George W. Bush: Report card

Written by  //  April 24, 2009  //  Foreign Policy, Government & Governance, Justice & Law, Public Policy, U.S.  //  Comments Off on George W. Bush: Report card

We promise to take another look at these in a year’s time – or maybe more.

Lest we forget!

George W. Bush and his inner circle, photographed in the Cabinet Room of the White House in December 2001. From left: Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, the president, National-Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, C.I.A. director George Tenet (seated), and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. 
Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.

(Vanity Fair February 2009) The threat of 9/11 ignored. The threat of Iraq hyped and manipulated. Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. Hurricane Katrina. The shredding of civil liberties. The rise of Iran. Global warming. Economic disaster. How did one two-term presidency go so wrong? A sweeping draft of history—distilled from scores of interviews—offers fresh insight into the roles of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and other key players. Drawing on high-level interviews, Cullen Murphy and Todd S. Purdum weave an epic narrative, with all the fatal flaws, wrong turns, and missed opportunities of an eight-year train wreck.

Paul Krugman: Reclaiming America’s Soul
America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.
And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.
Ariana Huffington:  The way we respond — or fail to respond — to the revelations about the Bush administration’s use of torture will delineate — for ourselves and for the world — the kind of country we are.
It is a test of our courage and our convictions. A test of whether we are indeed a nation of laws — or a nation that pays lip service to the notion of being a nation of laws.
17 March
We had hoped it was Farewell, but Lo!, Jeffrey Simpson reports There he was, in perhaps the only city in Canada that would have him — A political outcast in most of his own country, except for religious and secular Republican bastions, found in Calgary arguably the only place outside the United States where he could get a welcome. Whatever he earned was too much.
21 January
Bush Was Right When It Mattered Most
By (Surprise!) Karl Rove
(WSJ) … despite facing challenges and crises few others have, the job did not break George W. Bush. Though older and grayer, his brows more furrowed, he is the same man he was, a person of integrity who did what he believed was right. And he exits knowing he summoned all of his energy and talents to defend America and advance its ideals at home and abroad. He didn’t get everything right — no president does — but he got the most important things right. And that is enough.
18 January
Farewell, Mr Bush: misguided and infuriating to the end
James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute
(The National, Abu Dhabi) This will be my last article about George W Bush. Actually, I had decided a few months back never to write about him again, and I would be honouring that pledge if he had not delivered a perfectly delusional and maddening farewell address to the nation last Thursday night.
In his speech Mr Bush articulated, in two forms, the doctrines of his neo-conservative “religion”. On the one hand he laid out this belief system’s general framework, noting that “good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise… freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must be willing to act in their defence and advance the cause of peace.”
15 January
Forgive and Forget?
Paul Krugman
If we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.
(NYT) Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it’s probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he’s going to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.
And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.
He’s Leaving. Really.
Gail Collins
The man has been saying goodbye for so long, he’s come to resemble one of those reconstituted rock bands that have been on a farewell tour since 1982. We had exit interviews by the carload and then a final press conference on Monday, in which he reminisced about his arrival on the national stage in 2000. “Just seemed like yesterday,” he said.
I think I speak for the entire nation when I say that the way this transition has been dragging on, even yesterday does not seem like yesterday. And the last time George W. Bush did not factor into our lives feels like around 1066.
10 January
611231240x.jpgPresident Bush Wants TV Farewell (Variety)
President George Bush wants a final 15 minutes from the Big Four networks on Thursday. The White House has asked ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC for 10-15 minutes of primetime airtime for a live farewell address to the nation. It would be Bush’s last public appearance before the inauguration on Tuesday.
10 January
For Bush and His Staff, a Season of ‘the Lasts’

