G.W. Bush: The Junior Birdman Years

Excerpt of the Russert-Bush Interview,
NBC, February 8, 2004


Russert: Mr. President, this campaign is fully engaged. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terence McAuliffe, said this last week: "I look forward to that debate when John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard. He didn't show up when he should have showed up."

President Bush: Yeah.

Russert: How do you respond?

President Bush: Political season is here. I was -- I served in the National Guard. I flew F 102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge. I've heard this. I've heard this ever since I started running for office. I I put in my time, proudly so.

I would be careful to not denigrate the Guard. It's fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I wouldn't denigrate service to the Guard, though, and the reason I wouldn't, is because there are a lot of really fine people who served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq.

Russert: The Boston Globe and the Associated Press have gone through some of their records and said there's no evidence that you reported to duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972.

President Bush: Yeah, they're they're just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report; otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged. In other words, you don't just say "I did something" without there being verification. Military doesn't work that way. I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama.

Russert: You did -- were allowed to leave eight months before your term expired. Was there a reason?

President Bush: Right. Well, I was going to Harvard Business School and worked it out with the military.

Russert: When allegations were made about John McCain or Wesley Clark on their military records, they opened up their entire files. Would you agree to do that?

President Bush: Yeah. Listen, these files -- I mean, people have been looking for these files for a long period of time, trust me, and starting in the 1994 campaign for governor. And I can assure you in the year 2000 people were looking for those files as well. Probably you were. And absolutely. I mean, I --

Russert: But would you allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that
you were serving during that period?

President Bush: Yeah. If we still have them, but I you know, the records are kept in Colorado, as I understand, and they scoured the records. And I'm just telling you, I did my duty, and it's politics, you know, to kind of ascribe all kinds of motives to me. But I have been through it before. I'm used to it. What I don't like is when people say serving in the Guard is -- may not be a true service.

Russert: Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?

President Bush: Yes, absolutely. We did so in 2000, by the way.

Russert: Were you favor of the war in Vietnam?

President Bush: I supported my government. I did. And would have gone had my unit been called up, by the way.

Russert: But you didn't volunteer or enlist to go.

President Bush: No, I didn't. You're right. I served.I flew fighters and enjoyed it, and we provided a service to our country. In those days we had what was called "Air Defense Command," and it was part of the air defense command system.

The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons that any president must learn, and that is to the set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War.


Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances