By Meacham, Jon
Byline: Jon Meacham
Sitting in his office in Houston, still on an anti-malarial pill regimen from his trip to tsunami-ravaged Southeast Asia, former president George H.W. Bush turned from his desk to his credenza to find a note that had just come in. "Here's a fellow who wants to give us $2 million," Bush said. "This cause has really hit people's hearts." With former president Bill Clinton--the two traveled together to the region--Bush 41 has led fund-raising efforts for the victims; private donations for relief currently total about $1 billion. In an interview with NEWSWEEK's Jon Meacham last week, Bush talked about the tsunami, Clinton, Jeb Bush's future and the news from the Mideast. Excerpts:
MEACHAM: What was the trip like? Were you surprised by what you saw?
BUSH: Well, it was very emotional for me, very moving. The most moving part was to see the children of families that had been wiped out. I saw one guy standing with his hand on a kid's shoulder, and I said to the translator, "Ask him his story." And the man said, "This is my surviving child; my two daughters and my wife were killed, and he's the only thing I've got left." And it's on and on and on like that.
They had women therapeutically teaching the children just to let it all out, to draw how they feel, and one little girl drew her mother's face in the sea, and she was recalling her mother drowning. There were drawings of boats hanging from trees; others were the Marines in helicopters with help coming down, so that was a positive one.
In terms of what you've seen through the years--like Somalia--was this the worst?
Oh, yes. In terms of physical devastation, absolutely. Somalia was a human tragedy of starvation. As vice president I went to Sudan, and God, it was horrible. So I have seen deprivation, the ravages of famine, but nothing of this scope when it came to physical destruction. One other thing that impressed me in the tsunami was the military, who said they were not going in there with weapons, they were going in as partners. The soldiers are strong kids, and it's prob-ably good for them to see that they can help human lives and not only be fighters, as they are trained to do. And the NGOs, jillions of them, were on the ground and doing good things. I came away with a great respect for them.
A lot of people were surprised to see you and President Clinton get along so well.
But as I said and as he said, they shouldn't have been surprised. We knew each other rather favorably before running against each other. When I was kind of responsible for the first national governors' policy on education, he was the key guy for the Democrats. …