Laura Bush Looks Back on Her Husband's Presidency

PHOTO: George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush speak to ABC "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer as they prepare for the opening and dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.Amy Gutierrez/ABC
George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush speak to ABC "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer as they prepare for the opening and dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Walking through the new George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University, Laura Bush looked back on the pivotal moments in her husband's presidency.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 topped the list.

The former first lady spoke with ABC News' Diane Sawyer at the new library, set to open on Thursday. As the news media and the nation take a moment to revisit George W. Bush's tenure in the White House, so did his wife.

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"We had hosted our first state dinner on Sept. 6, for Mexico. And of course that's where we thought we'd be spending our time, with Mexico and Central and South America," Laura Bush said. "And then of course we turn the corner, and everything changed."

The library houses a piece of the World Trade Center, where the 2001 attacks changed the course of George W. Bush's presidency and spurred the U.S. to launch a war in Afghanistan that is still being fought.

"This big piece of the World Trade Center looks like a big sculpture, I think, but it's a memorial. And this is a very important part of the museum, because it's important that we remember it," the former first lady said. "It really did change a lot of things for all of us in our country, and obviously we're still dealing with the aftereffects of what happened that day, and I guess we will be for some number of years probably."

Laura Bush recalled 9/11 as a moment not just of tragedy and grief, but of resilience.

"There's this--that spot where George almost wept in the Oval Office when he was talking about it," Bush said. "But it also--there's something sort of encouraging about it, because of the way our country came together. And we forget that now in so much partisan rancor."

Bush expressed concern for the women of Afghanistan and what will happen to them when the U.S. withdraws, as planned, in 2014.

"I'm very worried, and I actually get messages from women in Afghanistan--they're worried as well," Bush said. "They're very worried that all the progress they've made will be set back if the Taliban gains any amount of strength there in Afghanistan. So I think it's important for Americans to continue to figure out ways to support women in Afghanistan and support their young democracy."

A signature achievement of her husband, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief also occupies a place in the library. George W. Bush has won bipartisan acclaim for that program, which devoted U.S. funds to fighting the spread of HIV and AIDS overseas, particularly in Africa.

"Here we have a lot of things to do with PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the President's Malaria Initiative, which has saved millions of lives literally, I think about now 7 million Africans are on antiretrovirals, living full, productive lives even though they're HIV positive," the former first lady said.

Through the Bush Institute, the couple has continued their mission of helping people overseas with charitable work.

"These are the things that we're working on now with the Bush Institute--global health, human freedom, economic empowerment through the free market and free enterprise, and education of course," Bush said. "The four policy issues that were the most important to us."