Archive for March 24th, 2008

Historians might argue over ranking, but there’s no doubt he has been an unmitigated disaster.

Mar 22, 2008 04:30 AM


The Toronto Star 

Historians will argue over whether George W. Bush is the worst president the United States has ever endured. But that is not the point. Five years after Bush’s ill-starred invasion of Iraq, three years after Hurricane Katrina and seven months into the unravelling of the U.S. financial system, the point is that the 43rd president of the United States – regardless of his ranking in the pantheon – is a unique and unmitigated disaster.

Whether Bush is more of a warmonger than James Polk, who in 1846 manufactured a crisis with Mexico in order to seize what is now California, more tolerant of cronyism than poker-playing Warren Harding (1921 to 1923), or more unlucky than William Harrison (he died after catching cold at his 1841 inauguration) is interesting but irrelevant. What we do know is that this president, this “decider” (to use his favoured term), decided his way into a war that has destroyed the nation he was allegedly trying to free, destabilized further an already rickety Middle East and given Islamic terrorism a whole new raison d’etre.

Bush is not the first U.S. president to take a cavalier attitude to civil liberties. Abraham Lincoln did so during the Civil War, while modern presidents reaching back to at least John Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower have sanctioned the use of illegal assassination.

During the 1960s, when Bush was still a hard-drinking frat boy, American experts operating under presidential authority were teaching enhanced torture techniques to their Latin American counterparts. Bush didn’t initiate the practice of extraordinary rendition – sending suspects abroad to be tortured. That honour goes to Bill Clinton.

In short, the road to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay was open well before Bush took office in January 2001. But the current president has soared to new heights. His predecessors at least had the grace to be embarrassed about dabbling on the dark side. By contrast, Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney positively gloat about their attempts to subvert human rights.

True, most of the bad press against Bush stems less from his actions themselves than from the fact that they have failed. Had Lincoln lost the Civil War, history might well have treated him as a bum. Had the U.S. succeeded in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush might be considered one of America’s great presidents.

But Bush did not succeed there, or indeed in most of his efforts. With a few notable exceptions, such as stacking the Supreme Court with conservative justices, his record is one of failure. His attempt to beef up the government-subsidized health-care system for seniors has bogged down in confusion. His thrusts at social security reform were stillborn.

An alleged fiscal conservative, he drove the U.S. treasury into deficit to pay for his wars and tax cuts.

Part of the reason is ideology. Bush did little when Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, in large part because he does not think governments should involve themselves in matters of social welfare. His efforts in the current financial crisis are equally half-hearted and for much the same reason.

But there is something else, something disturbingly feckless about Bush. This has nothing to do with his malapropisms (“The only way we can win is to leave before the job is done”), his insistence on snuggling into bed early every night or his alarming propensity for bicycle accidents.

At a very basic level, Bush is incompetent. He likes to play at commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces. But in any other country a commander-in-chief who orchestrated an adventure as disastrous as the Iraq war would be court-martialled.

He clearly has a native cunning that stands him well in the game of politics. But at a deeper level, there seems to be something missing – a neural disconnect in his brain that at crucial moments causes him to be divorced from the constraints of rational thought. How else to explain the abrupt turnarounds such as his 2003 decision to disband the entire Iraqi army (a decision that fuelled the subsequent insurgency) just a few weeks after agreeing that these forces should be kept intact?

In some public events, he seems fully at ease. But in others – particularly his infrequent, televised press conferences – he seems to be observing events from another dimension.

Among U.S. historians, it has become great sport to rank the country’s presidents. Bush vies with many for the title of absolute worst – from Ulysses S. Grant, who oversaw a post-Civil War era so corrupt it was known as Grant’s Barbecue, to Richard Nixon of Watergate fame, to Herbert Hoover, the hapless president in charge during the stock market crash of 1929.

But Grant, Hoover and even Nixon did not do as much damage worldwide. Americans may still be debating Bush’s legacy. I suspect the rest of the world has made up its mind.
Thomas Walkom’s column appears Thursday and Saturday.

Body of War

A film by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue

President George W. Bush is deeply saddened by the 4,000 U.S. troops who died in Iraq and assumes responsibility for the decision to begin the war, the White House reported on Monday.

The president said he mourned all the lives that were lost in the Iraq battles and sent his sympathy to all the families affected by these losses.

“It’s a sober moment, and one that all of us can focus on in terms of the number of 4,000,” White House Dana Perino said, referring to the explosion in Baghdad on Sunday, which killed four more U.S. soldiers, raising the death toll to a new tragic number.

“The president feels each and every one of the deaths very strongly and he grieves for their families,” Perino said, according to Reuters. “He obviously is grieved by the moment but he mourns the loss of every single life.”

The number of 4,000 deaths came a few days after President Bush had declared in a speech, on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, that the United States was on the way to victory and that he had no intention of withdrawing any of the troops from Iraq.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino informed, though, that president Bush might reconsider his decision by Friday. He might continue withdrawing troops after an initial drawdown from 158,000 to 140,000 troops is completed in July.

“The president has said the hardest thing a commander in chief will do is send young men and women into combat, and he’s grieved for every lost American life, from the very first several years ago to those lost today,” Perino said, according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. death toll reached 1000 in September 2004, 18 months after the invasion started. Then it climbed to 2,000 in October 2005 and to 3,000 in December 2006. It has reached 4,000 on Sunday, after a roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers and wounded another in Baghdad. The bomb exploded near the soldiers’ vehicle, while they were patrolling in southern Baghdad around 10 p.m.