Bush plays down Jimmy Carter criticism

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush brushed off criticism on Monday of his foreign policy from former President Jimmy Carter even as Carter tried to roll back on some of his comments.

Former President Jimmy Carter in Las Vegas, October 20, 2006. The White House on Sunday fired back at Carter, calling him "increasingly irrelevant" a day after Carter described George Bush's presidency as the worst in history in international relations. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Sam Morris

At a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at his Texas ranch, Bush said criticism like Carter’s was “just part of what happens when you’re president,” but made clear he disagreed with the Democrat.

“I understand some people ... may not agree with the decisions I made. But what the American people need to know, (is that) I’m making them based upon what’s best for this country,” Bush said.

Carter, upset by Bush’s Iraq war policies, said on Saturday in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that “as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history.”

In an interview on Monday with NBC’s “Today” show, Carter tried to take back some of his words, saying he was comparing Bush’s presidency to that of Richard Nixon.

“I wasn’t comparing this administration with other administrations back through history, but just with President Nixon’s,” Carter said.

Bush’s reaction was tempered compared to that of White House spokesman Tony Fratto on Sunday, who called Carter’s attack sad and reckless and evidence that he was “increasingly irrelevant.”

When told of Carter’s efforts to backtrack, Fratto said the incident “just highlights the importance of being careful in choosing your words.”

New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running to succeed Bush in the White House in the 2008 election, declined to criticize Carter.

“Many of us are extremely frustrated at the president’s stubbornness, at the Iraqi government’s unwillingness to take tough decisions. They’re putting our young men and women in harm’s way every single day for a failed policy,” she told the “Today” show.

Bush suggested the criticism stemmed from opposition to his aggressive policy on confronting extremists.

“We’re at war with an enemy that is relentless and determined. And it’s essential that the decisions I make protect the American people as best as we can,” he said.