Exit Bush, with a few digs at his critics – and himself

History will be my judge, outgoing President tells reporters at final White House press briefing

By Leonard Doyle
Tuesday 13 January 2009 01:00

George Bush was in defiant mood yesterday for the final press conference of his little-mourned presidency, his face flushing red as he declared that only history would prove a fair judge of his leadership.

The banality of life after the Oval Office struck home as he described how he will soon be waking up, not to receive an intelligence briefing on terrorist threats six days a week, but to "make or fetch the coffee" for his wife, Laura. Mr Bush's final scheduled public event in office will be on Thursday, when he will deliver a televised farewell address.

Back in Texas in seven days' time, he said he would look in the mirror every morning without regret and mindful that he had stood up for his "values". He would retire from the presidency fiercely proud that he had helped prevent "the homeland" from coming under further attacks after 11 September 2001.

Mr Bush began his 45-minute press conference by making light of his fabled tendency to mash up words and mangle sentences. "Sometimes I didn't like the stories that you wrote or reported on," he told the White House Press Corps. "Sometimes you 'misunderestimated' me."

Any anger in the country at Mr Bush's legacy of war and economic ruin was not reflected in the polite round of questioning. But he nevertheless launched into a truculent defence of his two-term presidency, routinely described as the worst in recent US history. He became indignant when asked about America's low moral standing overseas as a result of torturing terrorist suspects. "I disagree with this assessment that, you know, that people view America in a dim light," he said.

Mr Bush did admit to making some mistakes, including the infamous "mission accomplished" banner that was the backdrop to his 2003 Iraq speech aboard an aircraft carrier and the discovery that the weapons of mass destruction he used to justify the war did not exist.

He skirted around taking responsibility for the economic meltdown, which has brought about the worst crisis since the Great Depression. These problems preceded his eight years in office – marked by unprecedented job creation and wealth, he remarked. He took credit for pushing for aid for the banking industry, repeating that critics did not fully appreciate the dangers of a return to Thirties-style economic misery.

The presidency could not be a popularity contest, he declared. It might have been popular to sign the Kyoto global warming treaty, he said, but it was badly flawed. Likewise, it would have been wrong to blame all the problems of the Middle East on Israel just to win popularity. He had nothing to apologise for when considering the harsh actions he took after the terrorist attacks of 2001, he said, alluding to the torture and imprisonment of suspects. "Do you remember what it was like around here after September 11?" he asked angrily. "I do."

He also rejected the widespread criticism of his leadership after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. He argued that if he had ordered Air Force One to land rather than fly over the scene of devastation, police officers would have been diverted from helping evacuate victims. "Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there were 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed," he said.

Asked if it troubled him that some people are angry at how he handled the war in Iraq and the economy, Mr Bush countered: "They are not angry, they are not hostile people. I view those who get angry and yell and say bad things and all that kind of stuff as just a few people in the country."

He promised that "when I get out of here, I am getting off the stage. I have had my time in the klieg lights."

So what will the 43rd president do with his first morning off the job? "I wake up in Crawford on Tuesday morning, I mean, Wednesday morning, and I suspect I'll make Laura coffee." And in the long term? "I'm a type-A personality. I just cannot envision myself in a big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt lying on some beach, particularly since I quit drinking," he said to laughter. "I'm not quite sure what to expect."

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