On a whole range of issues — from immigration, to foreign aid, through to international trade deals and relations with Russia — Bush took a contrary stance to the Trump administration.
“When I hear people say that the world must solve its own problems without the help of the United States it troubles me,” he said, in an apparent contradiction to Trump’s “America First” policy.
Bush was speaking at the Milken Institute Middle East Summit in Abu Dhabi, a gathering of 500 business and finance leaders from around the world.
On immigration, where Trump has proposed banning entry to the US from some Muslim countries, Bush said: “The US has a history of assimilation, and we’ve always welcomed people from wherever they were born. But that is changing now. Our system is broken and we have to fix it. But a populist stance makes it harder for the issue to be resolved.”
On the so-called “Dreamers” — children of illegal immigrants Trump has threaten to deport from the US — Bush said that was an issue that had to be tacked first. “America is their home,” he added.
Bush said the the North America Free Trade Agreement between the USA, Canada and Mexico, from which Trump is considering withdrawal, had been good for the US economy. “You’ve got to want to have you neighbors prosperous,” he said.
Bush, who pushed through a program of medical help to Africa to counter the Aids epidemic, said: “Its hard to look elsewhere when there are problems at home [in the US] but saving lives is the most important thing you can do.”
He reserved his strongest criticism for President Vladimir Putin of Russia, whose government has been accused of interfering in the election that brought Trump to the White House just over a year ago.
“A couple of years ago, I would not have said that Putin was a threat to our homeland. But now there’s pretty clear evidence that they [the Russians] meddled in our elections. Whether they affected the result or not is a different question, but they meddled and it’s dangerous.
“Putin is a zero sum. He cannot think that you both can win. He only thinks ‘I win, you lose’. He has a chip on his shoulder because of the demise of the Soviet Union, and he’s using energy policy to try to get it back,” he added.
“That’s why NATO is so important, and why it’s important for the US to back Nato,” Bush added.