CLEVELAND (AP) — Former President George W. Bush said Thursday that he had a moment of clarity in a Florida elementary school classroom on Sept. 11, 2001, when his chief of staff told him the second World Trade Center tower had been struck by a jetliner and the U.S. was under attack.
A young girl was reading aloud at the time, Bush recalled during a paid appearance at a college scholarship luncheon, an event that coincided with the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. He said he realized that morning that his job was to protect the girl, her family and their community.
"All the decisions I made were with the intention of protecting that child," Bush said. Without mentioning specifics, he acknowledged that some of those decisions were viewed negatively.
He also said the 9/11 attacks made him something he never wanted to be — a war-time president.
Bush answered questions involving 9/11 that were posed to him by Cuyahoga County Community College President Alex Johnson, along with contentious current events such as the threat posed by Islamic State militants, Russia's incursion into Ukraine, education standards and immigration reform.
Seated in a wingback chair on a podium next to a man he addressed as "president," Bush drew nearly as many laughs as he did rounds of applause. At the start of the event, he acknowledged dignitaries in the hotel ballroom, including Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.
"My only advice is ... fill the potholes!" Bush told the mayor.
The former president talked about his friendship with his predecessor, Bill Clinton, saying they became pals because both are "Southern blowhards."
Bush was asked about the Middle East and turmoil in the region. President Barack Obama addressed the nation Wednesday night on the U.S. strategy to deal with the Islamic State group. Bush took a pass at weighing in.
"The president has a tough job and I don't want to make it any tougher," Bush said.
But the former president did say that the Islamic State militants are, in his view, al-Qaida with a different name. Groups determined to deny people their freedoms will exist wherever there is a leadership vacuum, he said.
"The only way to marginalize haters is with a hopeful ideology," Bush said.