April 24, 2013

Library opening reopens George W. Bush debate

A government professor says it's still too soon to judge the man and his presidential life.

By ANNA M. TINSLEY/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas -History is far from settled over the Iraq War as former President George W. Bush readies to open his presidential center Thursday before an all-star crowd of thousands and present his side of the story.

Former President Bush speaks at a topping-out ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas
click image to enlarge

George W. Bush will celebrate the opening of his presidential library in Dallas on Thursday with all four living U.S. presidents at Southern Methodist University.


More than four years after Bush left office, protesters already are lining up to criticize his eight years in office, saying he began what they call an unjust, politicized war built on the belief that Iraqis were developing weapons of mass destruction -- a belief officials now say they were wrong about.

Supporters of Bush, beloved by many in Texas and beyond, say the former president faced extraordinary situations, rose to meet challenges and made just decisions.

Historians, however, say there's a long way to go before the ink is dry on the history books that are still being written.

"War is a substantial part of his legacy," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor specializing in presidential studies at the University of Texas in Austin. "Where Afghanistan was an arguably necessary war, the decision to go into Iraq was controversial and in some minds oversold, if not worse.

"People who are starting to pull together the history books wonder why and if it's worth the investment," he said. "The real test is how Bush's historical reputation might be impacted. At the moment, he's taking hits on cost and necessity. Down the road, the best hope for redemption is if it's seen as altering things in a way for world peace and best world interest."

On Thursday, the George W. Bush Presidential Center will officially be unveiled to the world, as officials and leaders nationwide mark the completion of the library, museum and political institute commemorating the 43rd president's eight years in the White House.

Thousands of dignitaries -- including all five living presidents -- are expected at the invitation-only dedication of the 226,565-square-foot, $250 million center on the edge of the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas.

Critics and protesters plan to gather on the outskirts of campus to make their voices heard.

"This war-monger started two wars," said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, an outspoken critic of the former president who will participate in a weeklong protest this week in Dallas called The People's Response. "Five years in, most people have not forgotten. He is a war criminal and he should be tried for those war crimes."

Bush told the Dallas Morning News in a recent interview that more than 10 years after the first war began, he still believes he made the right decisions

"I'm comfortable with what I did," Bush said. "I'm comfortable with who I am."

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks rocked the nation in 2001, then-President Bush launched a war on terror.

"The legacy of George W. Bush will always be shaped by 9/11 and all that followed," said Tom Schieffer, a Fort Worth attorney who spent eight years as an ambassador in the George W. Bush administration. "It was literally a day that changed the world. Nothing would ever be quite the same again.

"He was determined to do everything he could to see that it never happened again."

Operation Enduring Freedom began with the goal of dismantling al-Qaida, ending the use of Afghanistan as its base and removing from power the Taliban regime believed to harbor Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden was killed May 2, 2011. President Barack Obama said earlier this year that about 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be home by early next year.

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