Bush: 'I regret saying some things I shouldn't have said'

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- As his presidency nears its end, a reflective President Bush suggested Tuesday he regrets some of his more blunt statements on the war on terror over the last eight years, and said he wishes he had not spoken in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner only a month after U.S. troops in Iraq were deployed.

President Bush says his wife told him that as president, he should watch his words carefully.

"I regret saying some things I shouldn't have said," Bush told CNN's Heidi Collins when asked to reflect on his regrets over his two terms as president. "Like 'dead or alive' and 'Bring 'em on.' My wife reminded me that, hey, as President of the United States, be careful what you say."

The interview, aboard the USS Intrepid in New York, came after the president addressed a Veterans Day ceremony.

Shortly after the attacks of September 11, the president said of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden: "I want justice. There's an old poster out West that said, 'Wanted, dead or alive.' " Bush was also criticized in 2003 for his answer addressing insurgents in Iraq.

"There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring 'em on," he said then.

On Tuesday, the president also referenced the moment aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, during which he declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq.

"They had a sign that said 'Mission Accomplished.' It was a sign aimed at the sailors on the ship, but it conveyed a broader knowledge. To some it said, well, Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over, when I didn't think that. But nonetheless, it conveyed the wrong message."

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The president, whose legacy is sure to be hotly debated for decades, said there also is much he is proud of.

"I am proud to be the commander in chief of people who are so selfless and so courageous that they would volunteer to serve our country in a time of war," he said. "I'm proud when I see people feed the hungry. I'm proud when I'm in Africa and see volunteers helping those citizens dying of HIV/AIDS."

In the wide ranging interview, the president also discussed his Monday meeting with President-elect Barack Obama, and said he consulted former President Bill Clinton before his meeting with the future commander-in-chief.

"I remember the conversation I had with my predecessor Bill Clinton," Bush said. As a matter of fact, [I] called him yesterday and said, 'Bill, I'm getting ready to meet with the new president and I remember how gracious you were to me. I hope I can be as gracious to President-elect Obama as you were to me.''

Bush described the atmosphere in his Oval Office meeting with Obama as relaxed and said he offered the future president advice on the transition process. Bush also said Obama was specifically interested in how his two young daughters would adjust to life in the White House.

"It was interesting to watch him go upstairs," Bush said. "He wanted to see where his little girls were going to sleep. Clearly this guy is going to bring a sense of family to the White House and I hope Laura and I did the same thing. But I believe he will, and I know his girls are on his mind and he wants to make sure that first and foremost he is a good dad. And I think that's going to be an important part of his presidency."

Bush said he plans to return to Texas after he leaves office on January 20, and "may write a book," but otherwise has few plans. "No doubt I'm heading straight home. I miss Texas, I love Texas, I've got a lot of friends in Texas."

"I'll probably get back and take a deep breath," he said.

Bush said he has begun to think about an outline for the book. "I want people to know what it was like to make some of the decisions I had to make," he said. "In other words, what was the moment like? And I've had one of those presidencies where I've had to make some tough calls and I want people to know the truth about what it was like sitting in the Oval Office."

Bush expressed regret Republican presidential nominee John McCain did not win the presidency, but called the election of Obama "good for our country."

"The election of Barack Obama is an historic moment for our country. There are a lot of people in America who did not believe they would ever see this day. It is good for our country that people have hope in the system and feel vested in the future and President-elect Obama has a great opportunity," Bush said. "I really do wish him all the best. I am just as American as he is American and it is good for our country that the president succeeds."