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First Day of GWB Conference Draws Spirited Debate

Bush conference
Bush conference

More than 150 scholars, senior policymakers, and journalists converged on the campus of Hofstra University today for the start of its three-day presidential conference on the administration of George W. Bush.   They, along with students, faculty, and community members, took part in a full day of forums and events that examined the policies, successes and failures, and legacy of the nation’s 43rd president.  

“The Bush Presidency was a very consequential presidency, and what happened then still has reverberations today with issues such as ISIS, immigration, Russia, and the limits of executive power,” said New York Times White House correspondent and the Joseph G. Astman Distinguished Conference Scholar Peter Baker during the opening plenary session. “To understand what is happening today we have to understand what happened then.”

See photos from the GWB Conference

He was joined on stage in the Student Center Theater by presidential scholar Michael Nelson, a professor of political science at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn, and Alan C. Lowe, the director of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, who noted that the Bush Library is the first to carry a large volume of electronic materials, including four million digital photos and one billion pages of emails.

Conference Director Meena Bose, PhD, a professor of political science and the director of Hofstra’s Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency, said that the conference was meant to be “a comprehensive assessment of President Bush’s leadership, politics, and policies” and took five years of planning and “thoughtful and heated debate” about the topics that should be covered.

In a dozen other forums and panels today, experts and former administration and government officials tackled subjects such as the impact of the Bush presidential campaigns, the Administration’s public communication on China and Korea, education policy, and natural security.  They were joined by Hofstra faculty members from disciplines including political science, journalism, rhetoric, religion, history, education, and sustainability studies, who served as moderators and panelists.

An afternoon plenary, “The Bush Doctrine and Combating Terrorism,” drew spirited debate and sharp disagreements among its panelists about the president’s actions in regard to 9/11 and Iraq.

“The United States of America was not fully prepared to give the President all of the best advice and best information that he needed to have to make the decisions he needed to make,” said Porter J. Goss, director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2004 to 2006. “When 9/11 actually happened to us, it was a large, large wakeup call.”

“Where the line is [now] between your privacy and your protection is a debate that should continue,” he added.

John Negroponte, Pres. Bush’s Deputy Secretary of State from 2007 to 2009, noted that the President was very involved with intelligence briefings, calling him “one of the best customers of intelligence.”  Hofstra history professor Carolyn Eisenberg disputed that, claiming that the administration tailored information to justify “a war of choice” with Iraq.

Days two and three (March 25 and 26) of the conference will feature dozens more experts including former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and assistant to the President John Bridgeland, the First Lady’s former chief of staff Anita McBridge, former CIA director Michael Hayden, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt Daniel Kurtzer, and Howard B. Dean III, 2004 U.S. presidential candidate and chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the Bush administration.

They will discuss issues ranging from the Bush Administration’s international negotiations and strategies and the role and leadership of First Lady Laura Bush to executive power and national security post-9/11, White House communication and press relations, as well as Administration policies on the economy, foreign affairs, and the use of interrogation and torture.

Conference participants also visited the Hofstra University Museum, which currently features two exhibits in conjunction with the conference, “The George W. Bush Presidency: Points of Perspective” and “From Portraits to Tweets: Imagery, Technology, and the U.S. Presidency.”

The conference, presented by Hofstra Cultural Center and the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency in conjunction with the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, marks the most in-depth and complete examination of the Bush administration since he left office in 2008.

The event continues Hofstra’s long and distinguished tradition of hosting conferences on the administrations of every U.S. president since the university’s founding in 1935, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt forward. The University has published articles and commentary from every conference, which have become standard scholarly volumes and early oral histories of each presidency. This is Hofstra’s 12th presidential conference.

#HofstraGWB highlights from Day 1 of the conference:

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