CHICAGO (Reuters) - George W. Bush, promoting his memoir that hit store shelves Tuesday, pronounced himself “through with politics” and defended his decisions as president in a jokey interview with television talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.
“A lot of people didn’t think I could read, much less write,” Bush cracked about his book, “Decision Points,” during the taped interview in Winfrey’s Chicago studios.
Asked by Winfrey whether he regretted the decision to invade Iraq based on unfounded intelligence that leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Bush admitted feeling “terrible” and “sickened” about being wrong the weapons, but blamed Hussein.
“I’ll tell you what was wrong. Saddam Hussein deceived everybody. He didn’t want people to know he did not have them ... which is strange because I made it clear to him to let the (arms) inspectors in or we’ll remove you from power and he didn’t believe me, sadly,” Bush said.
“My point is the world is better with him gone,” Bush said to applause from the studio audience.
Bush recounted anecdotes from his eight-year presidency — Winfrey described the book as “being inside his head as he makes decisions” — and personal asides such as his first full day after departing the world’s most powerful job.
“So, I’m lying on the couch and (wife Laura) walks in and I say ‘free at last,’ and she says ‘you’re free all right, you’re free to do the dishes.’ So I say, ‘You’re talking to the former president, baby,’ and she said, ‘consider (this) your new domestic policy agenda,’” Bush said to laughter.
On a serious note, Bush’s eyes filled with tears when he talked about consoling widows of soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He grew angry when discussing critics that accused him of racism after the government’s admittedly flawed response to the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina.
“What really, really irritated was when they said my response was slow because I was a racist,” Bush said, lamenting what he called the “ugliness of the American political scene.”
Asked to weigh in on politics, Bush demurred, saying he would not “wade back into the swamp.”
“I’m through with politics. It’s hard for people to believe. I’m through,” adding his successor Barack Obama “has his critics, he doesn’t need me opining on everything he does.”
Bush was shown in relaxed moments with his parents at the family’s Kennebunkport, Maine, compound where he and mother Barbara traded good-natured quips.
They considered the prospect of a third Bush becoming president and Barbara suggested a possible “girl president,” to which her son joked: “Mom, I hope you’re not announcing your candidacy.”
Bush said he was proud of his time as president but looked at it as an important chapter in his life, and not his life.
“One of my proudest moments is I didn’t sell my soul for the sake of popularity,” he said.
Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Jackie Frank