Former President George W. Bush, making his first public speech since leaving office in January, says he wants Barack Obama to succeed and that it’s "essential" to support the new leader.
Bush declined to critique the Obama administration in Tuesday’s speech, saying the new president has enough critics and that he "deserves my silence."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has said that Obama’s decisions threatened America’s safety. Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has said he hoped Obama would fail.
"I love my country a lot more than I love politics," Bush said. "I think it is essential that he be helped in office."
Bush also said he plans to write a book that will ask people to consider what they would do if they had to protect the United States as president. "It’s going to be (about) the 12 toughest decisions I had to make," he said.
"I want people to understand what it was like to sit in the Oval Office and have them come in and say we have captured Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, the alleged killer of a guy named Danny Pearl because he was simply Jewish, and we think we have information on further attacks on the United States," Bush said.
Bush didn’t specify what the 12 hardest decisions were but said Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.
The invitation-only event titled a "Conversation with George W. Bush" attracted close to 2,000 guests who paid $3,100 per table. Bush received two standing ovations from the predominantly business crowd.
About 200 protested outside the event; four of them were arrested. Some protesters threw shoes at an effigy of Bush, a reference to the Iraqi journalist who tossed his shoes at the former president during a December news conference in Baghdad.
"He shouldn’t be able to go anywhere in the world and just present himself as a private citizen," protest organizer Peggy Askin said. "We do not have any use for bringing war criminals into this country. It’s an affront."
While Bush is unpopular in Canada, he is less so in oil-rich Alberta, the country’s most conservative province and one sometimes called the Texas of the north.
"This is my maiden voyage. My first speech since I was the president of the United States and I couldn’t think of a better place to give it than Calgary, Canada," Bush said.
The event’s organizers declined to say how much Bush was paid to speak at the gathering.
Bush was full of jokes during his appearance. He joked that he would do more speeches to pay for his new house in Dallas.
"I actually paid for a house last fall. I think I’m the only American to have bought a house in the fall of 2008," he quipped.
He also said his mother is doing well. Barbara Bush was released from a Houston hospital Friday, nine days after undergoing heart surgery. "Clearly he can’t live without her," Bush said of his father and former President George H.W. Bush.
Bush seemed to enjoy himself even though the event started later than expected because of tight security. "I’ll sit here all day," Bush said during a question-and-answer session. "I’m flattered people even want to hear me in the first place."