George W. Bush on 'gentle soul' Bush 41, 'rejuvenated' ISIS, 'zero-sum' Putin ... and future president Jeb?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 17, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a love story. It's not an objective analysis of President Bush. This is a story about an extraordinary man who, in my judgment, is the finest one-term president our country has ever had.


MARTHA MACCALLUM, "ON THE RECORD" GUEST HOST: Former President George W. Bush talking about his dad and his new book which is called "41: A Portrait of My Father." And they are not your typical father and son, of course, former presidents both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush share that special bond, both holding our nation's highest office.

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    Tonight, President George W. Bush one-on-one with Greta at his childhood home in Midland, Texas. First, he talks about the worldwide respect that he sees out there for his father, our nation's 41st president. Watch.


    BUSH: I highly respected him in the political process, the leaders with whom he served really appreciated how he handled being the president of most powerful country in the world.

    GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: And you even write about that in the book, for instance, when the Berlin Wall came down, you know, he wasn't out there bragging and talking about country, which as a vice he has done an awful lot for the fall of the Soviet Union.

    BUSH: He helped. Of course, he was president when the wall came down. Big criticism as he said I'm not going to go dance on the wall. And the reason why was one, you know, he didn't want to brag and secondly, it wasn't about him. It was about success of, you know, an ideology prevailing over another ideology. But as well, he didn't want to pressure the hardliners and he didn't want to incite the hardliners inside the soviet to pressure Gorbachev to make radical decisions toward -- in order to stay in power.

    VAN SUSTEREN: When you look at what happened during the 12 years, eight years as vice president. Four years as president in Russia and we had the crumbling of the Soviet Empire, what's happening now? I mean, how do we get here? We have Putin sort of making inroads?

    BUSH: Well, leadership matters. And, you know, during my presidency, Vladimir Putin began to, you know, kind of really act in terms of zero-sum politics. In other words, it's either I win or you win. Neither of us can win together. There is not much accountability in Russia anymore. He doesn't have a critical media. And it seems like the political process is being kind of tailored toward keeping him in office. And so, you know, we are just going to have to continue to rally the world to deal with him.

    VAN SUSTEREN: It's interesting how the relationship your father had with Gorbachev, I realize Putin is a different man.

    BUSH: Yeah.

    VAN SUSTEREN: You had a good relationship with Putin.

    BUSH: Initially I did, yeah. And then the price of oil went up and he became more independent and began to use energy as a way to reestablish the Soviet. The demise of the Soviet really affected Putin and he thought it was bad for the world and has said that. I'm not putting words in his mouth which is a different attitude that Gorbachev had. Each presidency you have got to deal with in different environment. There are some constants and one of which is that thinking about how the other person thinks is important to conducting good diplomacy. And that's one of the reasons why George Bush is the master of personal diplomacy.

    VAN SUSTEREN: He wrote letters forever.

    BUSH: He did.

    VAN SUSTEREN: A lot of people have letters from him.

    BUSH: You have got some.

    VAN SUSTEREN: I got some.

    BUSH: I put some of them in the book. He is a powerful letter writer. It seems to be a lost art these days because of the spell check and, you know, you just say to the computer write this, please, and it does. It seems to want to do that. In his case, he wrote thousands of letters, letters to people that he would meet in the Iowa coffee shop, people that he worked with, the guy that helped with the bags at a hotel. I mean, he was an unbelievable letter writer.

    VAN SUSTEREN: But the thing that I have noted about him is that he makes everybody in the room feel important. When you go to interview President Bush 41, every single person is important.

    BUSH: That's right.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Except for him.

    BUSH: Yeah. Exactly.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Which is a problem if you are trying to interview him.

    BUSH: Yeah. No, he is great. He is a thoughtful man who cares deeply about the other person.

    VAN SUSTEREN: You also write in the book about the rise of ISIS.

    BUSH: Yes, I did.

    VAN SUSTEREN: How did we get there?

    BUSH: Well, you know, I made it clear I'm not going to criticize the president but I said in the book ISIS needs to be defeated. Now, the president has said a goal is to degrade and defeat ISIS and hopefully, the strategy that he is employing works because ISIS is a real threat. They are evil as he said. And murdering the innocent to advance a political objective is and always has been evil. And so let's just hope the president meets the goal he outlined.

    VAN SUSTEREN: In your book though, you go back a little bit further when it was pretty much isolated just in Syria before it had spread.

    BUSH: You mean in Iraq?

    VAN SUSTEREN: Into Iraq.

    BUSH: Yeah. We defeated them in Iraq during the surge. And they have been rejuvenated and they can only exist where they find safe haven. In other words, you know, most people don't want these thugs around. Most mothers want their children to grow up in a peaceful world. Most people want there to be fairness. But these guys are not fair. They are brutal. And where there is safe haven they thrive and therefore it's important to deny safe haven. Step two of the Bush doctrine if you harbor terrorists, you are equally as guilty as the terrorists.

    VAN SUSTEREN: It's terrible what happened to the American over the weekend, another beheading.

    BUSH: It's so sad. My heart goes out to his parents. I mean, it's just sad.

    VAN SUSTEREN: There is nothing. We just watched.

    BUSH: Yeah. I mean, these guys are killers.


    MACCALLUM: Greta's conversation with President Bush continues. What are the chances of another Bush running the White House? That guy over there on the right Bush 43 answers that question coming up next.