This is what Mr. Bush is calling the season of “the lasts.” But while life inside the White House may be winding down, the legacy-building is gearing up.
The White House Web site features an extensive recitation of Mr. Bush’s “highlights and accomplishments,” including a document titled “100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration Record.” (First on the list: “Kept America Safe.”)
30 December 2008
Add Up the Damage
Bob Herbert
(NYT) When Mr. Bush officially takes his leave in three weeks (in reality, he checked out long ago), most Americans will be content to sigh good riddance. I disagree. I don’t think he should be allowed to slip quietly out of town. There should be a great hue and cry — a loud, collective angry howl, demonstrations with signs and bullhorns and fiery speeches — over the damage he’s done to this country.
26 December
Don’t Be Fooled by Bush’s Farewell Tour, Ellen Goodman in Truthdig
The 43rd president is going home with less remorse and fewer regrets than my grandchildren express for spilling their cereal.
23 December
Certainly the best re-branding story of 2008!
Maker of shoes thrown at Bush swamped by orders
(AFP) Normally the firm sold only 15,000 pairs a year of the model that Muntazer al-Zaidi threw at the US president at a press conference in Baghdad on December 14 to become an instant hero across the Arab world, he said.
Turk said orders had initially flooded in from Iraq, followed by other Middle East countries and finally from the rest of the world, including for 19,000 pairs from the United States.
Formerly prosaically dubbed Model 271, the black polyurethane-soled shoes have been renamed Bush Shoes
, he said.
19 December
When Barack Obama takes office, he inherits a legacy from George W. Bush that includes a world that has grown highly critical of the United States. America’s image decline is the central, unmistakable finding from surveys conducted over the course of the Bush presidency by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. Since 2001, we have polled more than 175,000 people in 54 nations and the Palestinian territories to compare and contrast public opinion around the world on a large variety of subjects.
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press report that examines President Bush’s impact on U.S. public opinion and includes the results of a new survey on Bush’s legacy.
17 December
Robert Scheer on Bush’s Legacy and the Shoe Attack
President Bush and the Flying Shoes: A Cautionary Tale” — The shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist is now a venerated celebrity throughout the Mideast, and his words to the president—“this is the farewell kiss, you dog”—will stand as the enduring epitaph in the region on Bush’s folly, which is the reality of his claimed legacy of success in the war on terror.
George Bush: The Comeback Kid
Stanley Fish
(NYT Opinion) I would like to enter these treacherous waters again and venture another prediction: within a year of the day he leaves office, and no matter who succeeds him, George W. Bush will be a popular public figure, regarded with affection and a little nostalgia even by those who voted against him and thought he was the worst president in our history.
Dictator Bush’s great illusion is exposed
The president thinks he is above the law. Mercifully, he is now being challenged

