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Inside Politics

Bush: Better human intelligence needed

President admits U.S. image problem in Muslim world


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President Bush covered subjects ranging from Mideast diplomacy to drugs in sport.
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President Bush on terrorism and intelligence. (Part 1)

President Bush on Iraq, inauguration, baseball. (Part 2)

CNN's Ed Henry on Rice confirmation hearings.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Tuesday that the United States needs better intelligence gathering to further gains in the so-called global war on terrorism.

Intelligence agencies need to improve in one particular area, he said.

"Human intelligence, the ability to get inside somebody's mind, the ability to read somebody's mail, the ability to listen to somebody's phone call -- that somebody being the enemy," Bush said in an interview with CNN senior White House correspondent John King.

Lack of human intelligence has been blamed for the belief that stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq before the war. Their presumed presence was the stated rationale for the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, but the U.S. government recently abandoned efforts to find them.

Bush noted that a group has been formed to determine what needs to be improved.

"Out of that commission -- coupled with the new national director of intelligence, hopefully, this president and future presidents will get the best possible intelligence," he said.

Bush said progress is being made against terrorist groups.

"We have dismantled much of the operating capacity of al Qaeda," he said, adding, "That's not to say al Qaeda isn't still a threat."

Elections in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territory and those slated to be held January 30 in Iraq "will be a major blow to those who can't stand the thought of people being able to express themselves and determine the fate of a government," he said.

He acknowledged that U.S. popularity in the Muslim world is weak and blamed poor public relations, coupled with his decision to attack Iraq.

"The propagandists have done a better job of depicting America as a hateful place, a place wanting to impose our form of thought and our religion on people," he said.

"We're behind when it comes to selling our own story and telling the people the truth about America."

Bush predicted that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, whom he has nominated to be secretary of state, "is going to work hard to reform and strengthen the public diplomacy efforts."

Her work won't be easy, he predicted. He cited "some very difficult decisions that made public diplomacy hard in the Muslim world -- one was obviously attacking Iraq."

But he predicted that, "when a free country emerges in Iraq, I think people will begin to see the wisdom of the policy."

The U.S. efforts to provide aid in tsunami-ravaged Indonesia also will yield a PR benefit, he said.

Muslims there will "see that the United States of America is there to help, that our soldiers are not there to fight but to provide comfort and help as best as possible."

Bush said he doesn't take criticism of his policies personally and likened himself to President Reagan, who also came under attack during his two terms in office.

"I don't see how they could condemn him personally because he [was] such a good guy," Bush said. "But he made some very difficult decisions, which happened to be right in retrospect, and I believe the decisions that I have made will end up making the world a better place."

In a rare acknowledgment of fallibility, Bush has said some of his language during his first term may have been too blunt -- specifically "dead or alive" and "bring it on" when referring to wanted terrorists and threats.

But he said he would not change his "with us or against us" line that some international leaders have condemned as too rigid.

start quoteI'll continue to be straightforward and plainspoken about my view that freedom is necessary for peace and that everybody deserves to be free.end quote
-- President Bush

"We've got to win," he said, "and we've got to make it clear that people have to make a choice. I'll continue to be straightforward and plainspoken about my view that freedom is necessary for peace and that everybody deserves to be free."

Asked about a possible exit strategy for Iraq, Bush said the Iraqis must be prepared and equipped to defeat insurgents.

Bush's interview with CNN was one of several he held with news organizations two days before his scheduled inauguration.

Thursday's event has great symbolism to the world as more people are beginning to understand the importance of democracy, Bush said.

"It's important for the world to see a peaceful transfer of power, or, in this case, a continuation of power in a peaceful way. It's a moment for the country to unite. It's an opportunity for all of us who are blessed to live here to say that we've got a great form of government. It can be improved, but it's a great form of government."

With a full term at the helm of the country under his belt, Bush predicted he will feel comfortable enough to relax during the ceremony and enjoy it.

"I'll be a better spectator than I was the first time. The first time, I was pretty well overwhelmed by the moment and stayed focused on the speech. I would hope that, after four years as the president, I will be able to not only stay focused on delivering the speech, but I'll also be able to take in the sights and sounds of this glorious moment."

Asked about the recent policy on steroids reached by baseball team owners and players, Bush, who addressed the issue of drugs in sports in last year's State of the Union, said he was pleased the union and management had come together, and he dismissed criticism from some observers that it is not strong enough.

"If it fails, they can strengthen it, but it's a very positive step forward," said the president, a former baseball team owner.


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