Former President George W. Bush met with Stanford students for an hourlong conversation that touched on many of the defining moments and policies of his presidency.
In a relaxed and sometimes self-deprecating exchange on May 5, Bush talked about the limits of congressional power and his relationships and personal diplomacy with other world leaders. His tone was more serious when discussing what he described as universal desires for freedom, his military strategies following 9/11, and his commitment to addressing Africa’s HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, director of the university’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, moderated the session. Stanford President John Hennessy and Condoleezza Rice – Bush’s secretary of state and national security adviser who has returned to teaching political science and business at Stanford – joined the conversation.
"FSI has a terrific track record of convening leaders at Stanford, from the head of the International Monetary Fund to prime ministers and presidents,” Cuéllar said. “On this occasion, we wanted our students to have an opportunity for a candid conversation with one of the key policymakers of the early 21st century, and we think such experiences will further prepare them for leadership in a complex world."
About 30 students were invited to the session at Encina Hall, but they didn’t know they were meeting Bush until the 43rd president walked into the room.
“I suspect he misses this sort of engagement,” said Gregory Schweizer, a second-year law school student who was part of the discussion that also covered immigration reform, national education policies and the Edward Snowden affair.
“The media always portrays him as being disengaged from current affairs,” Schweizer said. “But I’m impressed with how interested and engaged he still is.”
Along with representatives from Stanford Law School, other students were invited from the Ford Dorsey Program in International Policy Studies. Honors students from FSI’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law also joined the conversation.
Bush’s visit was arranged with the help of Brad Freeman, a former university trustee and Ronald Spogli, who is currently on Stanford's board of trustees. Freeman and Spogli are longtime friends of the former president and philanthropists who donated a naming gift to FSI in 2005. Bush appointed Spogli as ambassador to Italy in 2005 and as ambassador to San Marino a year later.
Stanford has a tradition of hosting current and former heads of state, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev – both of whom visited in 2010.