Skip to main content

CNN exclusive: George W. Bush on AIDS, Mandela, Snowden and his legacy

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The former president tells CNN that Snowden has hurt U.S. security
  • He refrains from criticizing Obama, who he says has a "hard job"
  • Nelson Mandela's legacy "will last for a long time," Bush says
  • He says he bears no grudge against Mandela for Iraq criticism

(CNN) -- Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, are in Africa this week, where they renovated a cancer screening clinic in Zambia and commemorated the victims of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Tanzania.

The clinic, which is designed help women fight cervical cancer, builds on the former president's work fighting AIDS on the continent. While he was in office, Bush set up a plan that dramatically reduced the number of AIDS deaths in Africa.

"I'm really proud of the American people for their generosity," he told CNN in an exclusive interview. "I wish Americans knew how many lives were saved. Someday, they will."

Bush also told CNN why he respects Nelson Mandela, what he thinks about Edward Snowden and President Barack Obama, and how he's not going to be around when his legacy is finally decided.

For two days, former President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush worked alongside Zambians, U.S. embassy officials and the Bush Institute staff to renovate the Mosi Oa Tuny Clinic. It will serve as a cervical cancer screening and treatment center in Livingstone, Zambia, continuing the global health initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. Above, Bush does some touch-up work. Click through the gallery for more pictures from their June 29-30 visit: For two days, former President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush worked alongside Zambians, U.S. embassy officials and the Bush Institute staff to renovate the Mosi Oa Tuny Clinic. It will serve as a cervical cancer screening and treatment center in Livingstone, Zambia, continuing the global health initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. Above, Bush does some touch-up work. Click through the gallery for more pictures from their June 29-30 visit:
Bushes renovate Zambian clinic
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
Photos: Bushes renovate Zambian clinic Photos: Bushes renovate Zambian clinic
Bush on Snowden: He damaged the country
Bush vs. Obama on surveillance

• On Snowden: "I think he damaged the security of the country."

• On Mandela: "His legacy will last for a long time."

• On Obama: "It's a hard job. He's got plenty on his agenda."

Bush talked about Snowden, the computer contractor who leaked details about secret U.S. surveillance programs, to CNN's Robyn Curnow in Zambia on Sunday.

He said he believes the Obama administration "will deal" with the fallout from the controversy unleashed by Snowden, who is now thought to be holed up in the transit area of a Moscow airport after fleeing there from Hong Kong.

Snowden's disclosures about the programs carried out by the National Security Agency have shaken the U.S. intelligence community and put the Obama administration on the defensive over accusations of government overreach into citizens' privacy.

But Bush refrained from criticizing the current president.

"I don't think it does any good," he said. "It's a hard job. He's got plenty on his agenda. It's difficult. A former president doesn't need to make it any harder. Other presidents have taken different decisions; that's mine."

The White House has defended the surveillance programs as necessary tools to defuse terrorist threats. Obama has said he welcomes a debate over how to strike a balance between security and privacy.

"I think there needs to be a balance, and as the president explained, there is a proper balance," Bush said.

I made decisions that were the right decisions. History will ultimately judge.
George W. Bush

Asked about an NSA program that tracks people's Internet activity, Bush said, "I put that program in place to protect the country. One of the certainties was that civil liberties were guaranteed."

Snowden has said he leaked information to journalists about the surveillance programs in the hope of ending what he called an excessively intrusive system.

The Bushes were at a renovated health clinic in Livingstone, Zambia, scheduled to open Monday as a cervical cancer screening and treatment center. They hope this will save the lives of thousands of women.

In his comments, George Bush touched on the subject of Mandela, who is on life support in a South African hospital.

Analysis: 'Bush's 4th term'?
Bush trumps Obama in new poll
Dalai Lama: Bush 'very nice person'

"Sometimes, there are leaders who come and go. His legacy will last for a long time," he said of the ailing anti-apartheid icon.

Reminded by Curnow that Mandela had criticized him publicly about the war in Iraq, Bush said he didn't bear a grudge.

"He wasn't the only guy," he said. "It's OK. I made decisions that were the right decisions. History will ultimately judge. I never held someone's opinion against him; I didn't look at him differently because he didn't agree with me on an issue."

Bush also initially said he wasn't bothered about his ratings in opinion polls, even if some of them now put him at a similar level to Obama.

"The only time I really cared was on Election Day," he said.

Then, drawing laughter from his wife, he checked himself and said, "You know, I guess it's nice. I mean, let me rephrase that: Thank you for bringing it up."

In any case, the former president said he doesn't expect a fair assessment of his legacy in his lifetime.

"I won't be around, because it will take a while for the objective historians to show up," he said. "So I'm pretty comfortable with it, I did what I did; I know the spirit in which I did it."

OPINION: George W. Bush's legacy is on the mend

Political Ticker Blog - Poll: You're starting to remember Bush fondly

Bush 43: 'History will ultimately judge ... I'm a content man'

Watch Erin Burnett weekdays 7pm ET. For the latest from Erin Burnett click here.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
In South Korea, volunteer divers are risking their lives to rescue victims of the sunken ferry.
updated 9:01 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Park Jee Young, 22, helped passengers escape as the Sewol ferry sank -- giving out life jackets while refusing to wear one herself.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
What did outgoing manager David Moyes get wrong in his six months with English Premier League football team Manchester United?
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
In honor of Shakespeare's birthday, here are 15 of the world's most amazing theaters.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
CNN exclusive: Australian officials are hammering out a new agreement for widening the Flight 370 search area.
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Malaysian officials sent to brief Chinese families are armed with little to no information.
updated 11:45 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
When a team of Indian surgeons opened up the stomach of a 63-year-old man, they had no idea they'd extract a fortune.
updated 3:01 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Do these photos CNN of gun-toting men wearing green uniforms prove Russian forces are in eastern Ukraine?
updated 7:06 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
If the Duchess wears it, then your fashion career is sorted for life.
updated 9:30 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Tucked away near the border with Cameroon, this poor corner of Nigeria is no stranger to such brazen, violent acts.
updated 8:34 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
An infant mountain Gorilla sits in the dense jungle canopy on the edge of Uganda's Bwindi National Park in this 29, January 2007 photo. Bwindi, or the 'Impenetrable Forest' as it is known to many tourists is home to the majority of Uganda's rare and endangered mountain gorilla population where plans are underway to habituate two more gorilla family groups to counter growing demand from a flourishing gorilla trek tourism business, a major source of income for the Uganda tourism Authority. AFP PHOTO / STUART PRICE. (Photo credit should read STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images)
Tthe constant threat of poaching, deforestation and human diseases means the world's mountain gorillas could be completely wiped out.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Prince George takes a special interest in an Australian animal on a zoo trip.
updated 10:02 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
How could a teenage stowaway survive hours in a jet's sub-zero wheel well at 38,000 feet?
updated 12:28 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
updated 6:58 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
See what life is like for superyacht stewardesses-in-training. One thing's for certain -- they can never say "no."
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Home of Bruce Lee, divine dim sum, lofty buildings, loftier real estate prices and easy access to the great outdoors.
ADVERTISEMENT