- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A relaxed, wisecracking George W. Bush slammed WikiLeaks, defended the Wall Street bailout and praised the Obama administration’s Afghanistan policy in a wide-ranging webcast released late Monday with billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

WikiLeaks’ exposure of secret American diplomatic documents, the former president said, is going to make it “very hard to keep the trust of foreign leaders. It will hurt. … It’s disloyal to the country.”

Mr. Bush, who has just released a presidential memoir, said he had become a fan of “the Facebook” since leaving the Oval Office and told Mr. Zuckerberg that he came to the Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters of the social media giant because “you’ve got a lot of people paying attention and I’m trying to sell books.”

Mr. Bush seemed to hit it off with the young chief executive officer, offering a fist-bump at one point and teasing Mr. Zuckerberg about dropping out of college.

He also commended Mr. Zuckerberg’s entrepreneurship and encouraged the 26-year-old corporate titan, who recently donated $100 million to public schools in Newark, N.J., to continue his philanthropic efforts.

“I think we ought to live by the call to whom much is given, much is required,” Mr. Bush said. “You’ve been given a lot.”

Mr. Bush, who has been on the talk circuit pitching his No. 1 best-seller, “Decision Points,” had the crowd laughing throughout with self-deprecating anecdotes and wry observations, including a story about Russian leader Vladimir Putin showing his dog to the president and bragging that his animal was “bigger, faster, and stronger” than Mr. Bush’s Scottish terrier, Barney.

Mr. Bush joked that the exchange bothered him a little, until Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper later told him: “At least he only showed you his dog.”

The former president grew serious, though, when asked to explain his 2008 decision to approve a $700 billion rescue package for Wall Street in the midst of a global financial crisis.

“I had a threshold question to make: Depression or no depression. I could have gambled … for the sake of my ideology and said, ‘If you make a bad decision in the marketplace, you ought to fail,’ ” Mr. Bush said.

“The problem is when you’re president and make a wrong decision like that, a lot of people could have gotten hurt. I can’t prove to you that it prevented a depression, I can tell you we didn’t have one.”

He also said he wouldn’t criticize the Obama administration.

“I didn’t like it when other presidents criticized me, and I’m not going to do it to President Obama or whoever succeeds him,” Mr. Bush said.

He complimented the Obama White House on its aggressive Afghanistan strategy and on following through with education reforms begun during his administration. Some Republicans on the campaign circuit this year attacked Mr. Bush’s signature “No Child Left Behind” education reform package.

“I think the idea of putting more troops in was something that I can applaud,” he said. “I also appreciate some of the education position. As I understand it, they do believe strongly that accountability is necessary in order to achieve excellence in the classrooms.”

Mr. Bush, 64, said he was comfortable with his legacy, telling listeners with a laugh: “If you see me at an airport, I hope you wave with all five fingers. But if you don’t, that’s OK, too - you won’t be the first.”

• David Eldridge can be reached at deldridge@washingtontimes.com.

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