George W. Bush, former President of the United States and chief guest at the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative, spoke to the Hindustan Times about his present life, why he sought to change the Indo-US relationship, and the global role he sees India fulfilling.
Q. How do you keep yourself busy these day?
<b1>I’m giving a lot of speeches, some thirty are lined up. I’m also working on a book. Making speeches is an interesting way to make a living, gives me a chance to share some of the experiences I had as president. The book will be about the decisions I made as president and as you know I had some pretty consequential decisions to make. I just want people to get an idea of what it was like. It’s really going to be a book for history. It’s not going to be a slash and burn type book. It will be a book about the environment in which I had to make some tough calls. And then it will let the reader to make up his own mind as to what he would have done. There is an autobiographical component to it. But it’s really about my days as president. We are having a good time. The book should be out, hopefully, next year
Q. India was a prominent part of your foreign policy. Was it part of your worldview from the start?
I gave a speech prior to my presidency at the Ronald Reagan library where I talked about the emergence of India, economically and politically. I made it clear it was in the interests of the United States to change the relationship. In other words, India was on my mind prior to my getting elected president. When you think about India – India is a multiethnic society in which religion is tolerated, it’s a democracy, it’s had to deal with terror, it is full of incredibly bright capable people. There are a lot of Indian Americans in my country, there is a lot of exchange between India and the United States. Therefore it made sense to change the relationship. That’s the background of why I worked with two prime ministers to change the relationship, to set aside the past and focus on the future. And a lot credit for changing that relationship goes to Prime Minister [Manmohan] Singh, whom I admire greatly, and to Prime Minister [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee as well. He was also interested in changing the relationship
Q. Will the relationship continue in future presidencies?
Absolutely, President [Barack] Obama will continue working with Indian governments. He’s made that clear in his statements. I believe future presidents will recognize the importance of India as a global partner and India’s influence on the global scene. It’s very interesting what is taking place today economically. The financial crisis has required world cooperation. You know, I expanded the Group of Eight and made it the Group of Twenty to bring India to the table. You cannot have a meaningful discussion about the future of the world and how to deal with the financial meltdown without India. Your economy is too important for the future of the world. And I think when historians look back at this period they will recognize this: that the economic recovery from a very difficult period was in large part because of countries like India still growing and leading the world out of recession. That would not have been said twenty years ago.
Q. How important is India to the US economically?
<b2>One of the dangers to the United States is protectionism. Some how, people think the proper economic model is to throw up walls and barriers. In my judgment, that would lead to stagnation, unemployment and missed opportunities. I remind my fellow citizens that a country like India is vital for our future. After all, there are more people in the Indian middle class than there are people in our entire country. Therefore, if we have a product or can deliver a service, I should hope we have a chance to compete in India as this would contribute to job growth in the United States. I try to make this case to people who worry about finding work. India has been a huge source of entrepreneurship and brain power in the United States. Indian students have come to our country to study. Some have gone back to India and some have stayed. They have made lasting contributions to economic growth because of their creativity. One policy I hope we will improve on is immigration and we grant more visas to people who bring skill sets to the United States. If I was an Indian leader I would be nervous about that, I would want my educated sons and daughters to come back – which many will. In my judgment there is room for both countries to benefit from the well educated part of your population.
Q. How did you envisage the nuclear deal fitting into the Indo-US relationship?
My view is that the nuclear deal liberated us from the bonds of the past once and for all. The nuclear deal basically said: “We recognize India in a different light.” Secondly, I think it was important because I believe nuclear power is going to be essential to meeting the growth needs of lots of countries, including the United States. I hope that there will be more nuclear power in my own country. I thought it was consistent with that policy to help usher in a new era for India, to help with its capacity to develop civilian nuclear power. There is a lot of talk about the environment, and that’s fine. But if you are truly an environmentalist it seems to me that my area of focus should be civilian nuclear power as a green way to help countries generate growth and generate prosperity.
Q. How did you manage the Pakistan relationship?
First of all, one thing that changed was that the United States could have good relations with both countries at the same time. It’s no longer zero sum. I think that’s going to important for this part of the world. You do want a friend to have the capacity to handle its problems. You want Pakistan to fight extremism inside its borders. My view: we should help Afghanistan become a democracy and help Pakistan fight extremism within its borders. [Pakistanis] are coming to realize these extremists are as likely to strike inside their country as they are to strike outside the country.
Q. How do you envisage an Indo-US technology relationship?
Technology is brain power in many ways. Obviously, technology requires capital investment. But technology and technological change happen because of the creativity of smart, bright people. One of India’s greatest assets, of course, is brainpower. I do think there is good cooperation between us. Ideas flow back and forth between our countries. There are a lot of Indian companies who have interests in the United States and vice versa. That’s something I welcome.
Q. What is the global role you see for India?
First of all, I believe we are in involved in an ideological struggle with people who murder the innocent to advance a point of view. India is a very important antidote to that because India has a huge Muslim population who live in peace with people of another religion. India is a great example of a country where religious freedom promotes a peaceful society. So India’s presence on the world scene sets a really good example for countries who wonder if a multi-religious society can be at peace and whether it can function well. For me, obviously, India’s voice on the global stage is also very important. Your prime minister, when I would meet him, would be very vocal about India’s interests. At the same time, he would be explicit about our shared values. Going back to your first question: one reason why our relationship is a natural relationship is because we share the same values. Free press. Free speech. Freedom to worship. And these are basic values which I believe will, when spread, yield to a more peaceful world.
Q. There are some who believe you have been the best US president for India.
Thank you, I don’t really know. It takes a while for history to be true. Listen, I was honoured to be in office when the conditions were set for both sides to seize a moment. We were able to forge a new relationship, and I believe the United States is better off for that relationship. I hope Indians feel that way too. I believe the world is better off when Indians and Americans can work closely together. This is an exciting country and I am really glad to be back.