RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This week's 25th anniversary ceremony marking the fall of the Berlin Wall brings to mind the leaders who managed that moment. It was the end of the Cold War. Mikhail Gorbachev led the Soviet Union while George H.W. Bush, the first President Bush, was in charge in Washington. A new book about Bush recalls that time. It's by his son, President George W. Bush, who's been talking with David Greene.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In the book, the younger Bush remembers how his dad dealt with the end of the Soviet Union. People were pushing for independence behind the Iron Curtain - including in Ukraine. But the elder Bush was reluctant to pounce on these pro-democracy movements. This was him in Kiev in 1991.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
GEORGE H. W. BUSH: Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism.
GREENE: That speech was denounced by critics on the right, including a columnist who called it Bush's chicken Kiev speech. But today, his son defends his father in his new book.
GEORGE W. BUSH: He understood how the other person thinks and in this case, how Gorbachev thought and that he felt if he gloated or showed off for elements of the American political scene as the Soviet Union was unwinding, it could easily provoke hard-liners and weaken Gorbachev to the point where the ultimate objective would not be achieved.
GREENE: The way you describe his handling of the end of the Soviet Union - I fast-forward to your presidency, which I covered, I think about the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. I think about the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. You know, there was a lot of celebrating. I mean, maybe, even the term gloating, which you used, sir. You know, and I wonder if you look back now, we have a Russian leader who is very adversarial with the West.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah.
GREENE: Do you - do you ever think about whether you should have taken your father's more measured approach in those moments?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think I did. I don't remember any, you know, traveling to Ukraine and after the revolution had happened.
GREENE: He's talking there about the Orange Revolution when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets at the end of 2004, crying out for democracy. And it's true, the younger Bush did not travel to Ukraine then. He did bring Ukraine's new president to the White House to congratulate him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GEORGE W. BUSH: It's an impressive moment, Mr. President - and an important moment. I've oftentimes told our fellow citizens that the world is changing. Freedom is spreading, and I use the Ukraine as an example.
GREENE: Of course, Ukraine today is engulfed in violence - with Vladimir Putin supporting Russian-backed separatists. But the younger President Bush defends his own record as well, even saying that he learned a lesson from his father.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Humility, in the midst of triumph, is important.
GREENE: I guess I wonder could one argue that, you know, some of that celebrating on the United States's part and Britain's part and the West, you know, might have turned Putin into who he is today?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Well that's a fascinating question. And there's no question that I argued that Ukraine and Georgia should join NATO.
GREENE: Which angered Putin a lot.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Absolutely. But the reason wasn't to anger Putin. The reason was to enshrine democratic reforms in those countries. So after a period of time during my - at the end of my presidency, as matter of fact - I did work to get Ukraine and Georgia to have a process to get into NATO, and Putin didn't like it. The truth of the matter is Putin doesn't like much of what the United States does these days.
GREENE: But would your father have done that? Or do you think he would've said, you know...
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah.
GREENE: ...I need to be more careful about provoking Russia.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I think at some point in time, he would have recognized - I don't know. You know he wasn't there. And it's obviously a different time and a different period and a different leader.
MONTAGNE: That's former President George W. Bush speaking with David Greene.
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