POLITICS
01/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bush: "I Do A Lot Of Crying In This Job"

Robert Draper, author of the George Bush biography "Dead Certain," has written an article for GQ on the interviews that shaped the book. Some highlights:

On interviews with other White House staff:

I had spoken to pretty much every senior official in the White House except the president. Karl Rove had sat for about a dozen such sessions--on one occasion, while he was autographing a stack of White House photographs. Dick Cheney had spoken to me for an hour, and then, when I concluded by asking him if we could do a follow-up at some point, he consulted a schedule in his jacket pocket before grunting, "How 'bout three hours from now?" (Cheney was surprisingly voluble, unlike his wife, Lynne, who received me at their sumptuous Naval Observatory home but then seemed affronted by my every question--except for the ones that gave her an opportunity to say what an asshole John Edwards was.) Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and I conducted one of our sessions over margaritas; Bartlett and I, over enough wine to paralyze a rhinoceros. Josh Bolten quaintly served midafternoon snacks in his office. Condi Rice: cheerfully unforthcoming, but great legs. Colin Powell: sorry, o the record. Deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin: best storyteller in the White House. Harriet Miers: the opposite. (But great legs!) Don Rumsfeld, whom I interviewed in a semi-abandoned Pentagon annex after his resignation: flawless impersonation of Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. (Bush later asked me about the interview, saying, "I'm worried about Don. I hear he's gonna write a settling-scores book. It's not me I'm concerned about--hell, I went out on a limb for the guy!--but others.")

On his legacy and leadership style:

"Robert, you can't possibly figure out the history of the Bush presidency--until I'm dead," he began as soon as I sat down. "And I don't presume to figure it out, sir," I said. "That's the right answer," he acknowledged gruffly. "Well, I've been saying all along to people that--" "You've been saying that all along, but you haven't been saying that all along to me." Over the course of that first hour, he talked at length about the trajectory of his political career, about his father ("I don't call him up and say, 'What are the five things you would do if you were me?' "), about Iraq ("I am immersed in this war," he said, looking a thousand years old), about his drinking problem ("I still remember the feeling of a hangover")--and, most expansively, about his leadership style: "I don't know what the fancy word for it is, but I argue a lot. In the process of arguing, I'm really testing the argument. And I listen. And I'm open-minded--much more so than people may think until they look at some of the decisions I've made. I mean, Bartlett plenty of times has come in [to see me]--and it's a test, sometimes because I'm irritable."

When asked why his version of Rumsfeld's resignation contradicted other accounts:

"You're presuming to know how I make my decisions," he said.

"I'm not, sir. I just know you didn't make this particular decision the way you told me you did."

"And this meeting," he went on. "I don't even remember it. But--I mean, you think I make my decisions by a show of hands?"

"No, sir. If your presidency were run as a democracy, then Rumsfeld would've been fired that April, because most of the people at that meeting raised their hands to get rid of him."

Bush simmered down--though in truth I don't think he was really that hot to begin with. He enjoyed testing people, seeing if they would hold their ground. McKinnon called the experience "walking into the propeller"; another former senior aide, "walking into the valley of the shadow of death." But it wasn't just a test to see if you were a wuss; this was Bush's way of determining a person's integrity. Was the speaker just trying to sound clever, or did he really believe what he was saying? "Okay, then let's go off the record," he said, and thereupon laid out Rumsfeld's demise in a way more in keeping with the facts as I knew them.

And other topics:

[T]he range of topics discussed reflected our shared attention-deficit disorder: entertaining the Queen of England (he enjoyed "bantering with her"); his opinion of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki ("He wants more authority...He's not ready"); what he envisioned for ongoing American involvement in Iraq (a continued troop presence "to remind certain actors that the United States is something to be reckoned with--Iran, for example, if they continue on the course they're doing"); why he was relying on General Petraeus to be the chief spokesman for Iraq policy ("Because I've been here too long--every time I start painting a rosy picture, it gets criticized"); the origins of legislative gridlock ("Big-money special-interest politics, particularly from the left, is having a lot of influence"); and his emotions ("I do a lot of crying in this job"). A fly buzzed around us, and Bush took some vicious swings at it. "Damn, I woulda had it, Draper," he moaned as he missed again.