“Tireless advocate for freedom” is out on an Internet quest

Since leaving office in January 2009, George W. Bush has worked on setting up an institute bearing his name in Texas. One of its first conferences supported the work of bloggers in "not free" countries.

Freshly tanned, and in a new tie that accentuates his eyes, Bush hosted a meeting on cyber dissidents in his home state of Texas.

The former US President is well known for pushing for online spying while in office and for some bloggers, Bush sponsoring a conference on Internet freedom was a little much to take.

"Where the hell were they eight years ago when it could have made a difference?”, said blogger Brad Friedman. “George Bush was president for eight years, and used his powers not to give Internet freedom but to spy on every American by reading every American email. So there is some irony in George Bush suddenly coming out as an Internet champion."

But at the conference, standing ovations replaced the shoe-throwing.

“One of the problems of leaving the White House is that you miss your friends,” Bush said. “In spite of the fact that there is Internet, we can blog for sure and perhaps we can learn to do so here. But I was surrounded by incredibly competent people.”

There were more than enough friends to take part at the Cyber Dissident Forum named after George W. Bush.

“The reason I was worried about a think tank is because all people would do is think,” he added.

There were political bloggers who feel victimized from seven countries at the conference.

The countries they hail from are traditionally labeled "bad states" and split into "not free" and "partly free" by the organizers.

“There was no president who did more for freedom in general in the recent years as well as Internet freedom than George W. Bush,” claimed James K. Glassman, the George W. Bush Institute’s executive director.

The dissidents and their saviors wined and dined together.

Colombian cyber dissident Oscar Morales Guevara, a fellow at the Bush Institute, sat at the table with Laura Bush.

The blogger, proudly wearing a pin with the US flag, said he was honored to meet Bush when he made it to the institute one month ago.

“Today, I was really thrilled that we could talk. What they do is replicate our work, to become like amplifiers of everything that we have worked, and that honors me," he said.

Participants stuck to looking for ways to fix Internet trouble abroad and saving the world wide web.

American bloggers, however, stayed as far away as possible from the Internet freedom gathering.

Blogger Danny Schechter stated that, "The US is always publicly taking a stance supporting freedom of the press, freedom of information, a free Internet around the world. But they see it more or less as a way to undermine countries whose governments they do not agree with. So while they are calling for Internet freedom, they are increasing the amount of money spent on a cyber war, and a cyber war directorate at the Pentagon."

For some, the irony of Bush wanting to become a big promoter of Internet freedom is too cruel.

Well-known blogger Alex Jones recalled that "These are the same people who put together the Patriot Act, warrant-less wiretapping, torture. Bush started the cyber security initiative that allowed the president to shut off the Internet and bring in draconian controls in the US So this is a sick joke, them out promoting themselves as the great defenders of liberty and freedom worldwide."

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