More than four years after leaving office, former President George W. Bush has a question for America: So what would you have done?
In a new brick-and-limestone museum in University Park, Texas, visitors to an interactive theater will be presented with the stark choices that confronted the nation’s 43rd president: Invade Iraq or leave Saddam Hussein in power? Deploy federal troops after Hurricane Katrina or rely on local forces? Bail out Wall Street or let the banks fail?
The hypothetical exercise, complete with touch screens for users to pull up videos of “advisers” before voting on whether they would choose the same options as Bush, revisits the most consequential and controversial moments of his administration. In the process, the country is being asked to re-evaluate the two-term president who presided over some of the most tumultuous years in the nation’s history.
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will be officially dedicated Thursday on the campus of Southern Methodist University in a ceremony that will bring together President Obama and the four living ex-presidents. Leaving aside for a day the partisan rancor that marked Bush’s tenure, they will help celebrate his eight years as president and six as governor of Texas.
Though it is the 13th official presidential museum, and the third in Texas, it is the first of the iPad era, and the exhibits are filled with modern gadgetry. Many of the artifacts of the period are on display — a butterfly ballot from Palm Beach County, Fla., a replica of Bush’s Oval Office, the bullhorn he used at ground zero and a gnarled steel girder from the World Trade Center demolished on Sept. 11, 2001. The museum’s 14,000 square feet of exhibits present the presidency that Bush intended (tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, faith-based social services) juxtaposed against the presidency he ended up having (terrorism and war).
The museum does not ignore controversies, but it does not dwell on them either. In the Iraq display it says flatly, “No stockpiles of WMD were found.” But then it adds, “Post-invasion inspections confirmed that Saddam Hussein had the capacity to resume production of WMD.”
More than $500 million was raised for the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which includes the library and museum to be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration and a public policy institute.
hagel set to begin 5-nation visit
Two months after his bid to lead the Pentagon was nearly derailed by pro-Israel groups, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will seek to repair any lingering political damage with a visit to the Jewish state starting Sunday, the latest step in a charm campaign designed to solidify his standing on President Obama’s new national security team.
Concerns about Syria and Iran will top Hagel’s official agenda. He will also seek to finalize details of a complex $10 billion arms deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. On Sunday, Hagel will tour Yad Vashem, the memorial to victims of the Holocaust, before scheduled meetings with Israeli leaders.
But Hagel’s visit also is intended to bury allegations raised during his confirmation process by some pro-Israel groups that he was insufficiently supportive of the U.S. ally — charges he vigorously rebutted. Since then, Hagel has worked to prevent the criticisms from resurfacing. The first foreign leader he greeted at the Pentagon was Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister at the time. And while Hagel’s inaugural overseas trip was to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he made a point to schedule Israel as the first stop on his next foreign itinerary, before visiting Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Meanwhile at home, Hagel has courted skeptical lawmakers who opposed his nomination, instructing his staff to respond swiftly to any policy concerns.
envoy to visit u.s. for n. Korea talks
China’s special envoy on North Korea, Wu Dawei, will visit Washington this week to conduct talks with U.S. officials.
The visit was announced in China after Secretary of State John Kerry said in Beijing last week that China had a vital role to play in helping rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons.
The trip is part of a flurry of diplomacy centered on North Korea as Washington and South Korea focus increasingly on trying to set up talks with the North to cool fevered tensions. That focus began to emerge over the past several days, and it coincides with a noticeable drop in pointed threats from North Korea, raising tentative hopes for a way out of one of the worst crises over North Korea in years.
Yonhap, a South Korean news agency, reported that the South’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, will meet this week with the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, in Beijing to discuss North Korea.
In Washington, military officers said that Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had added a stop in South Korea to an official itinerary that includes talks in China with his military counterparts. A range of security issues are on the agenda in both countries and are expected to include North Korea.
The visit to Washington by Wu, one of China’s senior diplomats, will be his first to the United States since 2010. He will meet with Glyn T. Davies, the State Department’s special envoy on North Korea, and other U.S. officials.
dispute threatens israel-turkey talks
As Israeli and Turkish officials prepared for talks Monday to restore relations, which have been frozen since Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish-led flotilla to Gaza, relatives of the nine people killed said Saturday that they would reject the compensation promised by Israel until it fully removes restrictions on the movement of goods and people in Gaza.
The relatives also said they would not drop their lawsuits against Israelis involved in the 2010 raid, potentially complicating the Washington-brokered reconciliation between the two governments that began last month when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to apologize.
“Compensation and apology had always been government demands, not ours,” said Nimet Akyuz, whose husband, Cengiz Akyuz, was among those killed. “At this stage, we are going to see how sensitive and sincere the government really is about Gaza, the Palestinian situation.”
The families’ position could create problems for the Turkish government, which had demanded an apology from Israel, compensation to the families and lifting the Gaza blockade as conditions for restoring relations. President Obama persuaded Netanyahu to apologize last month. Local news media have reported that Israel is ready to pay each family about $100,000.