The George W. Bush Presidential Institute will host a conference on online dissidents next week. For a President who left office after two terms with enemies on both the right and left, this is a possible preview of how Dubya plans to brand his time in office.
President Bush’s eight years were defined by September 11; Bush responded to those attacks by advancing the idea of expanding liberty throughout the world. But with the Iraq War grinding along with no end in sight on January 19, 2009, critics on both sides of the aisle viewed Bush as one of the least competent two-term Presidents in history.
Faced with this, Bush made a smart post-Presidential decision and stayed out of the public eye (save for his humanitarian efforts in Haiti and a pretty good ceremonial first pitch on the Texas Rangers’ opening day). During his radio silence, the Iran election protests and the China/Google flap demonstrated that freedom-loving people around the world were fighting freedom-hating regimes.
Suddenly, the conversation on world affairs was ripe for W to dip a toe back into the water. Tech President pointed out that this is a good fit for Bush:
While “George W. Bush” might not be the first person that pops into your head when you think about cyber dissidence, there’s some sense to it. For one thing, you can see this approach mesh well with the sort of hand-on democracy promotion he leaned towards at times during his terms.
Along with a good cause, Bush’s post-Presidential messaging has another smart element: activities like this cyber dissident conference are forward-thinking rather than retrospective. It doesn’t tell the story of Bush’s foreign policy, it adds to it in order to create the recurring theme of extending freedom.