DALLAS — George W. Bush's turbulent presidency, from the Florida vote recount to the Great Recession, from 9/11 to Iraq, will go on display for posterity Thursday with the dedication of the $250 million presidential library and museum.
The 14,000-square-foot museum set on 23 acres on the campus of Southern Methodist University will be unveiled by Mr. Bush, President Obama and former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, Mr. Bush's father. It will open to the public May 1.
Previews for reporters reveal that the museum is interactive, with features including a "Decision Points Theater" lined with rows of touch screens that allow visitors to put themselves in the shoes of a president. The display provides facts, offered in interviews with Mr. Bush's presidential aides, for the public to decide such questions as whether to invade Iraq, to deploy federal troops to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or to bail out Wall Street during the financial crisis.
A display called "Day of Fire" shows video images of the 9/11 attacks and mangled metal beams from the World Trade Center. The exhibit includes the bullhorn that Mr. Bush memorably used to address the rescue workers at the smoldering site in lower Manhattan.
"I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon," Mr. Bush said.
The 66-year-old former president said he wanted to make sure the 9/11 exhibit was powerful enough to remind visitors of how much the world changed that day.
"It's very emotional and very profound," Mr. Bush told The Associated Press. "One of the reasons it has to be is because memories are fading rapidly and the profound impact of that attack is becoming dim with time, and we want to make sure people remember not only the lives lost and the courage shown but the lesson that the human condition overseas matters to the national security of our country."
Among the other museum artifacts is a container of chads, the tiny paper square remnants of Florida punch-card ballots that created confusion during the recount of the 2000 presidential election, in which Mr. Bush prevailed over Vice President Al Gore after a Supreme Court ruling.
The museum devotes an exhibit to the Iraq War, with an introductory video narrated by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who defends the decision to invade in the wake of the terrorist attacks. "If you were in a position of authority on Sept. 11, every day after was Sept. 12," she said.
The exhibit acknowledges that weapons of mass destruction, the stated reason for the invasion, were never found in Iraq. But it adds, "Post-invasion inspections confirmed that Saddam Hussein had the capacity to resume production of W.M.D."
The display also notes that Saddam ignored 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that he disclose his weapons programs, and that his regime fired at British and American pilots monitoring the U.N.-imposed no-fly zone.
A "Freedom Wall" in the museum features photographs of U.S. soldiers, of first lady Laura Bush supporting women's rights and of the Bushes meeting with freedom advocates. Another exhibit is devoted to Mr. Bush's strong support of AIDS victims worldwide.
The library and museum will be operated by the National Archives and Records Administration, while Mr. Bush will control an accompanying public-policy institute to promote his priorities.
Gatherings of former presidents are rare. These same five men last met in January 2009, when Mr. Bush hosted a lunch at the White House for President-elect Obama. The elder Mr. Bush and Mr. Carter are now 88.
There are 13 presidential libraries, beginning with Herbert Hoover, the 31st president, and continuing with every president since.
Mr. Obama will have the final decision on the location of his own presidential library. The University of Hawaii and the University of Chicago reportedly have made the "final cut" in competition to house his library.
State officials in Hawaii, Mr. Obama's birthplace, have set aside $75 million of oceanfront property for a potential site near Honolulu, but Chicago is more accessible to tourists and the Obamas still own a home there.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.