DALLAS — President Obama praised former President George W. Bush on Thursday for standing tough in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and for his early support for immigration reform, drawing strong allusions to his current challenges as he paid tribute to his predecessor.
Speaking at the dedication of the Bush presidential library, Obama said that walking through the building a few minutes before had reminded him “of the incredible strength and resolve that came through that bullhorn as he [Bush] stood amid the rubble and ruins of ground zero, promising to deliver justice to those who had sought to destroy our way of life.”
Obama recalled Bush’s efforts to work with Democrats and his early calls for immigration reform, an effort Obama hopes to finally achieve this year. “If we do that, it will be in large part thanks to the hard work of President George W. Bush,” Obama said.
The remarks came as former presidents and their wives got together for the dedication of the presidential library and museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University. The crowd applauded as Obama and the former presidents emerged and took the stage together, and as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice introduced an array of Bush-era world leaders and governors. Former Vice President Dick Cheney got a standing ovation when he crossed the stage wearing a 10-gallon hat.
The day was a tribute to the 43rd president, led by his Democratic peers. Jimmy Carter credited Bush with enabling the peace process in Sudan. Bill Clinton praised him for fighting AIDS around the world and for his work in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Obama's recollections had strong parallels to the issues he is wrestling with in the Oval Office. The president's remarks stood in stark contrast to his past comments on Bush, including his complaint that the 43rd president ran a “dumb” war in Iraq in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
As Obama took the stage Thursday, his administration was dealing with the investigation into the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon and with revelations about the use of chemical weapons by the regime in Syria, which is fighting a war with rebels seeking to topple it.
“America needs leaders who are willing to face the storm head-on, even as they pray for God’s strength and wisdom so they can do what they believe is right,” Obama said. “That’s what President George W. Bush chose to do.”
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