George W Bush has a question: What would you have done?

His presidential library,museum presents visitors the stark choices that confronted him in power—and it’s not all beating about the bush

Written by New York Times | University Park,texas | Published: April 23, 2013 1:05:59 am


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,visitors to an interactive theatre 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 includes touch screens that let users watch videos of “advisers” before voting on whether they would make the same choices that Bush did. 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 Barack Obama and the four living ex-presidents.

The $250 million complex is filled with modern gadgetry and 25 different films and interactive videos. Many of the artifacts of the period are on display—a butterfly ballot from Palm Beach County,Florida,a replica of Bush’s Oval Office,the bullhorn he used at Ground Zero,and a gnarled steel beam from the World Trade Center demolished on September 1,2001.

The 14,000 square feet of exhibits present the presidency Bush intended (tax cuts,No Child Left Behind,faith-based social services) juxtaposed against the presidency he ended up having (terrorism and war).

No president produces a museum known for self-flagellation,and Bush’s is no exception. It does not ignore controversies like the weapons of mass destruction,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.”

A six-minute introductory video narrated by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice acknowledges disputes over Iraq and interrogation techniques while defending them as efforts to protect the country. “If you were in a position of authority on September 11,” she says,“every day after was September 12.”

The museum touches on other crises and setbacks as well,but it also features often-overlooked achievements,like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief,and the creation of the world’s largest marine preserve.

“The museum itself is the Bushes’ personal statement about what they think was important,” said Mark Langdale,president of the George W Bush Foundation.

As president,he rarely had a chance to rest given the endless cascade of crises,as visitors will experience in the Decision Points Theatre. As many as 24 visitors at a time are presented with one of four situations—the invasion of Iraq,the troop build-up in 2007,Hurricane Katrina or the financial crisis. Visitors have four minutes to pull up videos of actors playing White House aides,generals,lawmakers and others giving advice,then they pick one of three

options. When the room has voted,the result is announced. Then Bush appears to describe what he did. Bush’s advisers said the idea was to let Americans see the choices as he did. “We fully anticipate that some people will try to poke holes or some people will debate,” said Langdale. “That’s fine. That’s part of history.”

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