Business Times - 15 Jan 2009
Bush works on his legacy before the curtain falls
By LEON HADAR
IN less than a week, US President George W Bush will be leaving the White House. According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Mr Bush's presidency, it seems that 79 per cent of Americans would not miss him. The latest CNN poll found that only one-third of Americans want Mr Bush to play a post-presidency role in public life.
Indeed, given the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, the costly and unending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the botched federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and his pure amateurism and incompetence, it is not surprising that most Americans seem to share negative attitudes towards the man who occupied the White House for the last eight years.
At the same time, historians have been harsh in their grading the Bush administration, with some of them predicting that he would be considered one of the worst - if not the worst - presidents in US history.
Mr Bush and his aides, including former political and media aides Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, are annoyed the outgoing president is not getting the credit that (they say) he deserves for his achievements in office. So they are all working now on what is described as a 'legacy project' that is aimed at educating the American people about the successes of the retiring president.
In addition, in a series of 'exit interviews' and press conferences, Mr Bush has tried to do his best defending his policies on Iraq, and on domestic and foreign policy.
'You know, presidents can try to avoid hard decisions and therefore avoid controversy,' he said. 'That's just not my nature.'
Mr Bush has also acknowledged some of his failures, including his speech in 2003 aboard an aircraft carrier less than two months after the invasion of Iraq, during which he spoke under a 'Mission Accomplished' banner and said that 'the United States and our allies have prevailed'.
Insurgent attacks and US troop deaths would later spike, sparking condemnation for the optimistic miscalculation. 'Clearly, putting 'Mission Accomplished' on an aircraft carrier was a mistake,' Mr Bush admitted. 'It sent the wrong message.'
But many of Mr Bush's admirers are confident that history would recall the president who had launched the global war on terrorists after 9/11 as a great commander-in-chief. They compare him to late president Harry Truman who, like Mr Bush, had ended his term in office being criticised by the public and the pundits, but who is now described by many historians as the president who had laid the foundations for America's successful strategy against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
There is no doubt that Mr Bush's initial response to the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington helped bring together the American people and respond effectively to the threat from Al-Qaeda. Mr Bush is also responsible for some innovative strategy to reform US primary and secondary schools ('No Child Left Behind') and for a very generous effort to deal with the spread of Aids in Africa. In foreign policy, Mr Bush has left a legacy of an improved US relationship with India.
But the mess that the Bush administration has left in the Middle East through the unnecessary war in Iraq he had launched and his Freedom Agenda have helped reduce American global political-military power and its diplomatic influence worldwide.
It made it possible for Iran to emerge as the leading power in the Persian Gulf and strengthened the power of its satellites in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. The current Israeli-Palestinian war in the Gaza Strip is just the last chapter in the legacy that Mr Bush is leaving behind him.
Moreover, while Mr Bush was not responsible in any direct way for the housing and financial crises and the ensuing economic recession, this catastrophe that is posing a direct threat of the American capitalist system did happen under Mr Bush's watch.
And the ad-hocish and ineffective response of the Bush administration to the series of financial calamities would probably lead many historians to compare him not to president Truman but to president Herbert Hoover whose administration's failure to manage the American economy after the 1929 Wall Street Crash helped create the conditions for the Great Depression.
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