Nightly News   |  April 24, 2013

Debate continues over George W. Bush’s legacy

NBC’s David Gregory reflects on the presidency of George W. Bush, who is preparing to open his presidential library on Thursday.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> george w. bush presidential library set to open tomorrow. this is a live picture of the scene on the campus of smu in dallas tonight. tomorrow's dedication ceremony will be attended by the five people alive who know what it's like the to sit in the oval office . president barack obama , both bushes -- 41 and 43 -- bill clinton and jimmy carter . we get our report tonight from nbc's david gregory who was our white house correspondent during the bush 43 years.

>> reporter: it's difficult to remember just how popular president bush was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

>> i can hear you. the rest of the world hears you. and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. [ cheers and applause ]

>> reporter: the fact that america was not attacked again during the bush years is a lasting legacy. but so, too, is the bitter debate over whether the war on terror eroded civil liberties . mr. bush will always be viewed as a wartime leader. but it was the decision to invade iraq that would prove the most divisive.

>> it's a war of necessity. in my judgment we had no choice when we look at the intelligence i looked at that says the man was a threat.

>> reporter: the faulty intelligence, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction formed the backdrop to criticism that the president underestimated the challenges he faced.

>> the battle of iraq, the united states and our allies have prevailed.

>> reporter: and grew stubborn in the face of mounting setbacks.

>> i hear the voices and i read the front page and i know the speculation, but i'm the decider.

>> reporter: what grew into a reputation for incompetence stained the administration and the brand after hurricane katrina .

>> this is a president who, in his own time, he would be the first to say is very unpopular. you look at the republican convention last year. george w. bush 's name was barely mentioned.

>> reporter: as the economy even now struggles to climb back from the near collapse 2008 , many americans still blame president bush , holding him even more accountable for the state of the economy than president obama according to last fall's election exit poll . these othershadow other accomplishments. the president's place in launching the school reform movement, his work to combat aids in africa, even his willingness to tackle entitlement spending.

>> i think these are issues that over time will wear very well. they will show that the president was forward-looking and knew where the country was headed.

>> reporter: as i talk to advisers of president bush they think that idea is being borne out with with current events. look, the republican party is moving back toward bush on immigration. when it comes to the war on terrorism they point out president obama has continued many of the policies. brian?

>> our former white house correspondent david gregory . these days moderator of "meet the press." we'll check in with you tomorrow night. tomorrow morning on "today" matt lauer will interview former president bush . we'll get the first tour through the new bush with presidential library .