    MACCALLUM: Welcome back, now more of Greta's interview with President George W. Bush. Watch.


    VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you think it is every single person I have met whether it's Republican, Democrat, whether you agree with President Bush 41 or not, you meet him, you love him. What is it about him?

    BUSH: Well, he is gentle soul and he cares about the other person a lot. He has got a wonderful since of humor and he is comfortable as they say in his own skin. In other words, he has learned a lot about himself in life. He is just a comfortable person to be around. He is considerate. He doesn't harbor grudges. One reason is he such a great diplomat is he tried to figure out how the other person thought. You have got to be pretty humble to be able to do that. He is a humble man.

    VAN SUSTEREN: He is funny, right? In reference, when you have pants that were rather filthy with paint, he said he liked them, right?

    BUSH: Well, what happened was is that I'm sitting there and writing this book. Of course he knows I'm writing a book. He is getting ready to jump out of the airplane the next day. He is 90 years old, or soon to be 90 sitting out in a wheelchair, gazing out looking over the Atlantic. And I'm convinced this is a moment of great you know insight into life and what he is thinking. I said dad, it's beautiful out there. Oh, yeah the ocean is beautiful. I'm kind of waiting this pregnant pause hoping he will sail and, son, here is a lesson you can take with. And he looks at me and says do those pants come in clean, which is typical of George H.W. Bush. He is light-hearted man. In order to be light-hearted, you have got to be a humble person. You can't take yourself so seriously that you can't laugh.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Talk about being humble, I tease he is the world's worst interview because he won't admit to doing anything that he has done. I once interviewed him about the Berlin wall coming down and he acted like oh, anybody could have been doing what he was doing. I almost ended up interviewing myself because he said he shouldn't brag.

    BUSH: Well, it's true. His mother raised him not to brag. You know, which can be a liability in the political world because you know you have to talk about yourself and explain the successes you have had in order to try to convince people in the future. He wasn't that good about that.

    VAN SUSTEREN: It's interesting in the book because you do lay out his foreign policy successes like he and President Reagan, he was the vice president, we had a Soviet Empire as a big foe. By the time he finished his presidency, they had fallen apart. They had crumbled to nothing. He didn't brag about it, so unless he is out there pushing it. You know, that -- but your book talks about that.

    BUSH: Well, the reason why is because he understands history will ultimately be the fair judge. You can't rewrite history. And so, he has been very modest in the latter part of his life that he didn't write a post-presidency book. He shared a title with (inaudible) but he is one of the few presidents who never to have written a book about himself.

    VAN SUSTEREN: There were some things you write about in this book -- I remember in Newsweek, you called him a wimp. Here is a guy who did 58 bombing missions in the Pacific, who lost a friend from -- best friend, carrier was shot down himself and lost two crewmates. And then, Newsweek called him a wimp. I mean, that's not exactly the world I would use.

    BUSH: No. you know, obviously, it was a day he announced for president by the way in '88. Needless to say, I hit the roof, unlike dad, I'm a little more expressive sometimes.

    VAN SUSTEREN: More like your mother?

    BUSH: Well, sadly. I mean happily, of course. No, yeah, it was I put the story in there to remind people that sometimes parts of the media try to influence people's opinions. And it was just unfair. And it was -- but you know, that what happens in the political process.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Let's talk about your brother.

    BUSH: Jeb, sure.


    VAN SUSTEREN: I'm teasing you, I'm teasing you.

    BUSH: Finally somebody wants to talk about Neil or Marvin.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Neil is actually a letter writer. I did a charity for Points of Life which is one of the things your father developed during his presidency.

    BUSH: Thank you.

    VAN SUSTEREN: And he sent me a note -- a handwritten note.

    BUSH: He is a good boy, a good man. Jeb, you know, he is wrestling with the decision to run for president. And he knows what it is like. He has seen his dad, seen his brother. There is no pressure anybody can put on him. I'm confident as he travels around the country he is hearing people say you ought to run and I'm sure he is flattered by that. But only he can make the decision and there is nothing anybody can say to him to help him better understand, you know, the decision-making process. And I don't know when he is going to decide. I don't know if he is leaning one way or the other. I do know this. He would be a really good president.

    VAN SUSTEREN: How would he be a different president from President Bush 41 or President Bush 43? What is his personality? How is it different?

    BUSH: You know, people are going to have to assess that themselves. He got out of the University of Texas in two and a half years with a Phi Beta Kappa. He has been a very successful governor of a big state. Obviously, we are a little different but, you know, I'm not that good about -- let me just say this, we share a lot in common. We love our country. We both have seen a man go into public service and not have to sacrifice that which is important, such as fatherhood. Neither of us fear failure. I happen to think a lot of it has to do with our dad. I know Jeb doesn't fear success. In other words, I know he could do -- I know he knows he could too the job. After all, he saw his brother do it. You know, he is -- he is a lot taller than I am. You know, I don't know. Hopefully, we will have a chance to compare. You will have a chance to compare once he gets to be president.

    VAN SUSTEREN: It's fun to listen to what your mother has to say about it.

    BUSH: Yeah, mother is -- you know, in the book, I put in there when I told her I was getting ready to run against Ann Richards, the governor of Texas, her answer was you're not going to win. She is too popular. And the reason I mentioned that is mother's political prognostication hasn't been all that good. She is speaking, I guess you know, as a concerned mother. And you know what? Everytime she says don't do something, her children tend to want to do it.