BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 01:22 GMT
Bush reveals relaxed private side
By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

Matt Frei interviews US President George W Bush in the White House library, 14 Feb 2008
President Bush granted an interview - and a private chat

The longest conversation that I had had with George W Bush until this moment lasted about 15 seconds, at one of the annual White House Christmas parties.

So I was surprised - not to say flattered - to discover that the leader of the free world was not only prepared to grant me a 15-minute interview but also a private chat that lasted even longer, in one of the rooms between the Oval Office and the residency.

George Bush and I were walking along the red carpet down the corridor towards the West Wing when the president suddenly stopped before the portrait of his mother, the former First Lady Barbara Bush.

It is a stern depiction of the Bush family matriarch, who has ruled her family with a velvet fist for so many decades.

The president bowed deeply before the portrait of his mother, saying: "Matt, this is the shrine!"

Ambitious agenda

We then went on to survey the state of the world - from China to Africa to the Middle East to the presidential campaign here at home in the US.

George W Bush with his mother Barbara in 1999
Barbara Bush has ruled the family with a velvet fist for decades

And although I cannot tell you - because this was a private conversation - what he said in detail, I can tell you that for a man who has only 48 weeks in office, he still has a very ambitious agenda.

In fact, Mr Bush seems blissfully undaunted by his abysmal opinion poll ratings at home and abroad.

He feels uncowed by the oceanic gulf between his rhetoric about unity and such and the rather vexing reality on the ground.

So Mr Bush soldiers on, trying to secure a legacy for himself - although some might call it mere damage limitation.

History's sober eye

The president is very fond of reading history books, as he told me in our conversation.

Benin - Cotonou: arrival ceremony, meets president
Tanzania - Dar-es-Salaam: meets president, tours hospital; Arusha: tours hospital, textile mill and girls' school
Rwanda - Kigali: meets president, visits genocide memorial
Ghana - Accra: meets president, state dinner
Liberia - Monrovia: meets president, visits university

In fact, the latest tome on his bedside table is the account of the Spanish Civil War by the British historian Hugh Thomas.

I'm sure that he will dissect this book for hints about what might happen in Iraq, and perhaps even in the bitter political divisions in his own country.

But one thing George Bush does not lack is a sense of patience when it comes to the sober eye of history.

As he recently told reporters: "We are still arguing about the record of the first president called George, and that was a couple of hundred years ago. I'm sure they will take their time when it comes to judging my record."

Nevertheless, as the president sets out his ambitious agenda, he also seems rather lonely - almost forlorn - in the White House, as every journalist in this town is scrambling to cover the other story, the one about all those people trying to get in the building where he's currently still the sitting tenant.

Perhaps he was grateful for a little attention?

Reflective demeanour

Who knows which of the many issues that he is juggling with will concoct to define his legacy.

Personally, I think he is hoping that he can secure some sort of deal on a viable, independent Palestinian state.

Iraq, he believes, will be decided in the shifting sands around Baghdad - and the economy is another headache altogether, way beyond his control.

George W Bush may be one of the most controversial and unpopular presidents in history, but judging by his relaxed, reflective demeanour today, you wouldn't know it.

Matt Frei is the presenter of BBC World News America which airs every weekday at 0030 GMT on BBC News 24 and at 0000 GMT (1900 ET / 1600 PT) on BBC World (for viewers outside the UK only).

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific