Obama and Bush Share a Ride on Air Force One

State funerals like Nelson Mandela's have often given presidential adversaries the opportunity to heal wounds and start new friendships

  • Share
  • Read Later
Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

President Barack Obama stands with former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton at the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library in April 2013

There’s no telling what might happen now that Barack Obama and George W. Bush find themselves taking a long Air Force One flight from Washington to Johannesburg to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela. But history suggests something will.

Historic funerals have a way of concentrating the minds of the men and women who make history. They’ve already had to plan their own funerals in uncomfortably vivid detail: Who comes, who speaks, where will all the satellite trucks park, do they want to be buried near their home or at their presidential library to be sure the pilgrims keep on coming?

As they write their eulogies for their fellow titans, they can’t help but imagine their own, review their challenges, hype their accomplishments, hide their regrets. These uncommon occasions to get together, if nothing else, are an opportunity to forgive.

When Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower shared a limo back from Arlington cemetery in November 1963, following the burial of John F. Kennedy, the two men, bitter enemies for more than a decade, finally found a way to set their animosity aside. It was Truman who, as the car pulled up to Blair House in the darkening Washington twilight, asked, “Ike, how about coming in for a drink?” The two men got to talking, and all the years of difficulty and pain melted away as the hours ticked by and the cocktails were refilled.

Defenses came crashing down again in 1981, when Ronald Reagan sent Richard Nixon, Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter to Cairo to attend the funeral of Anwar Sadat. Each man admired Sadat; none particularly cared for either of the others. The ride over on the old Boeing 707 was long, crowded and awkward. But on the way home, Nixon peeled away on a different trip, and Carter and Ford dropped a half-decade of resentment and realized they had more in common than either imagined. They both hated raising money, they both dreaded 25 years of unexpected retirement, they both disliked Reagan. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship: over the next 25 years, Ford and Carter joined forces on two dozen projects. They became not just partners but real friends, each man eventually promising to deliver the eulogy of the other, depending on who died first. That honor fell to Carter when Ford died in late 2006.

In April 2005, Bush invited his father and Bill Clinton to fly to Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Clinton knew the older Bush well, but it was only on the flight to Rome that he really got to know his son; they talked a lot of politics on the way over, spent a lot of time in conversation after the funeral at the American embassy in Rome, and Clinton told aides afterward how much he enjoyed it. After Bush left office, the two men for a time became unlikely, part-time business partners, giving speeches together for substantial fees, since two Presidents — especially the two bipolar twins of the baby boom — are better than one.

Obama and Bush aren’t close, and it may be years — or maybe never — before they can get past their pasts. Obama blamed Bush for a lot of things during the 2008 campaign; Bush for his part has kept his mouth shut about Obama — “He deserves my silence,” Bush likes to say a vow he has faithfully kept, at least in public. But there have been moments of modest coordination over the past five years, and it is a safe bet that the trip will strengthen the relationship. And it’s a delicious irony to have Hillary Clinton on board this flight; the former Secretary of State knows as well as anyone that the longer a President sits in the big chair, the more regard he tends to have for all his predecessors.

Her husband will join Obama, Bush, as well as Carter, in South Africa.

46 comments
JoseM.LopezSierra
JoseM.LopezSierra

Dear Partners,

President Obama said in his speech at Nelson Mandela’s memorial that we should all ask ourselves how well we are applying Nelson Mandela’s lessons.

The facts that the United States government has not liberated Puerto Rico’s political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, and decolonized Puerto Rico prove that President Obama obviously is not applying them at all!How easy it is to find fault in others, and never see our own. Nevertheless, Nelson Mandela has taught us that together we can make miracles happen!

José

www.TodosUnidosDescolonizarPR.blogspot.com

savagenation
savagenation

Right after it was announced Chuck Hagel is using U.S. aircraft to ferry "African" military forces, it is fitting the past 2 War Monger in Chiefs would fly on Air Force 1 over the next great zone of conquest: Africa.



ClarenceLeDearn
ClarenceLeDearn

Makes you wonder,   who is gonna sleep on the sofa?

poliphobic
poliphobic

Something ironic about all these warmongers rushing to the funeral of a "man of peace and reconciliation".  

Z_A_H_R_A_A
Z_A_H_R_A_A

المجلة التى تخضع لادارة أمريكية حقيرة ولاخوان كذبة قتلة وارهابيين يبقى لاتستحق المتابعة طظ فيكم عارفة أنكم لاتجيدون العربية بس مش مهم مش لازم نكتب لكم بالغتكم نحن نكتب باللغة العربية لاننا كشعب نرفض أن نتبع الارذلين السفهاء سيصبح نجم وعلم فى قلوبنا رغما عنكم أيها العبيد الذين تتشدقون بالحرية وأنتم كذبة لاتستحقون الاحترام

Z_A_H_R_A_A
Z_A_H_R_A_A

عبد الفتاح السيسى أنظف وأكبر من مجلتكم الحقيرة

Z_A_H_R_A_A
Z_A_H_R_A_A

You magazine Mcisah and Girmohtermh does not deserve appreciation and Abdel Fattah Sisi largest of you dear Americans fools, and the Band's Jews and the U.S. administration devil is in all our hearts We Egyptians either the Muslim Brotherhood understanding traitors motivated by your administration Alqdhirzh despicable and will continue to Americans in the eyes of all people are evil, and most people are waiting for the destruction of America Aaeidimy humanity, America can go to hell true

ShamsAci
ShamsAci

REALITY LIFE AWARENESS WELFARE (RLAW):


As per critics,  during his lifetime, the South African late saint great leader Mr. Nelson Mandela  seldom showed any significence of his liking for either of the two ex-presidents or the present one as he began to dislike America due to its nature of policy that it applied on his country.


- A.R.Shams's Reflection

ducdebrabant
ducdebrabant

But in fact I've never had the feeling there was much animosity between them anyway.  I even had the impression that Bush preferred Obama to McCain.

joplingirl
joplingirl

The reality is that they all have served in one of the toughest jobs in our world. What they share is between them, but if it helps this country, we should be grateful they have this opportunity, minus TV cameras, to just relax and talk. Sometimes  we forget that they are people with kids and stories to share and enjoy. I like the idea that they get to just be themselves, minus politics, minus media.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

I read The Presidents Club last month and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I also enjoy seeing a gathering of the Presidents.  The bond of having served in the office ultimately transcends political prejudices.  

Jenniferq24fq
Jenniferq24fq

Why did TIME exclude General Sisi from its shortlist and added terrorist Barack Obama to it? I am never buying this magazine again and anyone of my employees who dare to buy any of its issues will be fired immediately.

jmac
jmac

Bush:  "He deserves my silence."


Obama might deserve his silence but the Democratic party wishes he would speak up.   Nothing could help us more in the mid-terms more than a reminder of what we had previously.    Cheney's doing the best he can to help us, but Bush speaking up couldn't hurt.  

dellflorida
dellflorida

Don't give Pres. Obama any credit-........the headline should be, Obama invites Pres. Bush to ride

Air Force one to Mandela funeral. He didn't have to do it...If roles were reversed Bush would not have done it for hi,...

firmsoil
firmsoil

It is wonderful to see all three smiling and looking healthy!

danilo_es
danilo_es

Wonderful Article! 2 Thumbs Up.

Speedrcr
Speedrcr

If they run out of Diet Coke on the flight, Obama will blame Bush.

savagenation
savagenation

At least Iraq bombers Bush & Clinton look like Statesmen. The other guy looks like Alfred E. Numan, what ME worry?

ClarenceLeDearn
ClarenceLeDearn

Of course,  you are aware that 'this man of peace and reconciliation' was the Chief Communist in South Africa,  taking orders from Moscow,  at a point in time when Krushchev shouted "We will BURY you!!!"   He was dedicated to the overthrow of his government.

Assuming your response is "that was ok,  they were white racist.  Very few in the US understand tribal concepts.  There were about 5 million whites.  5 million Xhosa,  Mandela was an Xhosa. 5 million Zulu.  And,  about 20 million in smaller tribes.  Tribal loyalties being all important,  if the white Africans were overthrown,  who would keep peace among the tribes in 1955?  

Point being,  the problem was far more complicated than Americans ever understood.  It wasn't evil whites oppressing blacks.  Part of it was preventing civil war among the tribes.


To his eternal credit,  King Buthelezi of the Zulu decided not to contest the election of Mandela;  he had more Zulu voters than Mandela had Xhosa.   He would likely have won.  He also knew it would have meant civil war,  in Zulu the term is "Pelindaba",   it's decided,  we won't speak of it anymore.  And he never did.

You might have also forgotten,  Mandela described himself a a Terrorist.


For the record,  I'm a white and grew up in Louisiana,  and for the first 18 years of my life firmly believed in segregation.  I wrote a book on African customary,  tribal, laws,   and saw things for myself. 

notsacredh
notsacredh

@Z_A_H_R_A_A, do I detect just a hint of resentent? Tell us what you really think. Get a good night's sleep, watch a couple of Chritmas specials and call some old friends. Can I get you a ham sandwich and a beer?

CapriceQuagliata
CapriceQuagliata

STFU U Moran. Don't be jealous U live in dirt houses and don't have enough God Given sense to b uild some sh*t unwrapp those women and get a life.I hope the CIA has your bitchass on a watch list!!!!!!!!!!!

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

We have showers with warm water if you want to wash the sand out of where the sun don't shine

yogi
yogi

You're making it too easy for the NSA now.

notsacredh
notsacredh

@formerlyjames, they are an exclusive club. The pressures they serve under are such that only they can understand what the others faced. 

notsacredh
notsacredh

@Jenniferq24fq, I don't like to pass judgement, but you sound like a real b!tch and a control freak. Btw, I doubt if you've ever bought a copy in your life.  

joplingirl
joplingirl

@Jenniferq24fq I am sure the editors plan to cry themselves to sleep over the loss of your money............Tyranny and employees--can't wait to see the lawyers climb up your butt, lady!! Who is the real terrorist in this post?

jmac
jmac

@Jenniferq24fq   America.   Land of the free where your reading material can get you fired.  

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

Your president sucks ...no your president sucks, your president ruined the country, no your president ruined the country. At least people talking politics don't sound like 5 year olds arguing about something.....o wait

JimBobTooth
JimBobTooth

@jmac You seriously think the democrats and Obama are doing a good job?  Step away from your democratic fundamentalism and tell me how they've improved the country in the last 2 terms.  We're in a f'n death spin.  This country is the most pussified, whinny, self serving, lazy and entitles society the world has ever seen.

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

Should give Obama a smiley faced sticker and an A+ for inviting a former president to go with him

reallife
reallife

yeah I'm sure Bush would've had to hitchhike had he not been invited


LOL



notsacredh
notsacredh

@JohnNagel,

"what else can i say?"

I forgot to take my meds.

I have to type fast before they find out I'm on the internet again.

Look! Squirrel!

jmac
jmac

@Speedrcr ". . . Obama will blame Bush."


" This is America, where you can start stupid wars that fail in costly and extravagant fashion, and never have to accept even a thin scintilla of responsibility."  (Jason Linkins)   

jmac
jmac

@Speedrcr  Don't like that economist think Bush handed Obama a Great Recession that could have toppled into a second Great Depression?   I can understand your angst.  

poliphobic
poliphobic

@ClarenceLeDearn

My inverted commas were put there for a reason.


So the war mongers were rushing to the funeral of a terrorist ?

big_ern
big_ern

@ClarenceLeDearn I think there are problems too complicated for you to understand.  Whites were not native to South Africa.  They invaded, raped the land, created laws and government foreign to the natives, forced religious conversions, and then ruled with iron fists.  If your book failed to mention those things, then you are a failure of an author.  Whites oppressed blacks.  It was what it was.


As far as Mandela being a Communist...Who cares?  I hope that one day, baby boomers come to the realization that those scary words that scare you and scared your parents have no power or meaning to younger generations.  We're not scared of you or your scary, empty words.  However, since you persist in thinking they have meaning, and since you are so incredibly knowledgeable of all things Africa and Mandela, you should know that he did nothing to disrupt the capitalist economy during his term in office.  Nothing.  Nada.  


As far as Mandela being a 'terrorist' as you and so many of your racist pals have asserted over the last few days...Sometimes freedom fighting is an ugly business.  The real story of Mandela, and the real reason he is revered is this:  Despite his past, despite what he was faced with, despite what he may have done, despite what was done to him, despite all that:  Love overcame.  


That's something you and your racist friends will never understand.  

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

This is America where you can let dictators start world wars, have aspirations to take over the world,get begged by your allies not for soldiers but simply equipment to stop them from taking over their country, let said dictator exterminate a culture, after enough damage has been done, step in and be the hero, and get your monument on the Washington mall ----FDR

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

Great depression people had trouble eating, people in our poverty now are fat and have access to food.. its sickening how lazy people get when acting like we were close to that

ClarenceLeDearn
ClarenceLeDearn

an apology,  but it gave me an opportunity and forum to think out some things I feel strongly about.


And,  understanding your post,  I totally agree.  Obama lost me early,  when he didn't yank our troops out,  as he had promised.  I was obviously mistaken in thinking somebody might have told him about Vietnam.

ClarenceLeDearn
ClarenceLeDearn

Sorry, if you weren't around,  you have no idea what the word "Communist" meant.  Hollywood screenwriters were jailed 'cause they wouldn't say whether they knew any.  I don't apologize for being terrified of the word and the people it defined.  We imprisoned thousands at Gitmo and worse for being "terrorists."  Would you agree,  if Mandela had announced he was a 'terrorist' in the months after 2001,  his jailing would likely have been harsher?

Mandela never retracted his being a Communist or a terrorist.  You're correct,  he was very rightly praised for his incredible forgiveness and kindness.  He set examples for the rest of the world that Africa had never seen,  and has never emulated.  Neither has the ANC,  which is becoming as 'kleptocratic' as Chairman Bob in Zimbabwe.

As far as being a racist,  I think we all are.  I'm as liberal as can be,  but I'm still not color-blind.  I doubt any of us ever will be.  I'm also honest about it. 

Thanks for the conversation.  Again,  I keep hoping somebody will appear who can bring sanity to the continent.  With thousands of tribes,  each concerned only about itself,  I don't see that happening.

ClarenceLeDearn
ClarenceLeDearn

Let's talk about this.  First,  what was posted was the first draft.  The final differed considerably,  TIME ate it.


My family was French Protestant,  Heugonauts.  We fled to Holland,  then to the US in the mid 1600's. We took the boat to the US. At the same time,  other boats were loading for South Africa.  One turn at the wharf,  I could have been part of the Tribe of White Africans.  At the time the whites landed,  mass migration into parts of what became South Africa hadn't yet happened.  We have been in the US since the 1600's.  We have no home in Europe to go back to.  Neither do the White Africans.  It's absurd to suggest they leave.  Everything you list in the first paragraph happened.  To Native Americans in the United States.  And to slaves brought here.  Was there widespread slavery in South Africa?  

I can't apologize enough for what happened to Native Americans and slaves.  I'm guessing a huge percentage of the White Africans wish they could undo the insanities of the National Party in the 40's and 50's,  creating "separateness",   apartheid.  It was a crime,  unthinkable.  But,  further up the continent,  the insanities were far greater.    It's unthinkable that blacks oppressing, killing other blacks by the hundreds of thousands can be ignored,  with the focus solely on South Africa.


You are correct that Mandela 


Mandela tried to implement the Freedom Charter,  developed in the 50's.   As his government took power,  corruption,  incredible criminal levels,  failure to maintain infrastructure handed over,  began.  Black Economic Empowerment was quickly a joke.  Same as in the US,  to quote the economic theories of Miss Billie Holiday,  "Them that's got shall get,  them that don't shall lose."  Mandela didn't line his pockets,  he  couldn't stop others.  

and,  to finish up,  a few more thoughts