George W. Bush defended his legacy, discussed the rise of China, gave props to Bono and urged the audience to buy his new book during a talk at Facebook's headquarters in Palo Alto Monday afternoon.
The 43rd president of the United States stopped at the office of the social-networking giant on Cyber Monday to field questions and promote his memoir, "Decision Points," which looks back at the key decisions of his presidency. Though he jocularly characterized his visit to Palo Alto as "shameless self-promotion," he strayed from book talk every now and then to share anecdotes from his presidency and answer questions from Facebook employees and users.
Over the course of the hour-long discussion, which was live-streamed on Facebook Live, the man with more than 622,000 Facebook friends defended his controversial decisions to invade Iraq in 2003 and to authorize a surge of troops in 2007. He said his decision to escalate troop levels in Iraq was motivated in large parts by soldiers' families, who asked him whether he will leave their loved ones on the battlefield because of politics.
When asked whether he still believes that Iraq could be a democratic nation, Bush said he does and added that democracy in Iraq will spread to other Middle-East nations.
"Democracy in the heart of the Middle East will be transformative," Bush said. "I think it will have a palliative effect on the different countries around Iraq."
Bush expressed a similar view when it comes to China. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asked Bush whether he still believes democracy helps promote economic growth, and pointed to China, where he said the opposite appears to be occurring. Bush said he believes there is "enormous freedom in the market place" and said increased trade with China will help make the nation more democratic.
He also applauded the Obama administration for working with China.
"There are plenty of areas for agreement," Bush said. "It's essential we don't become isolationists and protectionists and shove China out."
Bush was less analytical about America's relationship with Russia, though he did share an anecdote about the time he introduced Russia's then-President Vladimir Putin to Barney, Bush's plucky little Scottish terrier. Putin appeared unimpressed and essentially "dissed" Barney, hurting Bush's feelings. Later, when he visited Putin, the Russian president unveiled his own dog and pointed out to Bush that the Russian dog is "bigger, faster and stronger than Barney."
"It explains a lot about the U.S.-Russia relations, at least at the moment," Bush said.
Bush also praised U2 front man Bono, whom he called a friend and a "really good guy." He lauded Bono for his work in promoting affordable treatment for AIDS victims in impoverished nations and for supporting Bush's criteria for distributing foreign aid, which includes assurance that the recipient nation isn't corrupt.
"I thought he was a self-promoting rock star," Bush said. "It turns out Bono was a genuine article."
Bush was less impressed with this week's leak of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables by Wikileaks -- documents that disclose (among many other things) America's backdoor dealings with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran.
Bush called leaks "very damaging" and said people who leak secret documents should be prosecuted.
"I think it's going to be hard in some cases to keep the trust of foreign leaders," Bush said.
Bush portrayed himself throughout the discussion as a man who is perfectly at ease with his legacy and who has no ambition to return to politics or disparage the policies of the Obama administration. His new book, Bush said, is a "way of letting you in on my life as a president and that's it." The moderators, Zuckerberg and Facebook General Counsel Ted Ullyot, touched on some of the most contentious subjects of Bush's presidency but did not press him when Bush's answers strayed off topic.
Despite Bush's general unpopularity in the liberal bastion of Silicon Valley, the audience inside Facebook was polite and receptive to Bush's jokes. The only visible sign of dissent was the small group of protesters marching outside the company's headquarters.
Bush did not seem to mind the political climate and acknowledged that he chose Facebook as his latest venue for book promotion because the site has a large following and he is, after all, trying to sell a book. This decision had at least one immediate payoff -- the number of Bush's Facebook "friends" went up from just over 611,000 to more than 622,000 between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.
He described himself as "a happy guy" who loves living in Texas and who is thrilled to be able to spend more time with his parents in the twilight years of their lives.
"If you see me at the airport, I hope you wave with all five fingers, but if you don't you won't be the first," Bush told the audience. "I'm a comfortable guy."