taliban that many people developed ideas about women. Even though the Taliban is gone it is hard to escape the thought women should stay home, shouldn't get schooled, that the cultural ingrained aspects have to be developed as well.

BUSH: That's true. There's still an inherent prejudice women in parts of Afghanistan in the big cities I'm told that women are thriving and education system is working, and there's great progress. In the rural areas of Afghanistan in particular, women are still subjected to barbaric rule. So the objective is not to look and say how terrible it is. It is to think how good it can be.

So part of our objective here at the Bush Center is to empower women around the world, with a special focus in places like the Mideast and Afghanistan. Part of our objective is to remind people that isolationism will subject certain people to horrors that I don't see how our country can live with that kind of decision.

VAN SUSTEREN: The Bush administration ended and everyone scattered. Now I see many of the people, Karen Hughes, Anita McBride, they've all sort of -- they still maintain their interest in the Afghanistan issue and the women there. They come back for this.

BUSH: They do. A lot of us went through 9/11 and the aftermath of 9/11. Many of the women in my administration felt a call to help the women of Afghanistan. For them to come back is an extension of what has been a decade long passion.

VAN SUSTEREN: And using their new jobs to partner up with these women.

BUSH: Absolutely. Part of the objective is to encourage American women to mentor and help Afghan women this is not our first conference. Last year here at the Bush center we sponsored a conference on education. This happens to be a focus on entrepreneurship and business.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mrs. Bush lends her star power as well to the Afghan women. I think even if she hadn't been the first lady, she has been helping women for a long time. I say she was with the Komen Foundation with breast cancer, addressing envelopes long before she was first lady. This is something she is immensely devoted to.

BUSH: That's true. It started with her being an educator. Teaching young girls was a passion. Of course she became a mother and taught young girls as a mother. The extension of her early childhood and her early career to being first lady and now post first ladyship has been a natural extension for her. Particularly we it comes to focusing on women's rights.

VAN SUSTEREN: How are your parents?

BUSH: They are doing fine. They're turning 85 and 86 this year. The family was together a week ago last Monday honoring dad with the 1,000 points of light celebration. I will see them a week from tomorrow. I'm trying to spend as much time with them as I can.

Did you know, I am, I think the only president, maybe one of two whose both parents are alive after the presidency. So I view this as a huge blessing, a blessing I intend to take advantage of.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know if you will still be alive after announcing your mother's age.

BUSH: I don't know whether I will be alive.


VAN SUSTEREN: Is the library up and running?

BUSH: It is. Hopefully you'll be talking to me in a new building in less than two years. We are excited about the progress we are making. The building is one thing and the programs are another. The programs are ongoing. Today is such a day where we have people from Afghanistan.

It is going to be interesting. I know you will find this interesting is that President Karzai has agreed to talk to us via video. I think it shows one, his to continue to work with the United States, two, his desire to thank the people of the United States, and three, reflection of our friendship, and I'm very grateful for him.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Mr. President. We hope you be back before two years to see more of your programs.

BUSH: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, sir.

BUSH: Thanks, Greta.