George W. Bush's Image Improves Ahead of Library Opening

Bush aides seek to burnish image tarnished by Iraq and the economy.

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The George W. Bush Presidential Center while under construction. (EarthCam.net)

Former President George W. Bush is holding a dedication ceremony to open his presidential library and museum in Dallas Thursday, which is already prompting another round of debate over his legacy and the many controversial decisions he made while in office.

Former Bush advisers are beating the drum to change perceptions that his presidency was a failure.

[READ: George W. Bush: 'I'm Comfortable With What I Did']

Writing for the conservative National Review online, former White House counselor Ed Gillespie said the fact America had not experienced a major terrorist attack for more than 11 years – until the Boston bombings on April 15 – showed Bush's positive impact.

Gillespie praised U.S. counterterrorism agencies, the FBI and other government officials. But he said the long period when there were no large-scale attacks also reflects "the policies put in place by the administration of President George W. Bush. ... These policies include establishing the director of national intelligence, National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security, and expanding the FBI's mission from just investigating terrorist attacks to preventing them."

Gillespie also lauded Bush for a number of his other decisions, such as persuading Congress to approve a Medicare prescription drug benefit and his strong leadership after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

[PHOTOS: Remembering the 9/11 Victims]

Other former Bush aides say he will eventually be given credit for policies that are often ignored today, such as his support for immigration reform, even though it went nowhere in Congress, and his backing of massive U.S. assistance to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa, which saved many lives.

Former Bush advisers praised his decision in 2008 to successfully win congressional approval of the Troubled Assets Relief Program which bailed out financial institutions that were collapsing at the time.

Other actions will be harder to justify, such as his administration's weak response to Hurricane Katrina and his wrongfully insisting that the regime of Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, an argument which Bush used as a justification for invading Iraq. No such weapons were found.

The Bush museum and the policy center known as the Bush Institute, which share the Dallas site with the library, are designed to emphasize what Bush considered most important during his eight-year presidency. "Freedom is really the one central axis around which everything revolves," Mark Langdale, president of the George W, Bush Foundation, told the Washington Post.

Among those scheduled to attend the Bush complex's dedication Thursday are President Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.

[VIDEO: George W. Bush's $250 Million Presidential Center Second Only in Size to Reagan Library]

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that Bush's favorability ratings are slowly improving. Forty seven percent of Americans say they approve of his job performance and 50 percent disapprove. As his presidency ended in January 2009, 33 percent approved and 66 percent disapproved.

Among registered voters, Bush's job approval rating today is the same as President Obama's – 47 percent, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News survey. Most Americans still disapprove of his handling of the economy and his decision to invade Iraq, although there has been an improvement on both issues since he left office more than four years ago.

However, other polls are not so positive for Bush. An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found that only 35 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Bush and 44 percent view him negatively.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. Walsh is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.