George Bush's Legacy




Real successes of the George W. Bush presidency:
  • Got rid of Saddam Hussein (but at such an enormous cost !).

  • Got Libya to give up its nuclear program (but apparently it had bought the hardware and then done nothing with it).

  • Greatly increased health-aid to Africa.

Matthew Yglesias's "Some Good Things George W. Bush Did"

Claimed successes that really are failures:
  • Tax cut (but too slanted to the wealthy, and financed by borrowing instead of by cutting size of government; government spending increased wildly).
    Article by Annie Lowrey
    And in 2011, the repeal/continuation of those tax cuts is still poisoning efforts to fix the budget deficit.
    Clinton vs Bush

  • No big terror attacks on US soil after 9/11 (but terrorists killed 5500 US military in the ten years since 9/11; they had no need to come to US soil to accomplish that. And they've attacked Spain, England, Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.)


Failures:
  • Doubled the national debt (just as Ronald Reagan did; what ever happened to Republicans being fiscally conservative ? And added more hidden costs to be dealt with in the future: replacement of military equipment, and long-term health care for wounded veterans from the wars).
    National debt as percent of GDP, by president
    percent of national debt added by each president
    10 Things Conservatives Don't Want You To Know About Ronald Reagan
    Looking back from later debt-limit crises


  • Did not capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

  • Iraq war (destroyed the country, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, two million refugees, ethnic cleansing, spent a couple trillion dollars for little result, didn't find any WMD's, found only the faintest links to Al Qaeda, didn't create a stable democracy, created huge worries for Turkey and Saudi Arabia, increased power of Iran).
    [How appropriate: on George Bush's last visit to Iraq in 12/2008, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at Bush and called him a dog, and became a national hero.]

    Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis's "A look back at 8 years of war in Iraq".
    Peter Van Buren's "Why the Invasion of Iraq Was the Single Worst Foreign Policy Decision in American History".
    9/11 and the invasion of Iraq
    Iraq war cost
    Ewen MacAskill's "George Bush: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq'"
    "God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq"
    Doonesbury 12/25/2011 after USA took last combat troops out of Iraq
    This Modern World on bombing Iraq
    Iraq and Vietnam
    The Onion: U.S. Finishes A 'Strong Second' In Iraq War
    Daniel Trotta's "Iraq war costs U.S. more than $2 trillion: study"
    Costs of War
    The Onion's "Report: Many Iraqis Still Holding Petty Grudge About U.S. Invasion"
    Of course, plenty of Democrats voted for the war, too.

    And I've been saying since about 2005: we're going to lose this war. I mean we're not going to achieve our goal: a stable, democratic Iraq that is an example to the rest of the Mideast. The best case is that we'll get a stable Islamic republic. The worst case is a long-running civil war that spills over the borders and destabilizes Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc.
    6/2014: Looks like Iraq is starting to crumble: BBC's "How can militants take over Iraqi cities?".
    Tom Tomorrow on Iraq 2014

    We've forgotten the basic lesson of the Vietnam war: we can't use guns to force people to become peaceful and democratic and America-lovers. It doesn't work.

    From "Six Questions for Michael Scheuer on National Security" by Ken Silverstein in 2006:
    Q: Has the war in Iraq helped or hurt in the fight against terrorism?

    A: It broke the back of our counterterrorism program. Iraq was the perfect execution of a war that demanded jihad to oppose it. You had an infidel power invading and occupying a Muslim country and it was perceived to be unprovoked. Many senior Western officials said that bin Laden was not a scholar and couldn't declare a jihad but other Muslim clerics did. So that religious question was erased.

    Secondly, Iraq is in the Arab heartland and, far more than Afghanistan, is a magnet for mujahideen. You can see this in the large number of people crossing the border to fight us. It wasn't a lot at the start, but there's been a steady growth as the war continues. The war has validated everything bin Laden said: that the United States will destroy any strong government in the Arab world, that it will seek to destroy Israel's enemies, that it will occupy Muslim holy places, that it will seize Arab oil, and that it will replace God's law with man's law. We see Iraq as a honey pot that attracts jihadists whom we can kill there instead of fighting them here. We are ignoring that Iraq is not just a place to kill Americans; Al Qaeda has always said that it requires safe havens. It has said it couldn't get involved with large numbers in the Balkans war because it had no safe haven in the region. Now they have a safe haven in Iraq, which is so big and is going to be so unsettled for so long. For the first time, it gives Al Qaeda contiguous access to the Arabian Peninsula, to Turkey, and to the Levant. We may have written the death warrant for Jordan. If we pull out of Iraq, we have a problem in that we may have to leave a large contingent of troops in Jordan. All of this is a tremendous advantage for Al Qaeda. We've moved the center of jihad a thousand miles west from Afghanistan to the Middle East.


