President George W. Bush has been using his last
weeks in office making the case that he was not a disaster as president. There's
not much else for him to do – after all, no one cares what he thinks about the
issues. Everyone, even those who voted for John McCain, are waiting for Barack
Obama to take the oath of office on Tuesday. A lame duck even before the election
of his replacement, most any president becomes the lamest of lame ducks in his
final weeks in office. Especially one as unpopular as President Bush.
Good for a sardonic laugh is the Bush administration wrap-up, "Policies
of the Bush Administration: 2001-2009." Needless to say, it portrays a
heroic statesman who made America safer, freer, and wealthier. It suggests we
are living in a parallel universe like that in a Star Trek episode.
The president's principal claim, leading p.1, is that he "kept America
safe." One aspect of that was waging "the Global War on Terror."
Too bad al-Qaeda survives and the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan with a
military solution looking ever more distant. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is being
sucked into the vortex, creating the potential for genuine catastrophe.
As for Iraq, the administration glories in the fact that it "freed 25
million Iraqis from the rule of Saddam Hussein." Yes, and in the process
left millions of Iraqis dead, wounded, and displaced. Those who survived are
living under a government likely to become increasingly authoritarian and sectarian.
That's sure a great way to create democracy. Heck of a job, Georgie!
More seriously, the president claims to have "prevented another attack
on US soil." Let us grant that almost in spite of themselves administration
officials have taken out much of the al-Qaeda organization and made it more
difficult for terrorists to organize an attack in America. But the Bush administration's
manifold mistakes and errors also frequently hindered efforts to combat terrorism:
the inefficiency of the Department for Homeland Security; many dubious arrests
and lengthy incarcerations, as well as the well-publicized mistreatment of prisoners
at home and abroad; and creation of new radical grievances spawning more terrorists
in Iraq and elsewhere around the world. The administration even lauds the creation
of the Transportation Security Administration, as if travelers are more secure
because of the increased bureaucratic nonsense through which they must pass.
Indeed, if we are to equate correlation with causation in terms of the lack
of assaults after 9/11, should we not apply the same standard to 9/11 itself?
That is, by all accounts pre-9/11 the administration failed to heed warnings
and address shortcomings that could have prevented the attacks on the Twin Towers
and the Pentagon. So there's no home run for George W. Bush even here.
The Bush administration claims to have "invigorated international alliances
and partnership," yet most of America's friends reacted in horror to Washington's
militaristic and hubristic approach to foreign affairs. The administration squandered
the enormous goodwill generated by 9/11, making it more difficult to convince
sympathetic states to cooperate in destroying transnational terrorist networks.
As for expanding NATO, the administration has made America less secure by multiplying
security commitments in a region of no significant geopolitical interest to
America. The Bush administration sacrificed relations with Russia, a rebounding
power whose aid Washington desires in a number of areas. Last August the US
even found itself confronting nuclear-armed Russia in the Caucasus over a war
started by a third country. Ironically, the administration set the precedent
for Russian intervention against Georgia with Washington's misguided efforts
to dismember Serbia and create an independent Kosovo. A foolish "success"
is no success.
The Bush performance report also contends that "the President's freedom
agenda helped emerging democracies build the institutions that sustain liberty."
The first two countries listed are Iraq and Afghanistan. The likelihood of either
country becoming a liberal democratic society in our lifetimes is about on par
with the odds that Congress will approve spending programs without pork. But
the administration goes further, even claiming credit for urging "valued
partners like Saudi Arabia to move toward freedom." Well, maybe by inches.
Riyadh remains a totalitarian state; high-profile US support for the monarchy
remains a blot on any president's claim to be advancing human liberty.
Some of the administration's claims are harmless blather. The president "announced
steps to help the Burmese people bring peaceful change and democratic transition
to their country." Well, he may have announced steps, but they've had no
impact. Of course, there isn't much any president could have done about that
tragic country; at least President Bush didn't launch yet another bloody military
invasion and nation-building mission in response.