Andrew Sullivan
(Times Online) There is a core principle behind Anglo-American democracy as it has evolved in the past few centuries. Which is that you cannot rely on the judgment of one man or woman, unchecked by the law, or by parliament or Congress or the press, to govern a country. The reason is that human beings – all of us – are fallible. We get things wrong; our egos get the better of us; our self-interest blinds us; power corrupts us.
This is a critical moment for real conservatives to stand up and be counted. Edmund Burke, the founder of Toryism, was concerned above all with checks on concentrated power. Nothing appalled him more than naked, unchecked executive power – as the third and fourth US presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, also understood. And yet that is what has consumed the American constitution for the past seven years, aided and abetted by so-called conservatives who have let fear override reason, power trump freedom and terror displace the rule of law.
In some ways what we are seeing now is also reassuring. It is the end of a great, recent American illusion. The illusion that you can delegate self-government to a great leader. You can’t. The illusion that wars are won purely by saying they can’t be lost. The illusion that you can borrow and borrow and spend and spend and the day of reckoning will never come. But that day is here. And it is long overdue.
25 September
The time has come for a final report on the 43rd president of the US
The man who set out to reinforce unbridled American power has weakened it in all three essential dimensions
Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian
As the two men who would succeed him train like Olympic athletes for tomorrow’s foreign policy debate, pause for a moment to complete your final report on the 43rd president of the United States. What would you say?
I would sum up his two terms in four words: hubris followed by nemesis.
Remember the mood music of eight years ago. The greatest power the world has ever seen. Rome on steroids. An international system said to be unipolar, and Washington’s unabashed embrace of unilateralism. The US as “Prometheus unbound”, according to the neoconservative commentator Charles Krauthammer. Wall Street investment bankers bestriding the financial globe as Pentagon generals did the military globe and Harvard professors the soft power one. Masters of the universe. Personifying that hubristic moment: George Walker Bush.
And now: nemesis. The irony of the Bush years is that a man who came into office committed to both celebrating and reinforcing sovereign, unbridled national power has presided over the weakening of that power in all three dimensions: military, economic and soft. “I am not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a congressional committee earlier this month. Many on the ground say that’s an understatement. The massive, culpable distraction of Iraq, Bush’s war of choice, leaves the US – and with it the rest of the west – on the verge of losing the war of necessity. Here, resurgent in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are the jihadist enemies who attacked the US on September 11 2001. By misusing military power, Bush has weakened it.
Economically, the Bush presidency ends with a financial meltdown on a scale not seen for 70 years. The proud conservative deregulators (John McCain long among them) now oversee a partial nationalisation of the American economy that would make even a French socialist blush. A government bailout that will total close to a trillion dollars, plus the cumulative cost of the Iraq war, will push the national debt to more than $11 trillion. The flagships of Wall Street either go bust or have to be salvaged, with the help of government or foreign money. Most ordinary Americans feel poorer and less secure.
The decline in soft power – the power to attract – is also dramatic. The Pew Global Attitudes Survey has recorded a precipitous worldwide fall in favourable views of the US since 2001. The map is chequered, of course, but the distaste extends beyond policies of the Bush administration to things such as “American ways of doing business”, and “American ideas about democracy”. Iraq has been central to this collapse of credibility and attractiveness. When Bush denounces Russia for invading a sovereign country (Georgia), as he did again at the UN on Tuesday, a cry of “humbug” goes up around the world. Now American-style free market capitalism is taking a further hit, while some of the alternative models are looking better.
Last weekend, five former US secretaries of state – two Democrat, three Republican – gathered for a panel discussion on the future of foreign policy, televised by CNN. Asked by Christiane Amanpour what should be the biggest concern for the new president, Colin Powell replied: “To restore a sense of confidence in the United States of America.” Madeleine Albright added that the world of 2009 would be full of issues “that can only be solved in cooperation with other countries”. And, Republican and Democrat, they chorussed “close Guantánamo”.
Even George Bush now seems to concur with this criticism of George Bush – and I don’t just mean speculation that the father is privately critical of the son. Eight years ago, president Bush the younger hardly seemed to know what the word “multilateral” meant. In the course of his farewell address to the UN general assembly this week, he used the word “multilateral” 10 times.
Obviously not all this mess can be blamed on Bush: he’s not responsible for the epochal rise of China, nor for jihadist terrorists’ long-term hatred of the west.
But a great deal of it can. At the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, you can still see the painted glass sign that president Harry Truman placed on his desk in the oval office: The Buck Stops Here. (On the back it says: I’m From Missouri.) The buck stops there. The contrast between the president from Missouri and the president from Texas is painful. Judgment, prudence, vision, patience, honesty – every quality that the 33rd president so signally possessed, as the US remade the world after 1945, has been signally lacking in the 43rd.
Iraq, the US’s greatest strategic blunder in at least 30 years, is Bush’s fault. The buck stops there. And the more we learn about it, the clearer it becomes that it was pursued with a mixture of self-deception and lies. The reporter Ron Suskind has a new book out in which he recounts how, in the runup to war, British intelligence secured unique access to Saddam Hussein’s head of intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush.
Habbush told them what turned out subsequently to be the truth: that Saddam had ceased his programme of weapons of mass destruction, but would not admit it, because he was obsessed with keeping regional enemies such as Iran in a state of fear and uncertainty. That version was corroborated by Saddam’s foreign minister, to whom French intelligence had originally secured access.
The Bush-Cheney White House ignored both reports, preferring what turned out to be the fabrications of a German intelligence source codenamed Curveball. Curveball indeed. Some of Suskind’s reporting has been questioned, but the basic story is not in doubt. The Bush-Cheney White House pressed ahead to war on a fraudulent prospectus, suppressing and distorting very important contrary evidence. As a senior member of the administration told Suskind: “We’re an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality.” Hubris has rarely been better expressed.
Something similar happened with the vertiginous unreality of hyper-leveraged Wall Street investment banking over the past decade. The financiers’ motto, too, could have been “We create our own reality”. Again, nemesis follows hubris as the night the day. The White House was not directly responsible for what looks like wild financial irresponsibility, but it was responsible for not supervising and regulating it – something even John McCain is now at least implicity admitting. The buck stopped there.
As for the decline in American soft power, that is something for which George Bush was directly to blame. His arrogance, his unilateralism, his insensitivity, his long-time denial of the need for urgent action on climate change: all fed directly into the plummeting credit of the US around the world. It would have been a different story with a different president.
For years now, we have seen those who hate the US abusing and burning effigies of Bush. The truth is, the anti-Americans should be building gilded monuments to him. For no one has done more to serve the cause of anti-Americanism than GW Bush. It is we who like and admire the US who should, by rights, be burning effigies. But now, at last, we live in hope of a better America.

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