PRESIDENT BUSH SAYS the presidency is still "a joyous experience" for him. "People ask if I would do it again. I would." And one reason for his upbeat mood in talking to a dozen journalists Wednesday is progress in Iraq, including revenue sharing by the central government with the provinces. Another is the beginning of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, though Bush cautioned that the creation of a Palestinian state won't come any time soon.
Reconciliation between Shia and Sunni is occurring in Iraq, Bush said, but it's "bottom up reconciliation," not top down from the central government of Nouri a-Maliki. However, the Maliki government has now begun to take steps toward reconciliation on its own.
For one thing, it has increased the sending of revenue to the provinces, some of them Sunni dominated. Maliki's government is largely Shia. Bush said the revenue sharing amounts to the long-sought division of oil revenues, since most of the government's funds come from oil production. But it's being done without passage of a national law requiring sharing of these funds.
The president appeared to be heartened by polls showing Americans are taking a more positive view of how things are going in Iraq. But he suggested it will take "a long time" for the public's negative feelings about the intervention in Iraq to change completely.
Bush, interviewed the day after the Middle East summit in Annapolis on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, said there's no possibility that a new Palestinian state created on the West Bank would turn into a Hamas-run terrorist state as Gaza has.
"The state won't exist until there's a structure in place to prevent that from happening," he said. For now, progress toward a Palestinian state is at the beginning stage of merely being "defined." Before a state can be created, the Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas must crack down on terrorist groups, something it's not done in the past.
There was a valuable lesson to be learned from the Hamas takeover in Gaza, Bush said. "In order to solve a problem, there has to be clarity," the president said. His point was that Gaza shows what happens when a violent Islamist group seizes power.
Bush said he's "feeling upbeat about life these days" as he nears the end of his seventh year in the White House. His optimistic mood is bound to irritate his critics, including those in the media. He spoke with great emphasis about the Middle East, but insisted on talking about some subjects off-the-record.
At the end of the session that lasted more than an hour, Bush ran down a list of the books he's reading or plans to. He said he just finished The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik, what he called "a great, great book." Now he's reading a novel, The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Next he plans to read about the 1800 presidential election, A Magnificent Catastrophe by Edward J. Larson. And his now-departed aide Karl Rove has sent him the new book by historian Joseph Ellis, American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.