While the humanitarian aspect of the U.S. military intervention in Kosovo appealed to most Americans, former President George Bush said Wednesday, "It's not clear to me what we achieved there."
Bush told about 5,000 people in Alumni Arena on the University at Buffalo's North Campus that the displacement of refugees continues in Kosovo and the military action has damaged U.S. relations with Russia, Greece and especially China.
"With our technology, the Chinese can't believe" the bombing of their embassy in Belgrade was accidental, Bush said.
He touched on a variety of topics during an address and question-and-answer session of more than an hour.
He said he wishes he was 20 instead of 75 "because I'm an unabashed optimist" and saw things during his presidency -- such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany and the Soviet Union "coming apart at the seams" -- that caused him to believe "you can't turn back the clock to totalitarianism."
He said he avoided rushing to Berlin and joining in the celebration when the wall came down "because we didn't know how the Soviet Union and the Soviet Army would react. It could have been a catastrophe to overplay our hand."
He said the situation remains bleak in Russia although there are bright spots in the economy.
"But the political turmoil remains" there, he said.
"We can't gloat over our victory in the Cold War. If we criticize, it ought to be constructive criticism."
The most important U.S. relationship is that with China, Bush said.
He said he doesn't believe China seeks to control its neighbors.
"We can't back down on human rights, but we can't insist that everyone do it the same way we do."
He was applauded by the friendly audience when he said, "Leadership and courage. Character counts in all these matters."
During a question-and-answer session, he made what many might consider a reference to the Clinton presidency when he said he can look back on his four years as president and say, "I made plenty of mistakes, but I think I served with honor."
Later, he said the presidency is a very "resilient office" and although it can be tarnished, "it will bounce back no matter who is elected."