Finally, the administration proclaims: "the president has transformed
our military to become better trained, better equipped, and better prepared
for the threats of today, tomorrow, and beyond." It's an astonishing assertion.
After all, the military would have been far better provisioned and transformed
had the administration not squandered $620 billion on an unnecessary war in
Mesopotamia. And the total bill could eventually run $2 or $3 trillion for Bush's
This also is the administration that couldn't be bothered to provide armored
Humvees and body armor for its own troops. Throwing money rarely solves social
problems, but quickly equipping combat personnel is a different matter. Apparently
the administration didn't want to acknowledge that anything was amiss with the
Iraq adventure requiring better protection for US forces. Americans died as
Finally, the president's misguided invasion placed enormous strain on the volunteer
military, with both the active and reserve forces suffering significant recruiting
problems. To make its recruiting objectives the Army lowered standards for new
recruits. The administration also imposed "stop-loss," halting retirements
and extending enlistment terms, and began treating reservists as substitutes
rather than supplements to the active forces, sending citizen soldiers on a
succession of lengthy tours. The Pentagon even called up members of the Individual
Ready Reserve, an almost unprecedented step.
Not everything has been a disaster. The president can claim credit for not
wrecking relations with China and for significantly improving ties with India – perhaps
the administration's single most important foreign policy achievement. The administration
also recognized the importance of diplomacy when it negotiated denuclearization
with Libya, completing a process of engagement begun under Bill Clinton.
However, the report sidesteps or ignores other monumental failures. For instance,
policy towards North Korea and Iran has been a shambles. The US actually invaded
the least dangerous member of the "Axis of Evil." In contrast, Washington
spent several years refusing to talk to North Korea, which goes unmentioned
in the administration document. The North busily reprocessed nuclear fuel and
is thought to have acquired the capability of building another ten or so nuclear
weapons. Only after the debacle was manifest to all did the administration appear
to notice, causing it to change course. Now Washington is locked in endless
and endlessly frustrating negotiations with Pyongyang.
The US government adopted a similar stance toward Iran – celebrated by the
administration as working "with the international community to isolate
the regime in Tehran" – refusing to even respond to Tehran's offer to negotiate
an overall settlement with Washington in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.
Since then America's bargaining power has dwindled as Iran gained mightily from
Saddam Hussein's ouster. So the administration belatedly began low level diplomatic
discussions with Iran in Iraq and considered opening a diplomatic mission in
Tehran. All the while Iran continued its nuclear developments – apparently pursuing
a peaceful program today, but prepared to move to a weapons program tomorrow
With war raging in Gaza the administration's claim to have "laid the groundwork
for a future Israel-Palestinian peace agreement and a democratic Palestinian
state" can only evoke horselaughs. There was never any pretense that the
US was an honest broker between the two sides. The administration's subservience
to the interests of Israeli hard-liners was highlighted by Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert's claim to have pulled President Bush off of the podium during a
speech to insist that the latter torpedo a UN Security Resolution calling for
a cease fire which had been drafted with the assistance of US Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice.
Tightening sanctions on Cuba proved to be a miserable failure. Washington's
apparent approval of a briefly successful coup against Venezuela's Hugo Chavez
was maladroit and counterproductive, especially for an administration purporting
to promote democracy around the globe.
In short, the administration has amassed an extraordinary record of foolishness,
incompetence, and arrogance. It is one thing to tolerate a braggart who gets
the job done. But no one will endure a self-inflated nitwit who ruins everything
he touches. Yet that was Uncle Sam as projected by the Bush administration over
the last eight years.
The Bush presidency has been an American tragedy, with horrid consequences
for the rest of the world. George W. Bush personally is a decent man, but proved
to be wholly inadequate for job to which he was elected. With a new president
about to take the oath of office, we should all hope that the lessons of the
last eight years have been learned, and learned well. We cannot afford a repeat
experience, now or in the future.