called out when Dad entered the room.

At the Beijing Olympics. White House/Eric Draper

The Olympics gave the world a chance to see the beauty and creativity of China. My hope is that the Games also gave the Chinese people a glimpse of the wider world, including the possibility of an independent press, open Internet, and free speech. Time will tell what the long-term impact of the Beijing Olympics will be. But history shows that once people get a taste of freedom, they eventually want more.

November 23, 2002, was a rainy, gray day in Bucharest. Yet tens of thousands had turned out in Revolution Square to mark Romania’s admission to NATO, a landmark development for a country that just fifteen years earlier was a Soviet satellite state and a member of the Warsaw Pact. As I approached the stage, I noticed a brightly lit balcony. “What is that?” I asked the advance man. He told me it was where Nicolai Ceausescu, the communist dictator of Romania, had given his last speech before he was overthrown in 1989.

As President Ion Iliescu introduced me, the rain stopped and a full-spectrum rainbow appeared. It stretched across the sky and ended right behind the balcony that was lit as a memorial to freedom. It was a stunning moment. I ad-libbed: “God is smiling on us today.”

Congratulating Romania on its admission into NATO. White House/Paul Morse

Romania was not the only young democracy celebrating that day. I had also cast America’s vote to admit Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia into NATO. I viewed NATO expansion as a powerful tool to advance the freedom agenda. Because NATO requires nations to meet high standards for economic and political openness, the possibility of membership acts as an incentive for reform.

A year after my speech in Bucharest, a charismatic young democrat named Mikheil Saakashvili burst into the opening session of parliament in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Speaking for thousands of Georgian demonstrators, he denounced the assembly as the illegitimate result of a corrupt election. President Eduard Shevardnadze felt the groundswell and resigned. The bloodless coup became known as the Rose Revolution. Six weeks later, the Georgian people went to the polls and chose Saakashvili to be their president.

In November 2004, a similar wave of protests broke out after a fraudulent presidential election in Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands braved freezing temperatures to demonstrate for opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. At one point during the campaign, Yushchenko suffered a mysterious poisoning that disfigured his face. Yet he refused to drop out of the race. His supporters turned out every day clad in orange scarves and ribbons until the Ukrainian Supreme Court ordered a rerun of the tainted election. Yushchenko won and was sworn in on January 23, 2005, completing the Orange Revolution.

At the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, both Georgia and Ukraine applied for Membership Action Plans, MAPs, the final step before consideration for full membership. I was a strong supporter of their applications. But approval required unanimity, and both Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, the new president of France, were skeptical. They knew Georgia and Ukraine had tense relationships with Moscow, and they worried NATO could get drawn into a war with Russia. They were also concerned about corruption.

I thought the threat from Russia strengthened the case for extending MAPs to Georgia and Ukraine. Russia would be less likely to engage in aggression if these countries were on a path into NATO. As for the governance issues, a step toward membership would encourage them to clean up corruption. We agreed on a compromise: We would not grant Georgia and Ukraine MAPs in Bucharest, but we would issue a statement announcing that they were destined for future membership in NATO. At the end of the debate, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Great Britain leaned over to me and said, “We didn’t give them MAPs, but we may have just made them members!”

The NATO debate over Georgia and Ukraine highlighted the influence of Russia. In my first meeting with Vladimir Putin in the spring of 2001, he complained that Russia was burdened by Soviet-era debt. At that point, oil was selling for $26 per barrel. By the time I saw Putin at the APEC summit in Sydney in September 2007, oil had reached $71—on its way to $137 in the summer of 2008. He leaned back in his chair and asked how were Russia’s mortgage-backed securities doing.

The comment was vintage Putin. He was sometimes cocky, sometimes charming, always tough. Over my eight years as president, I met face to face with Vladimir more than forty times. Laura and I had wonderful visits with him and his wife, Lyudmilla, at our home in Crawford and his dacha outside Moscow, where he showed me his private chapel and let me drive his classic 1956 Volga. He took us on a beautiful boat ride through St. Petersburg during the White Nights Festival. I invited him to Kennebunkport, where we went fishing with Dad. I’ll never forget Putin’s reaction the first time he came into the Oval Office. It was early in the morning, and the light was streaming through the south windows. As he stepped through the door, he blurted out, “My God … This is beautiful!” It was quite a response for a former KGB agent from the atheist Soviet Union.

Through all the ups and downs, Putin and I were candid with each other. We cooperated in some important areas, including fighting terrorism, removing the Taliban from Afghanistan, and securing nuclear materials.

One of the biggest achievements emerged from our first meeting, in Slovenia in 2001. I told Vladimir I planned to give him the required six months’ notice that America would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so that we could both develop effective missile defense systems. He made clear that this wouldn’t make me popular in Europe. I told him I had campaigned on the issue and the American people expected me to follow through. “The Cold War is over,” I told Putin. “We are no longer enemies.”

I also informed him that America would unilaterally cut our arsenal of strategic nuclear warheads by two thirds. Putin agreed to match our reductions. Less than a year later, we signed the Moscow Treaty, which pledged our nations to shrink our number of deployed warheads from 6,600 weapons to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012. The treaty amounted to one of the largest nuclear weapons cuts in history, and it happened without the endless negotiations that usually come with arms-control agreements.

Over the course of eight years, Russia’s newfound wealth affected Putin. He became aggressive abroad and more defensive about his record at home. In our first one-on-one meeting of my second term, in Bratislava, I raised my concerns about Russia’s lack of progress on democracy. I was especially worried about his arrests of Russian businessmen and his crackdown on the free press. “Don’t lecture me about the free press,” he said, “not after you fired that reporter.”

It dawned on me what he was referring to. “Vladimir, are you talking about Dan Rather?” I asked. He said he was. I said, “I strongly suggest you not say that in public. The American people will think you don’t understand our system.”

At a joint press conference after the meeting, I called on two American reporters and Vladimir called on two Russian journalists. The last question came from Alexei Meshkov of the Interfax news agency. It was addressed to Putin. “President Bush recently stated that the press in Russia is not free,” he said. “What is this lack of freedom all about? … Why don’t you talk a lot about violations of the rights of journalists in the United States, about the fact that some journalists have been fired?” What a coincidence. The so-called free press of Russia was parroting Vladimir’s line.

Putin and I both loved physical fitness. Vladimir worked out hard, swam regularly, and practiced judo. We were both competitive people. On his visit to Camp David, I introduced Putin to our Scottish terrier, Barney. He wasn’t very impressed. On my next trip to Russia, Vladimir asked if I wanted to meet his dog, Koni. Sure, I said. As we walked the birch-lined grounds of his dacha, a big black Labrador came charging across the lawn. With a twinkle in his eye, Vladimir said, “Bigger, stronger, and faster than Barney.” I later told the story to my friend, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada. “You’re lucky he only showed you his dog,” he replied.

Taking my man Barney for a spin on the ranch, the only place the Secret Service let me drive. White House/Eric Draper

The Barney story was instructive. Putin was a proud man who loved his country. He wanted Russia to have the stature of a great power again and was driven to expand Russia’s spheres of influence. He intimidated democracies on his borders and used energy as an economic weapon by cutting off natural gas to parts of Eastern Europe.

Putin was wily. As a quid pro quo for supporting Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder in their efforts to counterbalance American influence, Putin convinced them to defend his consolidation of power in Russia. At a G-8

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