Bush warns Obama on protectionism, defends his record


Toronto : In his first major speech after leaving office two months ago, former US president George Bush Tuesday defended his eight-year record and warned his successor Barack Obama against protectionist policies to pull the country out of recession.

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Speaking on his “Eight years in the Oval office” at an invitation-only luncheon for 1,500 people in Calgary, Bush also defended treatment of terror suspects in Guantanamo even as protesters shouted slogans for his arrest as a war criminal.

Decrying protectionist measures being put in place by his successor, Bush said only free trade and free markets can pull the global economy out of the current recession.

Warning Obama, he said too much government intervention in the market is not the right thing.

“It is the risk takers, not the government, that is going to pull us out of this recession. My message to policy makers is don’t substitute government for the market place. Don’t become protectionist. I am a free trader to the core,” Bush said.

However, he said his comments on Obama should not viewed as an attack on him as the president was entitled to his policy choices. Bush said Obama was not his first choice for the presidency.

“But when he won, I knew it was good for the United States of America. I want the president to succeed. I love my country more than I love politics.

“I am not going to spend my time criticizing him. It is time for the former president to tap dance off the stage. My purpose here today is not to criticise the president. He deserves my silence. If he wants my help, he can pick up the phone and call me.”

Bush, who left the Oval office with some of the lowest ratings for any US president in recent history, said he never flinched from making unpopular decisions in the interest of his country.

“I didn’t make a lot of new friends. I didn’t need to. I got a lot of friends in Texas,” he said as the audience listened to him with rapt attention.

Defending interrogation methods against terror suspects held at Guantanamo, the former president asked, “If an enemy is coming into your country, shouldn’t you find out why?”

Many protesters were held as they tried to disrupt the luncheon organized by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

Chanting “war criminal” for Bush, the protesters heckled the invitees with shouts of “shame on you,” and “go home.” They denounced Bush for his invasion of Iraq and threw shoes at his poster on a billboard at the venue.

Taking a cue from the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at Bush, a protester wore his work boots around his neck and carried other pairs in his hands. Another came dressed as a Guantanamo prisoner, with a cannon-like device to fire shoes outside the venue.

Police arrested a protester when he tried to enter the venue without a ticket.

Another was held when he threw a plastic flip-flop into the air, saying he was “making a statement” against Bush.