Under that famously self-confident exterior is a president who weeps — a lot.
President Bush told the author of a new book on his presidency that "I try not to wear my worries on my sleeve" or show anything less than steadfastness in public, especially in a time of war.
"I fully understand that the enemy watches me, the Iraqis are watching me, the troops watch me, and the people watch me," he said. Yet, he said, "I do tears."
"I've got God's shoulder to cry on. And I cry a lot. I do a lot of crying in this job. I'll bet I've shed more tears than you can count, as president. I'll shed some tomorrow."
Bush granted journalist Robert Draper several extended interviews in late 2006 and early 2007, as well as unusual access to his aides, for the book "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush," which went on sale Tuesday.
Draper's account of the bulk of Bush's presidency sheds light on a loyal and secretive inner circle that, at least privately, was not always on the same page. Draper tells of an April 2006 dinner at which Bush asked aides for a show of hands on whether his divisive defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, should be fired.
The vote: 7-4 to get rid of him, with Bush siding with those who wanted him kept on for the time being. Rumsfeld was replaced after the elections that fall switched control of the House and Senate to Democrats.
White House aides who wanted Rumsfeld out were privately dismayed when retired generals called publicly for his ouster, fearing that would steel Bush's resolve to keep his defense chief, the book says.
Bush, without addressing that meeting, suggested to the author that the ex-generals did get under his skin.
"My reaction was, 'No military guy is gonna tell a civilian how to react,'" he said.
A scare on the night of 9/11
Also in the book, Bush:
- Acknowledged that sectarian violence after the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein was "something we didn't spend a lot of time planning for. We planned for what happens if Saddam and his people dug into Baghdad," and we figured the Iraqi leader was fomenting ethnic divisions that would ease when he was gone. The opposite happened.
- Said he wants to make money — "replenishing the ol' coffers" — after his presidency. He said he could make "ridiculous" money on the lecture circuit, citing the experience of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, as well as his own father.
- Recalled his drinking days and how faith gave him the discipline to stop. "I wouldn't be president if I kept drinking. You get sloppy, can't make decisions, it clouds your reason, absolutely. I still remember the feeling of a hangover, even though I haven't had a drink in twenty years." He said he ate chocolate in the evenings after he swore off booze, because his body missed the sugar.
- Told of a false alarm the night of Sept. 11, 2001, when he and his wife, Laura, were in bed in the White House after the day's traumatic events and a Secret Service agent came to the bedroom and told them to get to the bunker. "They're coming," the agent said. "We're under attack." The couple hurried to the bunker, the president carrying a dog under one arm and a cat under the other, with his wife slipping on a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, feeling blind without her contact lenses. The source of the alarm — a plane in closed airspace over the Potomac River — turned out to be an authorized flight.
Draper, a national correspondent for GQ magazine, is a former editor at Texas Monthly, where he profiled Bush when he was Texas governor.