Former President George W. Bush called Russian President Vladimir Putin a man with a huge chip on his shoulder who is capitalizing on the weaknesses of other nations and looking to create a sphere of influence through energy.
“He’s zero sum,” Bush said of the leader with whom he met 28 times during his presidency. “I win. You lose. That’s the only way he thinks. I found the only way to deal with him in private is to be tough … with that guy.”
Bush, 67, who served as the 43rd president from 2001 to 2009, spoke to a full crowd Thursday during Grace Community School’s 40th Anniversary Celebration at The University of Texas at Tyler’s Herrington Patriot Center.
The former president answered questions from Grace Headmaster Jay Ferguson and addressed topics such as leadership, his Christian faith, his work with wounded warriors and the work of the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas.
Bush opened the Q-and-A by discussing his work with wounded service members and his recent Warrior 100K bike ride. He said he doesn’t miss much about the presidency, but he does miss being commander in chief.
“Think about (a) nation where millions have said, ‘I want to serve my country,’ and to get to salute such people,” he said.
His work with veterans is one of the ways Bush continues to stay involved post-presidency.
He said George W. Bush Institute allows he and his wife, Laura, to stay engaged in public policy. This shows itself through engagement in economic growth, education reform, global health, human freedom, military service and women’s initiatives, according to the Bush Institute website.
Some of the principles they espouse are “Free enterprise is the best way to eliminate poverty,” “Every life is precious,” and “the only way for there to be peace is for freedom to prevail.”
“When you see suffering, (you’ve got to) do something about it if you’re the richest nation in the world,” he said.
Bush said one of his greatest presidential moments was when he won the 2004 election for his second term.
“To be validated by the people you serve, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “It’s one of the highlights of democracy.”
A low point would be the times that he met with families of military men and women who died in service. Those were emotionally draining, he said.
Regarding leadership, he shared several principles to live by. He encouraged the students to: find people who know what they don’t know and listen to those people; to understand that culture matters when running an institution — it can’t be about an individual but should be about a cause or principle; decision making has to be based on principles and not chasing popularity; start meetings on time and surround themselves with people who can laugh.
“Laughter is a reflection of the heart,” he said.
He said the lessons learned from the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks are that evil exists and the human condition elsewhere matters to the national security of the U.S.
Al-Qaida is as numerous and possibly as strong as they were before Sept. 11, so the nation must remain vigilant, Bush said.
Reflecting on his faith, Bush said it played an important part in “enlightening me, strengthening me, (and) enabling me to better do my job.”
He said it has been harder after his presidency, “when the pressure was off,” to continue in his walk, but he has found “the best way to stay on the walk, president or not president, is a daily devotional.”
Ferguson presented Bush with a personalized Grace Community School baseball jersey and paint brushes in a walnut box made by a student. The latter are for Bush to use in his newfound painting hobby and the former is a nod to his love of America’s pastime.
“I think your presidency was an act of worship to our Lord and we are so grateful for you,” Ferguson said.
The program also included music performances from Grace’s state-recognized fine arts department and a multimedia presentation recognizing the school’s founders.