Home > International Reports
Was Bush's mission accomplished?
  Written By:  Rob Reynolds, senior Washington correspondent
  Article Date:
January 12
, 2008 

 

 
Was it the iconic image of the Bush presidency - or simply a footnote?

The whole world watched the video of an Iraqi journalist flinging his shoes at George Bush - his size 10 footwear narrowly missing the presidential head.

Muntazer al-Zaidi's act of protest or frustration was, depending on your perspective, rude and foolish - or brave and honest.

Some Iraqis, according to news reports, were embarrassed by the lapse of good manners and the violation of customary Arab hospitality towards a guest.

One thing is clear - at least Bush finally was given an emphatic message about how much of the world regards him.

Mission accomplished?

Only, he seemed once again not to "get it", calling it "one of the strangest" things to happen to him during his presidency, and saying he was certain the shoeless journalist did not represent the true feelings of most Iraqis.

Are you sure about that, Mr President?

And the image of the president of the US dodging a dusty shoe is sure to take its place alongside other indelible memories of the Bush years.

Remember the photo-op in full flight suit regalia aboard the aircraft carrier? Remember "mission accomplished"? Remember "I'm the decider"? Remember "heckuva job, Brownie"?

Remember when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was above 12,000 points?

Most Americans would stop short of tossing their footwear at the outgoing president - not wanting to spend the rest of their lives in one of his administration's secret prisons.

And hey, times are tough and shoes are expensive.

Place in history

But in the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, 79 per cent of Americans said they would not be sorry to see Bush go.

Among professional historians, Bush scores even lower.

An informal survey of 109 historians earlier this year by the History News Network found 98 per cent consider Bush's presidency a failure, while 61 per cent believe his presidency is the worst ever.

Bush himself likes to say he does not care about how he will go down in history.

"I'll be frank with you," Bush told an American television interviewer recently.

"I don't spend a lot of time worrying about short-term history. I guess I don't worry about long-term history either since I won't be around to read it," he said, chuckling.

But the professional historians I have been speaking with have already reached some conclusions about America's 43rd president.

"I ranked him at the very bottom. One of the worst presidents in US history," says Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University in New York.

"Without any hesitation, I would rank him as the lowest," says David Fromkin, the author of A Peace to End All Peace, a widely praised history of the Middle East.

'Series of disasters'

Foner, a prize-winning author of numerous books about the American Civil War and the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, says Bush "simply failed to rise to the challenges of the time in which he was president".

"I think there were a series of disasters, both foreign policy and domestic events, and he lived in a little hermetically sealed world of yes men around him," Foner says.

"He's been unwilling to rethink any of his ideas or policies, which I think is the hallmark of a good president - whether it's Lincoln, Franklin D Roosevelt, or others people willing to grow and change with the times."

The US has had a few great presidents, such as Lincoln and Roosevelt, and a lot of mediocre ones.

After all, who remembers Millard Fillmore, Rutherford B Hayes or Chester Arthur these days?

Those forgotten presidents at least did little harm to the republic and the world. But there have been a handful of presidents that were, most historians reckon, really bad.

Past failures
 
James Buchanan dithered in 1860 as the southern states seceded from the Union in the final months of his presidency, precipitating the bloodiest conflict in American history - the civil war.

Andrew Johnson, who assumed the White House after Lincoln was assassinated, was a vituperative racist who obstructed efforts to merge freed slaves into society as citizens with rights in the post-civil war US.

Herbert Hoover was an able man and a good administrator but a failed president. In the 1930s he watched the country plunge into the Great Depression and stubbornly stuck to failed economic policies.

As the American people lapsed into despair, Hoover offered only platitudes, not inspiration.

Richard Nixon was, in many ways, a brilliant man (although deeply flawed and an extremely odd person) who accomplished some foreign policy masterstrokes during his presidency.

But he lied about the Watergate break-in, dragged the country through a horribly divisive and damaging period, championed divisive and deceptive politics, and ultimately resigned in disgrace in August, 1974.

Those guys were pretty awful. But Bush combined disasters in foreign affairs with disasters in managing the economy - and more.

Litany of disaster?

Let us review the events of the Bush presidency.

Firstly, a war founded on deception, prosecuted and managed with incompetence and economic mismanagement and willful pursuit of an unfettered free market deregulation policy that has resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Then the radical interpretation of presidential power and erosion of constitutional rights; the stain on US honour and credibility resulting from the brutal treatment, indefinite detention and torture of

suspects in the so-called "war on terror".

There was also the disregard for the imminent threat posed by climate change and the rejection of international treaties to save the environment.

Added to this there is the unprecedented giveaway of national resources in oil, gas and coal masquerading as an energy policy; the Katrina fiasco and, many say, the careful cultivation of a politics of fear and division.

And the list goes on.

Disengaged?

Now, as the economy sinks further into the abyss, Bush is disengaged from it all, spending his final weeks either ignoring the crisis or, some argue, actively seeking to obstruct efforts to remedy it.

Worldwide attitudes towards Bush have translated into anti-Americanism and even hatred for the US itself in some quarters abroad - ultimately damaging national security.

"I think historians will find that he has had a very great impact on the world and on America's destiny in it," says Fromkin.

"I think it will be a very great impact indeed and not, I think, a favourable one [but] terribly destructive of the position of the US in the world."

"Bush does not appear like a very introspective person," Foner adds. 

"It doesn't seem like these setbacks have had a serious impact on his self-confidence or his psyche.

"If you look at the pictures [of Lincoln] over his four years of presidency, you see him ageing much more than four years in the lines in his face, the sorrow in his face, he was very, very affected by the mass death, by the inability to get the war over. Roosevelt too, you see that in his pictures.

"I don't see Bush exhibiting, at least in his image, any deep doubts or anguish over the things that have happened in his presidency."

'Head held high'

Among the presidents I have seen from childhood onwards, none seems to have been so widely ridiculed, lampooned, and held in such contempt by many as Bush.

Yet, by all appearances, he seems to be unaware of the damage many feel he has done and the disdain most have for him; in the words of Calvin Trillin, the poet and journalist, "obliviously on he sails".

As he prepares to leave the unfinished wars, collapsing economy and frayed constitution to his successor, Bush says he has no doubts - no second thoughts. 

"I will leave the presidency with my head held high," he proudly declared recently.

Unless, of course, someone throws a shoe at it.

 

Source: Al Jazeera