George W. Bush, True to His Word, Lies Low After Osama Bin Laden Killing


Not the Time for Policy Debates?

When someone in the crowd shouted that they couldn't hear him, Bush grabbed a bullhorn and delivered one of the iconic statements of his presidency.

"I can hear you. I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you," Bush said. "And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."

Three days later, Bush traveled to the Pentagon for a military briefing where he was asked by a reporter if he wanted bin Laden dead.

"I want justice," he said. "And there's an old poster out West, that I recall, that said, 'Wanted, Dead or Alive.'"

After those two statements came the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the search for weapons of mass destruction and the Bush administration controversial use of enhanced interrogation techniques, which critics said was simply torture.

In his farewell address to the nation Jan. 15, 2009, Bush did not acknowledge bin Laden by name but did mention the steps he had taken to protect the U.S. people.

"There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions," he said of the war on terror. "But there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil.

Some Bush aides acknowledged that Bush's returning to the spotlight could reignite the arguments over his administration's policies on terrorism, but they also said that a day like today is not the time to have those debates.

Scott Stanzel, who served as a White House deputy press secretary and worked for Bush for nearly a decade, said the policy discussion is "unavoidable."

"That would be a natural discussion. It's a discussion that's ongoing even without President Bush attending the activities today at Ground Zero or doing any interviews about this," Stanzel said.

First Rule of the Former President's Club: Hold Your Tongue?

Gordon Johndroe, who served as the National Security Council spokesman during the second Bush term, said the debate about those policies started as soon as the news came out that intelligence gathered during interrogations in the Bush administration led to bin Laden.

"I think that was a natural direction for the discussion to go because the question was 'How did we find him?' and when you start piecing it all together, it goes back to a variety of things, including intelligence derived from interrogations," Johndroe said.

The Former Presidents Club is perhaps the world's most elite, and the unwritten No. 1 rule, former White House officials say, is to respect the office by withholding criticism of the current occupant, no matter what party they are from.

President George H. W. Bush was defeated in his bid for reelection by Bill Clinton and he held his tongue during Clinton's two terms in office. In recent years, the two have developed a warm friendship and even joke about Clinton being part of the family.

Stanzel said that "absolutely without question" the former president was influenced by the example set by his father.

"President Bush has patterned his post-presidency with his father's time in mind," Stanzel told ABC News. "I don't think there is anyone out there who would say that President George H. W. Bush wasn't gracious to President Clinton. Former presidents can be a resource for each other."

Stanzel said Bush appreciated that his predecessors took the same approach, showing respect to the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Former President Jimmy Carter has been an exception to that unwritten club rule, publicly criticizing both the Obama administration and Bush administration on foreign policy.

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