Bush Center hosts annual forum on leadership

From the military to the medical field and foreign policy, the George W. Bush Institute hosted some of the greatest minds of our time Thursday during a leadership forum.

Speakers included former United States Defense Secretary General James Mattis, Dr. Deborah Birx, and former First Lady Laura Bush.

The 5th annual leadership forum brought together some of the brightest minds to talk about world issues affecting us today.

During the event, panelists talked about a number of issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts overseas.

This year’s theme was "our nation's calling."

"There’s a lot of headlines in the world today which can make things sound dower. And what we aim to do is spotlight some of the people who are continuing to do great work in this country and around the world," said Holly Kuzmich, the executive director of the Bush Institute. "Despite what we often here, there’s a lot of good happening and we’re here to spotlight that good."

The COVID-19 pandemic was one of the key topics of conversation.

"Let's be clear, every infectious disease has been political, they have been political," said Dr. Birx, who served as the White House coronavirus response coordinator under President Donald Trump from 2020 to 2021.

She has been critical of the Trump Administration's COVID response, but politics aside, she also said the pandemic spurred innovation.

The federal government worked with the private sector to get COVID-19 tests and vaccines to the public in record time.

"Then it becomes not perception based, not fear based, no finger pointing. It says we have to do something different here," she added.

INFO: www.bushcenter.org/forumonleadership

The forum also focused on the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Last month, the Taliban said it would allow girls above the 6th grade to return to school, but reversed course without explanation.

"I can imagine the devastation and heartbreak when the Taliban changed their mind and sent them home the same day," the former first lady said.

Mrs. Bush honored the Afghan Institute of Learning, which continues to make it possible for young girls to get into schools despite the challenges in that country today.

AIL is an organization focused on learning, training and health services of people in Afghan communities.

She also presented an award to Afghan activist Sakena Yacoobi for carrying on that mission despite the Taliban’s oppressive restrictions. 

"You can imagine, without education, how they survive," Yacoobi said.

"The direct way to improve the lives of Afghan women and children was to first earn their trust and then give them access to education," Bush said. "Every child in Afghanistan deserves an education and every person in Afghanistan deserves access to quality health care and the right to earn a living."

Then there was the war in Ukraine.

Mattis was the keynote speaker. He said it’s crucial for Vladimir Putin to be stopped.

"We've got to make sure he loses. It's for the good of the world, and everything else will fall from that," he said.

He said it’s equally important, for our democracy, that the American people come together.

"I'm very concerned about the scorching rhetoric, the rolling of eyes, the contempt we're showing towards one another," Mattis said. "I guarantee, right now in Moscow, as we go after each other, Putin is over there cheering every minute of the day."

Mattis said it’s also vital that the NATO and the European Union work together in a united front.

He added that China is no doubt keeping a close eye on how the war in Ukraine plays out.