The Long Goodbye

In recent weeks, we have been treated to a series of interviews conducted mostly by President George W. Bush and in some cases by the First Lady, Laura, regarding the legacy of the 43rd president of the United States. Critics call it an exercise in spin and trying to save face by this highly unpopular president. More sympathetic observers recognize that Bush is trying to leave with his head up high and often refer to Harry S.Truman who left the presidency with very unfavorable ratings only to be rehabilitated much later by historians of another generation. That is Bush’s hope.

Surely his commitment to fight AIDS in Africa is seen in all political quarters as a major achievement. Even Obama conceded this much throughout his campaign. Bush’s decision, post-9/11, to build a UN- and NATO-backed coalition to invade Afghanistan and topple the Taliban will be applauded by historians as an appropriate response to 9/11. Should America ultimately fail there, it will most likely be on Obama’s watch and not Bush’s. Iraq is another matter but, should democracy prevail and flourish in the region in the next quarter century, historians may credit Bush’s decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein as the catalyst. So while I have been critical of the Bush administration, I must concede that history can be a humbler. On the domestic level, two accomplishments are regularly acknowledged: the No Child Left Behind education policies and the national prescription drug insurance program, both of which were adopted with significant Democratic backing.

And yet, Bush’s poll numbers are the lowest-ever for a retiring president. The economy is a mess, two inconclusive wars are in progress, the Middle East is continuing to be a hotbed of conflict and that’s not to mention Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. More damning evidence has emerged about Bush’s entourage, his style of management and the constant politicization of the facts to justify dubious political action. It is not a pretty picture. I have stated that, without Bush, there would have been no Obama. The desire for a transformational presidency has more to do with the dissatisfaction regarding the Bush presidency than the inspirational rhetoric of his successor. Obama has implicitly acknowledged this by his nominations and early policy announcements.

Bush has not fulfilled the promise of his presidency. His accomplishments domestically have been overshadowed by his governing style, which has been divisive and highly partisan. His foreign policy has been a failure because of his constant vacillation and his lack of both focus and principle. The repudiation of nation-building, the unilateralism, the preemptive military action, the messianic pronouncements about the spread of democracy and the end of tyranny—all of them show Bush lacking the curiosity and the compass to make a significant contribution to advance peace in the world. In the process, he squandered all of the goodwill following 9/11 and severely mortgaged America’s moral credibility in the world by endorsing behaviours such as torture to protect American interests. His selective interpretation of the events since 2001 do little to enhance his reputation. Some say he has prevented another terrorist attack on US soil. But does anybody really believe that the world is safer from terrorism and that American ideals are more respected in the world because of the policies of George W. Bush? The events of 9/11 occurred on his watch because he ignored evidence that an attack could take place in the United States. Thankfully, it is time for him to say goodbye.

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