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What's Next for George W. Bush?

His values are unshaken by a controversial presidency: "I take pride in being the same person."

George W. Bush portrait on his ranch in Crawford, Texas; 10/23/2010

— Dan Winters

ATM: In your book you say that Social Security reform was the single biggest missed opportunity.

President Bush: I regret that we weren't able to reform Social Security. The fact that we weren't able to when we had majorities in the House and the Senate I think reflected poorly on our political party. People expect those in authority to take on big problems and to solve them. We had an opportunity to reform Social Security in a way that would have protected people's benefits and created a solvent system. Younger workers would be confident that the money they were putting into the system would be available to them when they retired. It was a missed opportunity. I regret that.

ATM: The economic crisis didn't change your mind about that piece of the Social Security plan that would have put money into private accounts?

President Bush: That gave people the option to put money into private accounts. I still think that would be a meaningful option. The main thrust of the Social Security reform was to get the benefit structure in line with the realities of the Trust Funds.

That is to say, if you're a poor worker — this is for new workers coming into the workplace — your benefits will increase at the current rate of increase. If you're a wealthier worker, your benefits would increase at the rate of inflation. And those changes would affect positively the unfunded liabilities inherent in Social Security. I'm the only president who really put it out in the State of the Union and was very specific about how I felt we ought to do it.

ATM: Other regrets?

President Bush: I regret not finding Osama Bin Laden. I regret the fact that Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction that we thought. I don't regret removing him from power.

ATM: Because?

President Bush: He could have easily reconstituted a program. He was a threat to peace before we went in. He'd have been a threat to peace had we left him in power. Oftentimes history judges you on the decisions you make. They don't judge you on what would have happened in the absence of a decision. I believe the world would have been a lot worse off if Saddam were in power today.

ATM: The public thought Colin Powell got a raw deal because he took the fall for the weapons of mass destruction and left with a black mark on his sterling career.

President Bush: I didn't feel that way. I thought he did a fine job as secretary of state. I think the key anecdote in the book is when Colin and I were discussing Iraq. Colin was upstairs in the Treaty Room, in the residence. And he talks about his concerns about the use of military in Iraq. And I said I felt the same concerns, but it might be that we have to use it. In which case, he said, "I support you."

ATM: Your chapter on Afghanistan is fascinating. But how do you feel when things that seem to be a win start looking like a long shot?

President Bush: This is a very difficult assignment for the United States, to hang in there and help this young democracy survive. Just like we did in Japan, in South Korea. Just like is happening in Iraq. Laura and I feel very strongly that if the United States were to leave, Afghan women would suffer. And we think it is in our nation's interest that Afghan women — or any women around the world — not suffer.

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