Bush Says New Orleans Flyover After Katrina a `Huge Mistake'

Former President George W. Bush said he made a “huge mistake” in not stopping in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and in allowing photographers to take pictures of him looking at New Orleans as he flew over the city.

The image, taken on board Air Force One, made him look “detached and uncaring,” Bush said in an interview scheduled for broadcast on NBC next week in connection with the Nov. 9 release of the former president’s book, “Decision Points,” about his time in office.

Bush was criticized for the federal government’s botched response to the 2005 storm that devastated New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf of Mexico coast and for not going to the area soon after the hurricane hit.

“I should have touched down in Baton Rouge, met with the governor and walked out and said, ‘I hear you. We understand. And we’re going to help the state and help the local governments with as much resources as needed,’” said Bush, 64, according to excerpts from the interview with Matt Lauer scheduled to air at 8 p.m. New York time on Nov. 8.

In his book, Bush writes that a low point in his presidency was a remark by rapper Kanye West shortly after Katrina hit that the government’s response to the disaster showed Bush “doesn’t care about black people.”

Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

This Aug. 31, 2005 file photo shows U.S. President George W. Bush looking out the window of Air Force One as he flies over New Orleans, Louisiana, surveying the damage left by Hurricane Katrina. Close

This Aug. 31, 2005 file photo shows U.S. President George W. Bush looking out the... Read More

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Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

This Aug. 31, 2005 file photo shows U.S. President George W. Bush looking out the window of Air Force One as he flies over New Orleans, Louisiana, surveying the damage left by Hurricane Katrina.

‘All-Time Low’

“I faced a lot of criticism as president,” Bush wrote, according to the NBC excerpt. “I didn’t like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all- time low.”

In the interview Bush said, “I resent it, it’s not true, and it was one of the most disgusting moments in my presidency.”

The former president, who served two terms in office, defended his decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, saying the world would be much more unstable if Saddam Hussein were still in power.

Bush began the U.S.-led attack on Iraq on March 19, 2003, because, he said, Saddam Hussein had scorned the United Nations’ 12 years of mandates to get rid of its chemical and biological weapons.

He wrote that he felt “sickened” when the U.S. found no weapons of mass destruction. In the interview, Bush said he never considered apologizing for the decision to go to war.

“Apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision,” he said. “And I don’t believe it was the wrong decision.”

No ‘Opining’ on Obama

In an interview scheduled to air on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on Nov. 9, the former president said he hasn’t publicly critiqued President Barack Obama’s administration because it is not “good for the presidency.”

“I want to treat my successor the way I’d like to have been treated,” he said, according to interview excerpts. “I don’t think it’s good for a former president to be out there opining on every darned issue.”

Bush said that Obama is going to face “plenty of critics and he doesn’t need me criticizing him.”

The former president declined to answer when Winfrey asked whether former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, should be the party’s candidate for president in 2012.

In the interview with Lauer and in his memoir, Bush talked about his struggles with alcohol. Drinking “became a love,” he said, according to interview excerpts. “And therefore, began to compete for my love with my wife and my daughters.”

He said he was able to quit on his own because he was never “chemically addicted.” He described himself as a “habitual drinker” before stopping at the age of 40. He said he hasn’t had “a sip” of alcohol since 1986.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kate Andersen Brower in Washington at kandersen7@bloomberg.net; Catherine Dodge in Washington at cdodge1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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