Bush Takes a Higher Road

By Dan Froomkin
12:05 PM ET, 03/18/2009

In his first speech as a former president, George W. Bush yesterday told a paying audience in Canada that he would not criticize President Obama -- a stark contrast with the actions of his former vice president. He also offered some evidence that his memoirs will suffer from historical revisionism.

Mike Allen writes for Politico: "Getting two standing ovations at his first speech since leaving office, former President George W. Bush said that if President Obama wants help, 'he can pick up the phone and call.' Otherwise, Bush said: 'He deserves my silence.'

"'There's plenty of critics in the arena,' Bush told a crowd in Calgary, Canada. 'I think it's time for the ex-president to tap dance off the stage and let the current president have a go at solving the world's problems. If he wants my help and I agree with him, I'll give it.'

"This stands in sharp contrast with former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has twice hammered Obama in media interviews."

Rob Gillies writes for the Associated Press: "Former Vice President Dick Cheney has said that Obama's decisions threatened America's safety. Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has said he hoped Obama would fail.

"'I love my country a lot more than I love politics,' Bush said. 'I think it is essential that he be helped in office.'

"Bush also said he plans to write a book that will ask people to consider what they would do if they had to protect the United States as president. 'It's going to be (about) the 12 toughest decisions I had to make,' he said.

"'I want people to understand what it was like to sit in the Oval Office and have them come in and say we have captured Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, the alleged killer of a guy named Danny Pearl because he was simply Jewish, and we think we have information on further attacks on the United States,' Bush said."

But this was blatant revisionism on Bush's part, clearly intended to make his decision to sanction torture seem acceptable.

There's never been evidence corroborating Mohammed's involvement in Pearl's murder -- other than Mohammed's confession, which came after, not before, he was tortured.

As Lawrence Wright wrote in the New Yorker last year: "Among the things that Mohammed confessed to [after being waterboarded] was the murder of Daniel Pearl. And yet few people involved in the investigation of Pearl's death believe that Mohammed had anything to do with the crime; another man, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, was convicted of killing Pearl."

In fact, Peter Bergen wrote in the Washington Monthly that Mohammed's claim of killing Pearl is the single best illustration of the unreliability of confessions gained by torture: "According to a Western official who was deeply involved in the Pearl investigation, there is simply no evidence that KSM killed him."

Dawn Walton writes for Canada's Globe and Mail that Bush "fittingly chose the comfy embrace of conservative Calgary yesterday, a city built on the same beef and oil foundation as his native Texas, for his first public address since leaving the White House."

Bush "got in the neighbourhood of $200,000 to speak in Calgary, although organizers demurred when pressed for details about their coup."

How respectful should previous occupants of the White House be of the current ones? And how respectful should the current ones be of the previous ones? Bush has now made his position clear. So has Cheney. In response to Cheney's charges, Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs responded on Monday by saying: "I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal."

Some observers were shocked that Cheney was criticizing Obama -- especially so soon. (He actually waited all of 15 days before his first salvo.) Others -- including some prominent White House correspondents and former Bush adviser Karl Rove -- were shocked that Gibbs sounded so disrespectful. (Rove said Gibbs was talking like "a wise-cracking junior high smart mouth.")

For a long time, it was traditional for former presidents to show some deference to their successors -- although Jimmy Carter sort of rewrote those rules during the Bush years. So, should the office command any respect? How much? And who should apologize to who?

Come share your views in my White House Watchers discussion group.

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