ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas is in town today to interview President Bush at the White House (see below). An excerpt is after the jump. The interview will air later today on ABC World News Tonight and Nightline, as well as tomorrow’s Good Morning America.
ELIZABETH VARGAS: A congressional report assessed the U.S. reaction as “woefully unprepared” not only for a natural disaster now, but for a terrorist attack, the state of readiness right now of the United States. Setting aside future improvements that you plan, today do you agree with that assessment, that the United States is “woefully unprepared” for another natural disaster or attack?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I agree that we didn’t do as good a job as we could have done on Katrina. However, I would remind people that there was a hurricane right after Katrina that hit Louisiana and Texas, and the response was much better coordinated, and the situational awareness on the ground was much improved. And so while I can’t predict a hundred percent success on a catastrophic — major catastrophic event, I can say that lessons learned from Katrina were being implemented quickly.
Listen, here’s the problem that happened in Katrina. There was no situational awareness, and that means that we weren’t getting good, solid information from people who were on the ground, and we need to do a better job. One reason we weren’t is because communications systems got wiped out, and in many cases we were relying upon the media, who happened to have better situational awareness than the government. And when you have the media have better situational awareness than the government, the American people are saying, “Wait a minute. What is happening?
VARGAS: So you don’t agree with that report that calls the U.S. “woefully unprepared”?
BUSH: I think the U.S. is better prepared than woefully unprepared. There’s no question we’ve got more work to do, and our report on Katrina outlined the work that needs to be done.
VARGAS: When you look back on those days immediately following when Katrina struck, what moment do you think was the moment that you realized that the government was failing, especially the people of New Orleans?
BUSH: When I saw TV reporters interviewing people who were screaming for help. It looked — the scenes looked chaotic and desperate. And I realized that our government was — could have done a better job of comforting people. A lot went right, by the way. But the chaotic scenes were very troubling. It just — it was very unsettling for me to realize our fellow citizens were in near-panic wondering where the help was.
VARGAS: Let’s move to Iraq. This has been a rough few days in Iraq since the bombing of the mosque in Samarra. There’s been a lot of sectarian violence. What is the policy if, in fact, a civil war should break out or the sectarian violence continues? Are you willing to sacrifice American lives to get the Sunnis and the Shiites to stop killing each other?
BUSH: I don’t buy your premise that there’s going to be a civil war. There’s no question that the bomber of the mosque is trying to create sectarian violence, and there’s no question there was reaction to it. On the other hand, I had the duty, which I did, to call these leaders, Shi’a and Sunni leaders, as well as Kurdish leaders.
And the response was that we understand this is a moment that we’ve got to make a choice if we’re going to have sectarian strife or whether or not we’re going to unify. And I heard loud and clear that they understand that they’re going to choose unification, and we’re going to help them do so.
VARGAS: But what is the plan if the sectarian violence continues? I mean, do the U.S. troops take a larger role? Do they step in more actively to stop the violence?
BUSH: No. The troops are chasing down terrorists. They’re protecting themselves and protecting the people, and — but a major function is to train the Iraqis so they can do the work. I mean the ultimate success in Iraq — and I believe we’re going to be successful — is for the Iraqi citizens to continue to demand unity.
VARGAS: So let me make sure I understand you. No matter what happens with the level of sectarian violence, the U.S. troops will stay there?
BUSH: The U.S. troops will stay there so long as — until the Iraqis can defend themselves. I mean, my policy has not changed.