President Bush, who four years ago couldn’t identify a single mistake by his administration, on Monday ticked off a list of its shortcomings and disappointments, ranging from failures to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to its oft-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina.
And in his 50th and final solo White House press conference, the president said his successor, Barack Obama, will feel the weight of the presidency and the nation’s safety on his shoulders. He also spoke of making his wife, Laura, coffee on his first morning out of office.
Mr. Bush displayed flashes of remorse, wit and humor when discussing missteps such as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, his attempt to overhaul Social Security rather than take on immigration reform in 2005, and the unfurling of a “Mission Accomplished” banner on an aircraft carrier shortly after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled.
But the president, who will give a farewell address to the nation in prime time Thursday evening, also vibrated with intensity when defending his decisions to protect the country after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Do you remember what it was like right after September the 11th around here?” Mr. Bush said, leaning hard into his lectern. “Do you remember what the environment was like in Washington? I do.”
Mr. Bush said in a recent interview that one of the main purposes of the book he plans to write will be to recapture the sense of emergency and fear that formed the context of his administration’s decisions in the months and years after Sept. 11.
He has been hounded by criticism of his decision to invade Iraq and of the post-invasion occupation, as well as for the domestic-surveillance programs he authorized and the enhanced interrogation techniques he approved that some say amounted to torture of detainees.
His strategy over the past year, as talk has turned more consistently to his legacy, has been to leave his fate in the hands of historians. But in recent weeks he has added what is essentially a critique of Monday-morning quarterbacking.
“One thing about the presidency is that you can only make decisions based on the information at hand,” Mr. Bush said. “You don’t get to have information after you make the decision - that’s not the way it works. And you stand by your decisions and you explain why you made the decisions you made.”
Mr. Bush has taken many lumps in recent months for his response to the economic crisis, with many conservatives likening his actions to a step toward socialism.
“I readily concede I chunked aside some of my free-market principles,” Mr. Bush said. “I was concerned that the credit freeze would cause us to be headed toward a depression greater than the Great Depression.”
Mr. Bush said he is encouraged that “financial markets are beginning to thaw” because of his “very aggressive decisions.”
“Look, I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth,” he said.
Mr. Bush categorized some of the setbacks on his watch as “mistakes,” and some he called “disappointments.”