This is the first of three reports based on the new book “Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and the Bush Haters” (Regan Books) by Bill Sammon, senior White House correspondent for The Washington Times.
President Bush is resolved not to repeat what he thinks were the two fundamental blunders of his father’s one-term presidency: abandoning Iraq and failing to vanquish the Democrats.
In one of several exclusive interviews with The Washington Times, Mr. Bush said his father had “cut and run early” from Iraq in 1991.
Mr. Bush also said Sen. John Kerry would “regret” disparaging the U.S.-led coalition that liberated Iraq, promising to use the Massachusetts Democrat’s words against him in the election campaign.
The president, while acknowledging that “the rebuilding of Iraq is a difficult period,” is optimistic about nurturing a democratic government there.
“Freedom will prevail, so long as the United States and allies don’t give the people of Iraq mixed signals, so long as we don’t cower in the face of suiciders, or do what many Iraqis still suspect might happen, and that is cut and run early, like what happened in ‘91,” Mr. Bush said.
It was a blunt reference to the first President Bush’s decision to stop short of toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein at the end of the Persian Gulf war, even when Saddam crushed postwar rebellions encouraged by the president.
White House political strategist Karl Rove, in one of the lengthy interviews with The Times granted by senior administration officials, also detailed how the Bush campaign intends to paint Mr. Kerry as a condescending elitist, who is pro-tax, weak on defense and on the wrong side in the culture wars.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. described Mr. Kerry as a John F. Kennedy “wannabe,” who lacks the mettle to be president. Mr. Card, who also worked for the first President Bush, said when it comes to running for re-election, the son is much more engaged and far less complacent than the father.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell predicted disaster for anyone who “misunderestimates” the president.
Miss Rice said she and other senior advisers still laugh over that quintessential “Bushism,” which their boss famously coined on the eve of the election that made him president.
“They misunderestimated me,” Mr. Bush remarked Nov. 6, 2000, the final day of his first presidential campaign.
The malapropism crystallized the mistakes of his detractors, who long have misunderstood George W. Bush’s appeal to the American public and underestimated his considerable political skills. The president hopes those mistakes will be repeated by Mr. Kerry and the “Bush haters.”