President Barack Obama and all four living former U.S. presidents gathered in Dallas, Texas to dedicate former president George W. Bush’s library and museum. The other chief executives praised Bush’s strength and compassion.
Obama paid tribute to Bush’s strength in his response to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The Democratic president honored his Republican predecessor, recalling his visit to the ruins of New York’s World Trade Center, several days after the attacks.
“As we walk through this library, obviously, we are reminded of the incredible strength and resolve that came through that bullhorn as he stood amid the rubble and the ruins of Ground Zero, promising to deliver justice to those who had sought to destroy our way of life,” he said.
Obama called Bush a “good man.” And he joined former Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter in praising the 43rd president’s PEPFAR program, which committed billions of dollars to fighting AIDS in Africa.
“We remember the compassion that he showed by leading the global fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria, helping to save millions of lives and reminding people in some of the poorest corners of the globe that America cares and that we are here to help,” Obama said.
Bush said his eight-year tenure will be remembered for its steady commitment to promoting democracy around the world.
“The political winds blow left and right. Polls rise and fall. Supporters come and go. But in the end, leaders are defined by the convictions they hold," he said. "And my deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom.”
Bush concluded his two terms in 2009 amid heavy criticism and low approval ratings, but recent public opinion polls show that his reputation and popularity have improved since then. He said visitors to his presidential library will learn about his administration’s many accomplishments.
“That we liberated nations from dictatorship and freed people from AIDS," he said. "And that when our freedom came under attack, we made the tough decisions required to keep the American people safe.”
Former British prime minister Tony Blair, Italy’s ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and one-time Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert were among the former world leaders attending the ceremony.
All five presidents spoke, including Bush’s father, 88-year-old George H.W. Bush, who gave a brief greeting from his wheelchair.
George W. Bush is the 13th president to establish a library. But he pointed out that he is fortunate to be the first to have his parents present at the dedication.