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Bush: President's priority is preventing attack

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  • "Most important job ... is to protect the American people," Bush tells CNN's Larry King
  • Bush agrees rocky times are ahead, but cautions Obama against making predictions
  • Outgoing president says Obama should talk more about getting on "road to recovery"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The commander in chief's priority is preventing another terrorist attack in the United States, President Bush told CNN's "Larry King Live" Tuesday.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush sit down with CNN's Larry King Live on Tuesday.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush sit down with CNN's Larry King Live on Tuesday.

"The most important job I have had -- and the most important job the next president is going to have -- is to protect the American people from another attack," Bush said.

Accompanied by first lady Laura Bush and engaging in a wide-ranging conversation with King, Bush also said that his administration has been involved in stopping specific threats against the United States since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We've learned a lot of information about al Qaeda that we didn't know before," Bush said of intelligence activities during his tenure as president. "We've stopped some specific threats -- we're decimating [al Qaeda's] leadership."

He did not offer specifics, but he did offer a self-assessment of his leadership in national security post-9/11. Video Watch Bush talk about the aftermath of 9/11 »

"I told the American people I wouldn't tire and I wouldn't falter, and I haven't," the outgoing president said.

Bush brushed off the low opinion-ratings and declining polls that have marked his waning presidency by saying, "Look, opinion polls are nothing but a shot of yesterday's news."

"Opinion polls aren't going to be high when the economy is in the tank," he added. "People aren't happy with the economy. Neither am I. But you can't make decisions based on popularity polls."

Bush took that train of thought on to another topic, Iraq.

"If the military thinks you're making decisions based on the Gallup poll, they're not going to follow a commander in chief," he said.

Asked about inaccurate intelligence reports on alleged weapons of mass destruction that led up to the war in Iraq, Bush refused to criticize the CIA, saying only that he was "disappointed."

On Iraq, he maintained that actions taken by his administration were correct.

"I don't think Iraq was wrong," Bush said in response to a question from King. "What I was worried about, (was) Iraq going to fail -- not Iraq was wrong," he said.

"And the surge has worked and a young democracy in the heart of the Middle East has taken hold. There's more work to be done. But al Qaeda has been denied the base in which they wanted to operate.:

When discussing the nation's economic slump, Bush cautioned his successor "not to become an economic forecaster once he gets to be president."

King and Bush discussed President-elect Barack Obama's predictions for a bad year ahead for the U.S. economy and King asked Bush, "That's not a good idea to say?"

"I don't think so. I think he can say it's going to be a tough period, but to predict what the economy is going to do ... it is going to be bad. How bad? How long?" Bush responded. "What he ought to be saying -- and I know he feels this way -- is he's going to take the steps he thinks are necessary to get us back on the road to recovery and we will recover."

Bush said he is looking forward to the inaugurationTuesday, describing it as "a historic moment for the country."

Asked by King if he liked Obama, Bush replied, "I do. I do like him. You'd like him, too."

But Laura Bush said she took some of Obama's critiques of her husband personally.

"Were you angry at it?" King asked.

"Yes, sort of. George didn't really even know about it because he didn't really watch it that much," Laura Bush said, laughing. Video Watch Laura Bush express her disapproval »

"So what's new?" Bush piped in. "When you make big decisions and tough calls, you're going to get criticized."

"During the course of this presidency, I've been disappointed at times by the silly name-calling that goes on in Washington -- it's really not necessary," Bush said.

"I've done my best, though, to make sure I didn't bring the presidency down to that level."

On other topics:

• Bush said he favors closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but only "under the right circumstances.

"The problem is, you've got a bunch of cold-blooded killers down there that if they ever get out they're going to come and kill Americans, and I'd hate to be the person that made that decision."

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• Asked by King, "Are we ever going to find (Osama) bin Laden, Bush replied, "Yes, of course, absolutely. We've got a lot of people out there looking for him, a lot of assets. You can't run forever.

• As to whether the United States had ever come close to capturing bin Laden, Bush said, "I don't know -- I can't answer that. I really don't know. I'm not trying to hide anything."

All About George W. BushLaura BushBarack Obama

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