George W. Bush: Worst President Ever?
Next Tuesday, Barack Obama will replace George Bush as president of the United States. Not surprisingly, given Bush’s approval ratings and Obama’s pop culture status, there is a lot of anticipation for the inauguration.
Many people are as eager to see Bush out as they are to see Obama in. Bush is not very popular, and has made his share of serious mistakes. And he’s not a very good communicator. Still, the hatred and disgust directed towards him by so many people is baffling. Bush might not have been a great president—but he is nowhere near the worst president in American history, as many firmly believe. (At least, so far. It takes at least two decades, and probably more, to get the full measure of a presidency).
Bush’s greatest failure is perceived to be the Iraq War. The wisdom of going into Iraq is certainly debatable—Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, and even if he had he simply wasn’t a real threat to America. And Bush mishandled the war—he stuck to his original strategy long after it was clear to nearly everyone else that is wasn’t working. The Iraq War, even if our present success in Iraq continues, will probably be seen as a mistake by future generations.
But not that big a mistake; certainly not large enough to tar a president with the “worst ever” label. The truth is that the Iraq War simply wasn’t that big or important a war. Four thousand American troops have died over nearly seven years. During the Vietnam War, that many men could be lost in a month. And had Bush not embraced the surge and America was forced to withdraw in defeat, the consequences would have been unpleasant (it would have emboldened Muslims around the world), but not that unpleasant—the vast majority of Americans would never have been touched by them. The Iraq War was, perhaps, a mistake—but a relatively minor one.
Another criticism of Bush that is supposed to relegate him to lower echelon of presidents is the alleged loss of U.S. standing around the globe. (Obama is supposed to be the cure for this). It’s true; the U.S. has lost prestige—except in France, which now has a pro-American Prime Minister, and England, whose Prime Minister supported (and supports) the Iraq War (and while Gordon Brown is unpopular, David Cameron, who is probably be the next PM, also supports the Iraq War), and Germany, with pro-American Angela Merkel, and Israel, Kuwait, and Albania, where they love Bush and America, and…really, most of the world doesn’t seem to have much animosity towards America. That seems to be one of those memes which occasionally rise without any real backing in truth.
If one is looking for the worst presidents in American history, it would be wise to look at other presidents than Bush. James Buchanan, for example, did nothing as the Confederate states seceded from the Union, making Abraham Lincoln’s task of fighting the Civil War much harder. Ulysses S. Grant’s Administration was plagued with corruption, and mishandled Reconstruction far worse than Bush mishandled the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussien. Warren Harding’s administration was woefully corrupt, and Harding was dreadfully incompetent. Franklin Roosevelt’s policies may have (actually, it would probably be safe to assert they did) lengthen the Great Depression, and it was only the fortuitous (at least for Roosevelt’s legacy) outbreak of World War II that saved him from being remembered as a disaster. Lyndon Johnson escalated the Vietnam War and bore responsibility for tens of thousands of American dead. Richard Nixon was a lying crook. Jimmy Carter’s domestic and foreign policies were failures. But since George Bush botched some insignificant (relatively) war in the Middle East, he’s one of our worst presidents? To say so is simply politically and historically illiterate.