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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 September, 2001, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
War on terrorism
George Bush Snr, former President of the United States
George Bush discussed war on terrorism

BBC Breakfast With Frost Interview with George Bush Snr, former President of the United States, 30 September 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And in fact people obviously compare this war, this current war, with the Gulf War but it's a very, very different kind of war from that isn't it?

GEORGE BUSH SNR: Sir David it is so different and what's different about it is in the Gulf War we could see what the enemy had done - invaded Kuwait - we knew where his forces were and we knew we had to mobilise public opinion, we had to mobilise press support, we had to go to the United Nations to get resolutions passed and then we had to go to battle and what Saddam had said would be the "Mother of all Battles". But in this case public opinion is for the President and Tony Blair and others, public opinion is mobilised but the enemy is much more shadowy, much more difficult to pin down and Osama bin Laden seems to be the most evil of evil but there are a lot of other people in this network and it's going to be a long drawn out thing - it's not going to be one hundred hour ground war, or a very effective TV air war - it's going to be a different kind of a battle to win but there's a determination, amongst world leaders, that we will win.

FROST: And in fact it's got to be patience as well, I mean some people - Don Rumsfeld said on one occasion it could be a war that has no end.

GEORGE BUSH SNR: Well that - that might be right, he's got much more evidence today than I do in terms of intelligence. But I think if - I think there's a chance to hit so hard at these cells and these leaders that are known to be the ones organising terror that it'll certainly set back the use of terror for a long, long time, if we stay together and if we are successful.

FROST: And one of the similarities with the Gulf War, of course, has been with Tony Blair and in John Major's case with you at the Gulf War, is really that the dear old special relationship seems to be there when it's needed.

GEORGE BUSH SNR: It was very touching to me sitting way away up in Canada, as a matter of fact, watching the President's speech to the nation to see Tony Blair there in the gallery sitting with our Laura. And I think it did signify that the special relationship is strong and intact and it was a wonderful moment.

FROST: And in terms of when you were Vice President you headed a Reagan commission into the whole subject of terrorism didn't you and do you think today that terrorism and terrorists are different from when you did that or is it just the means of delivery that are different and much more deadly?

GEORGE BUSH SNR: Well I think the means were there and available to the terrorists in those days but then it didn't seem to be as concerted an effect, we never saw anything, certainly, in this country as dramatic as what happened to the towers and to the Pentagon. And our task force made some recommendations about cooperation and intelligence and some of those things are put into effect. But the problem is so much bigger now and so much more in focus because of the, you know, attacks on American soil. People say well Pearl Habour was the first such attack, Hawaii wasn't a state then, so technically it wasn't the United States I guess but I think more people have lost their lives in New York and the Pentagon than in Pearl Habour. So it's just the magnitude of it Sir David is what's different and the anger and fury of the American people with this focus is much greater and the determination of the American people to work with the President and to support the President in getting something done about it.

FROST: And you of course started the Middle East peace process, or restarted it, in Madrid and since then it's - it did well for a time and not now. But a lot of people are saying that we'll only ever contain terrorism and we won't be able to actually eradicate it until the moment comes when there's a Middle East peace settlement. Do you think all this has made a Middle East peace settlement more urgent?

GEORGE BUSH SNR: Well I've always felt that a Middle East peace settlement was urgent and I think my mind shoots back to the hijacking of aeroplanes to go to Cuba in this country - there was a rash of those - so I'm not sure that a solution to the Israeli/Palestine question would end terrorism forever. We had a domestic terrorist guy - McVeigh - blowing up the Oklahoma federal building. I don't think it'll end it but I think if we can get a settlement it would certainly eliminate some of the rationale on the part of the terrorists and that rationale relates to the Palestine question and feeling that the United States is unfair and all of that. So I think it makes it much more urgent that we find a way - somebody, the political people in our county, in your country, around the world - to get a settlement. The Madrid peace conference was a magnificent start and I would give President Clinton some credit for trying but I think it's much more urgent now that parties get back to talking and be reasonable and we get something done there.

FROST: You said to me back in January 1991, before the Gulf War, words which resounded around the world, you said: "Nothing of this moral importance since World War II has faced the nation." Is that true again now do you think, is it of equal moral importance?

GEORGE BUSH SNR: I think it is. We've talked earlier it's very different. There the integrity of a member of state of the Union of the United Nations was threatened, indeed the nation would have been obliterated if we all hadn't come together in coalition and done something about it. But I think in terms of moral importance I think what's happened is so offensive that world opinion will recognise this as a landmark and will stay supportive of the United Kingdom, of the United States and other countries that are determined to do something about it.

