The most satisfying aspect of ceremonies like Thursday's dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is seeing former presidents gathered together with the current chief executive. This doesn't happen in many countries, where former leaders are in jail, in exile, victims of assassination or otherwise unavailable for dedication events. The presence on the Southern Methodist University campus of President Obama, Mr. Bush, and former presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter offered a reminder that while the weaknesses of our governmental system are regularly on display in Washington, this great democratic experiment continues to be a model for much of the world.
The ceremony was a re-emergence for President George W. Bush, who unlike his predecessor, Bill Clinton, was invisible during the 2012 presidential campaign, burdened as he was by the Iraq war, the deficit, and the economic collapse in his final months in office. Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush's three predecessors avoided these issues, focusing on Mr. Bush's successful efforts in Africa to combat AIDS and end the civil war in Sudan and his unsuccessful effort at immigration reform. If he had succeeded in the latter, the 2012 election could have gone differently for his party.
The Iraq war will be of great interest to historians who come to the library, and on video, President Bush asserts he went to war only after diplomacy failed. There was no real need for diplomacy or war, as Iraq posed no post-9/11 threat to America. On the subject of the weapons of mass destruction that were the main pretense for the war, the former president claims that Saddam Hussein had them before and would seek to have them again. In short, he didn't have them at the time of the invasion, just as the much-maligned United Nations inspection team said.
Presidential libraries are, of course, designed to spin history. "I told President Obama,'' said a smiling President Clinton in his speech, "this was the latest, grandest example of the eternal struggle of former presidents to rewrite history."