After speaking to the World Economic Forum in Jordan on Saturday, Laura Bush faced defiant protesters on her visit to holy sites in Jerusalem on Sunday. Monday, in Egypt, she spoke with “Today” host Katie Couric about anti-American sentiment in the region and the Middle East peace process.
Katie Couric: I know you faced some very emotional protesters on Sunday, demonstrating just how high passions are in the Middle East. Were you surprised to see how intense people felt? Reportedly at the Dome of the Rock one protester said, "You're not welcome here. Why are you hassling Muslims?" You were met with some pretty strong words. Were you surprised?
Laura Bush: I wouldn't say I was really surprised; these are places of very high emotion. But there were only one or two protesters, not a lot of protesters, by any means.
And I was with the man who's in charge of the Dome of the Rock, who gave the tour to me, who was very welcoming, as were most of the people that were around. As you know, this is a place of very high tension, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock.
Later, I met with Palestinian women. First, I'd met with some Israeli women. And both of them — both groups said that what they want is peace. They want to be able to live there in peace, and they want the United States to be part of the peace process.
Couric: I know one of the purposes of your visit is to help quell anti-American sentiment. You've had many discussions with many women over there — women and men, I'm assuming. Have you learned about why anti-American sentiment seems to be so strong in that part of the world?
Bush: Well, of course, I think what's going on in Iraq — those things lead to that. But I will say to you, nearly every one of these countries that I visited are very dependent on the United States. They want the friendship of the United States. They want us to be involved in whatever way we can to help them, each of them. When I was in Jordan, and when I said earlier that people — the Palestinian women that I met with, the Israeli women that I met with want the United States to be involved. And we are an example.
And that's why the photographs that have come out are so particularly damaging, because we're held to a higher standard than other countries because of our history of democracy.
But when we look at our own history, we know that we, of course, have never done everything right. We started off with a perfect document but didn't abolish slavery till almost 100 years later. Women didn't get the right to vote until less than 100 years ago in the United States.
So we know that we're held to a higher standard, and that makes us have to work harder, I think, to make sure that the various images we've seen in the newspaper are the exception, which we know they are the exception. We know that our troops are serving with great distinction in the Middle East, and that both the Iraqis and the Afghanis want our troops to stay there as they try to build their democracy.
Couric: And, Mrs. Bush, when you talk about the photographs, are you referring to the photographs from Abu Ghraib? Are you referring to the photographs that were recently released of Saddam Hussein? Which ones in particular? The Newsweek item...?
Bush: Well, both. Either one of those. Any of those, I think, are damaging to our country — all of those.
Couric: In your view, is the administration holding the people who are doing these things — and perhaps they are in the minority, as you say — but do you think they're being held sufficiently accountable?
Bush: Yes, I do. I mean, there are investigations going on. The people are being held accountable. And we know it's very, very few people, a handful of people.
And we know that overall, our troops are serving with distinction. They're very helpful to the people where they are. They're building schools. They're refurbishing schools. They're drilling well water so that villages have clean water. They're helping both Afghanistan and Iraq as they build their countries. They're training troops in Iraq and policemen there.
So the sad news is that the coverage is so extreme of a handful of really, really bad cases. And the American people are sick about it. They don't want people around the world to have the image of Americans like that, because that's not the way Americans really are.And it's certainly not the way our troops overall serve anywhere around the world.
Couric: And as you say, U.S. soldiers, unfortunately, because this is so incendiary, have to be — or sometimes — not have to be, but sometimes are held to a higher standard.
Bush: That's right. I think Americans are held to a higher standard. We really are, and we should know that. I think we do know that.
And as we try to promote democracy and human rights and women's rights around the world, we have to look at ourselves as well and to make sure that we're living what we're saying.
Couric: Seeing you in Egypt makes me think about when your husband was first elected. You weren't very comfortable in the political spotlight. And now you find yourself in the Middle East campaigning for women's rights, among other things. Are you surprised you're finding yourself in this position and are you enjoying it, or is it difficult?
Bush: No, I am enjoying it. I really am enjoying it. I mean, can you imagine being in a more beautiful site than I am right now? And late this afternoon, we're going to tour the pyramids that are behind me.
And you know, each one of these things — to be able to go to the Western Wall, to the Dome of the Rock, to the beautiful church at Abu Ghosh where I was this morning — these are very, very moving and emotional and important world sites, and we want there to be a peace here in the Middle East so that Christians and Muslims and Jews can all be here and can all come to these very important sites in peace with each other.