FROST: At the same time as you had the situation with keeping the moderate Arab states on side the problem is how you strike back without alienating support - that's the tough thing isn't it? Nelson Mandela said: "The US must avoid any course of action which will be as unpopular as that of the terrorists." Well obviously it's a combination of strength with sort of care and compassion isn't it?

GEORGE BUSH SNR: I think the administration is geared up - understands the complexity of this, I'm confident they do, I think the President is blessed with a strong and experienced team, so I'd rather leave comparisons on that to the administration. But I think it is fair to say that there will be a lot of sensitivities but again Sir David that was a problem that we had to face in Desert Storm too, as Saddam Hussein tried to shift the emphasis to milk factory and killing of innocents and all of that tried to mobilise opinion in the Muslim world against us. So there's going to be comparisons on this point I think but I do believe that the President of the United States is very sensitive to what Mr - the point that Nelson Mandela, my friend, was trying to make.

FROST: And in terms of your phrase: "a new world order", now we have a situation where President Putin of Russia is being very helpful, they're even talking about joining Nato, could this be, in fact, the beginning of that new world order?

GEORGE BUSH SNR: Well I think - I think we ought to clarify what new world order is. I think there is a better world without potential superpower conflict and that new order has permitted a lot of countries to begin to make their democracies more effective, indeed you look around instead of one monolithic Soviet Union you have a lot of countries who have free elections and free markets. So I think we're seeing - saw the beginning, after Desert Storm of a new world order. But today that order is being challenged by this scourge of terrorism. And I think that we are saying a new world order, you made the key point on it because Russia is working with us, indeed in Desert Storm they, for the first time, we were together in the United Nations on resolutions but it's hard to say hey things are better, we've got a new world order when you've seen the horrible attack that took place in New York the other day, it affects every single country. And so it's going to take a while to perfect a new world order but I'm very hopeful that 20 years from now we're going to say - look there is a lot more peace, a lot more democracies, a lot more free trade, a lot more market, you know, open markets.

FROST: And our mutual friend Billy Graham the other day at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance said this: "I believe the stage has already been set for a new spirit in our nation." Do you sense that?

GEORGE BUSH SNR: I do and you know the President came under some fire from some cynics earlier on for his own faith, some were saying well he's kind of wearing it on his sleeve, or he's too - you know doesn't get the difference between separation of church and state. But I think now, and I know Billy Graham understands this because he's a great friend of mine and a great friend of the President's, I think now the country understands that faith is very, very important and I think they see that their President, our son, is lifted up by the strength of his own faith and I think he's been able to convey that and help others who were very worried and very pained by what's gone on. So once again I agree with Dr Graham and salute him for that strong message he gave in the national cathedral.

FROST: And you always preached against the isolationist groups in the United States and for a world view for America and so. People worry now and they wonder whether this could make America more isolationist - I would have thought it might - might make America even more involved in the rest of the world?

GEORGE BUSH SNR: I think that - I think your judgement is correct. I mean here we are and you see every single day the President talking to world leaders from other countries, you see those world leaders - most of them - pledging support to this coalition effort, you see the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom coming to the United States - a move that was not missed by any country around the world - to give us strength and to show support from England. And so I think it's - I think there's going to be more recognition that we're all in this together and that doesn't mean we're not going to have trade problems, agriculture problems, whatever it is - what's this thing they all protest about? - globalisation problems. But I think you're going to see recognition here and abroad - we'd better be in this together.

FROST: And you have - you've got a new title now of course: First Father - your brand new title and you said on one occasion that your role during this crisis is to put my arm around him from hundreds of miles away - does that about sum it up?

GEORGE BUSH SNR: That's about all I do except - and I don't - you know people ask me and I understand it, well what would you do, what do you think - I learned something, long ago Sir David, and that is don't give an opinion if you don't have the facts to back it up, it's much better to just be there, to talk to the President and his marvellous wife and my role is father, Barbara's role is mother and if we can - if we can give him family support from far away that's what we want to do. We talk a lot and Barbara talks to him a lot and she still balls him out, like she did when he was a little guy, we have such respect for what he's doing that it's wonderful. And that relationship - I think a lot of families in your country and ours are blessed by the strength they get from each other and that's what my role is and I'm very contented - very content.

FROST: Mr President thank you so much for joining us, we really appreciate it.

GEORGE BUSH SNR: Thank you Sir for having me, remote control from Texas A&M University and I know you'll be fascinated in this closing remark: I'm predicting the Texas A&M will beat Notre Dame today - this must interest all of your listeners.

FROST: We will give them the full score at the end of the programme.

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