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Obama and Bush: foes linked by history

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

US President Barack Obama spent years trying to bury the White House legacy of George W. Bush. Now, he is coming to Texas to praise him.

Obama will head a rare showing of all living ex-US presidents Thursday as Bush inaugurates his presidential library and museum four years after the end of an administration scorched by terror, foreign wars and economic crisis.

Among Bush alumni, who chafe at his past criticism of their boss, Obama will likely put politics aside as his controversial predecessor asks history for a fresh look.

Obama has battled for years against Bush's legacy, ending the pre-emptive war in Iraq, failing to close Guantanamo Bay but halting harsh interrogations of terror suspects that critics equate to torture.

His entire presidency has been darkened by the generational economic crisis Bush bequeathed, which was culling 700,000 jobs a month in early 2009.

Obama's election campaign the year before had largely been a crusade for change to purge the failings he saw epitomized by Bush, who was president from 2001 to 2009.

But on Thursday, Obama will focus on insights he shares with one of the five men alive who know the personal burdens of the US presidency.

"He believes that there is a special bond between those who have served their country from the Oval Office," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"There's no job like it and there are very few in our history who have held it."

The Bush lauded on Thursday will be the heroic figure vowing vengeance from a pile of rubble at Ground Zero, not the wobbly leader peering helplessly at the devastation of Hurricane Katrina from an Air Force One window.

Obama flung stinging criticism Bush's way in 2008 when his Republican predecessor's popularity was crippled and he was grasping for power himself.

At the Democratic National Convention, Obama slammed the "broken politics" of Washington and the "failed policies of George W. Bush."

Two weeks before winning the White House, Obama warned the "economic crisis is the final verdict on their failed leadership," and in his first term he rarely missed a chance to describe the tough hand he was dealt.

But he was gracious when Bush returned to see his portrait unveiled at the White House last year, praising the Republican's leadership after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

He noted that his first call was to Bush after the successful Navy SEAL raid deep into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.

"We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences. We all love this country. We all want America to succeed," Obama said.

Bush's event on Thursday will mark a rare public appearance by the former president, whom even Obama aides praise for sparing his successor constant sniping from the sidelines.

"My life is obviously much simpler than in the past, but in many ways the simplicity creates contentment," Bush, 66, told USA Today this week.

The White House will not say how often Obama and Bush speak, or if their relationship is anything more than formal.

But given the contrasts between their politics and style, it would be a surprise if they were close.

While Bush prized leadership "from the gut," the cautious Obama takes a more deliberative approach to fateful choices -- and many in the White House believe the Republican badly blundered on key decisions.

Obama is praised for his soaring rhetoric while Bush's speeches -- in which he often tripped over his lines -- had a blunt eloquence.

Bush shattered US foreign policy orthodoxy with the concept of pre-emptive war in Iraq. Obama's reluctance to plunge America into another conflict in a Muslim country led critics to mock him for "leading from behind" in Libya.

But in an odd way, Obama may actually owe his presidency to his predecessor.

Had Bush not gotten bogged down in Iraq, no one would have listened to a charismatic Senate candidate from Illinois who raged against "dumb" wars -- then mounted a lightning rise to the presidency.

Some see Obama's struggles with North Korea and Iran's nuclear challenges as largely unchanged from Bush's second term, and the drone campaign the Democrat escalated was built on the previous president's "War on Terror."

Republicans also argue Bush's troop surge in Iraq averted disaster and allowed Obama to live up to his promise to bring Americans home.

They say much of the expertise that helped trace the Boston bombers so quickly was due to an overhaul of anti-terror tactics led by Bush after September 11.

Bush might also whisper a word of advice as Obama sets out to pass immigration reform.

The former president had a similar plan to boost his own second term legacy but failed, and knows how treacherous the issue can be.

col/jk

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130424/obama-and-bush-foes-linked-history