JERUSALEM — President Bush said Friday he doesn’t take it personally when Democratic and Republican presidential candidates embrace change as a major campaign theme.
“Oh, listen, if you're running for office, you can't run for office and not say, ‘I'm an agent of change,’" Bush told NBC News’ David Gregory. “That's just American politics. If I were running for office at this point I'd be saying, ‘Vote for me, I'm -- I'm gonna be an agent of change.’"
The president declined to comment on any of the current presidential candidates, but he left little doubt he would support the eventual Republican nominee.
“The Republicans understand that, one, tax cuts are important and, two, fighting this war on terror is important,” he said. “I think these two issues are going to be the defining issues in who can best lead this country in a complicated world.”
Bush said the grueling nature of modern presidential politics — criticized by many — is good for the country.
“It's tough, and it's long, and it should be that way, because what the American people need to determine is who's got the character, the will and the resolve to be the president,” he said.
Bush was interviewed in Jerusalem on Thursday as he wrapped-up his first presidential visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The next leg in his trip took him to Kuwait, Iraq’s neighbor.
100 years in Iraq?
Asked about recent comments by Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain that it would be fine to have a U.S. military presence in Iraq for 100 years, Bush said it's up to Iraq.
“That’s a long time,” he said, adding that there could “very well be" a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq at the invitation of the government in Baghdad. When asked if it could be 10 years, Bush replied, "It could easily be that, absolutely."
While in Israel, Bush visited the traditional birthplace of Jesus. A devout Christian, Bush entered the basilica, one of the oldest churches in continuous use in the world, through its small "Door of Humility" and said his soul was uplifted by the "place where our savior was born".
The door to the church, originally built in the fourth century, was made low to stop marauders entering on horseback.
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Bush was greeted by a group of bearded Greek Orthodox priests wearing black robes and held hands with two of them as he visited the church's grotto, where a 14-point star marks the spot where the faithful believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ.
'I was moved'
Bush told NBC News he was powerfully affected by his visit to this and other religious sites.
“The interesting thing about the Holy Land, regardless of your religion, is that if you approach these historic sites with an open heart, you can't help but be affected. And I was moved.”
Bush said that even though some people criticize the role religion plays in his presidency, he sees his faith as something that gives him peace and a set of principles from which to govern.
'I tell people that my faith is a personal journey that helps me find calm in the midst of the storm," he said. "I will not compromise on my belief there's an Almighty. And a gift of [the] Almighty is freedom to every man, woman and child...."
Bush believes his religious belief has even helped build relationships with leaders in the Muslim world.
"My faith, I strongly believe, has help me establish personal relations with other leaders of faith," Bush said. "I think of my friend, the King of Saudi Arabia. We share a different faith. But I've made it clear to him we share the same God. And I believe we do.”
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