  • Afghanistan war (damaged the country, killed many civilians, spent a couple trillion dollars for little result, didn't catch Osama bin Laden, didn't create a stable democracy and economy, didn't stop the drug trade, now destabilizing Pakistan).
    Of course, plenty of Democrats voted for the war, too.

    And I've been saying since about 2005: we're going to lose this war. I mean we're not going to achieve our goals: catching Osama bin Laden and destroying Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and building a stable, democratic Afghanistan with a non-drug economy. The best case is that we'll get a stable hard-line Islamic republic fueled by drug money. The worst case is a long-running multi-group civil war, fueled by drug money, that spills over the borders and destabilizes Pakistan.

    We've forgotten the basic lesson of the Vietnam war: we can't use guns to force people to become peaceful and democratic and America-lovers. It doesn't work.


    We were right to attack Afghanistan after 9/11, to try to destroy Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and the Taliban. When we failed at that, we should have left Afghanistan and let all the warlords and such fight it out. If the Taliban is back in power after a few years, we go back in and punish them again, then get out again. Not a happy situation, but the best we can do.

    From "Six Questions for Michael Scheuer on National Security" by Ken Silverstein in 2006:
    Q: Things seemed to have turned for the worse in Afghanistan too. What's your take on the situation there?

    A: The President was sold a bill of goods by George Tenet and the CIA - that a few dozen intel guys, a few hundred Special Forces, and truckloads of money could win the day. What happened is what's happened ever since Alexander the Great, three centuries before Christ: the cities fell quickly, which we mistook for victory. Three years later, the Taliban has regrouped, and there's a strong insurgency. We paid a great price for demonizing the Taliban. We saw them as evil because they didn't let women work, but that's largely irrelevant in Afghanistan. They provided nationwide law and order for the first time in 25 years; we destroyed that and haven't replaced it. They're remembered in Afghanistan for their harsh, theocratic rule, but remembered more for the security they provided. In the end, we'll lose and leave. The idea that we can control Afghanistan with 22,000 soldiers, most of whom are indifferent to the task, is far-fetched. The Soviets couldn't do it with 150,000 soldiers and utter brutality. Before the invasion of Afghanistan, [the military historian] John Keegan said the only way to go there was as a punitive mission, to destroy your enemy and get out. That was prescient; our only real mission there should have been to kill bin Laden and Zawahiri and as many Al Qaeda fighters as possible, and we didn't do it.


  • Somalian war (took down a group that had driven out the warlords and stabilized the country, just because it was an Islamic group).

  • Destroyed American reputation for justice and morality (imprisonment without just process, torture, "extraordinary rendition" for torture in other countries, warrantless wiretaps, assertion of our right to invade anyone we feel threatens us, use of contractor/mercenaries who kill civilians with impunity).
    Of course, plenty of Democrats in Congress went along with these policies.
    Larry Siems's "How America Came To Torture Its Prisoners"

  • Damaged the US constitutional "separation of powers" (using "signing statements" to declare intentions to ignore/modify legislation, issuing "secret opinions" to do the same, declaring Vice President not subject to laws about executive branch, asserting President has unlimited powers as C-in-C during a "war on terror" that will never end).

  • No Social Security reform (insisted on a privatization scheme that would have been a disaster; how about just raising the SS tax rate a little, removing income level cap on taxation, and taxing benefits for high-income recipients ?).

  • No Immigration reform.

  • Very little health insurance reform (just Medicare prescription drug program).

  • Denied and postponed dealing with climate and energy problems (which will cause much greater damage in future decades than if we had started dealing with them in 2001).

  • No significant progress with some problem countries (Iran, North Korea, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine).

  • Significant damage to relationships with some problem countries (Russia).

  • Damage to relationships with allies (overwhelming negative sentiment by citizens in Europe, spurning UN and treaties, polarizing "you're either with us or against us" attitude).

  • Leaving behind an exhausted military (worn-out equipment and personnel, severe recruiting problems, troublesome "contractor" system).

  • Incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina gives little confidence that government could handle a serious NBC (nuclear or biological or chemical) attack on the USA.

  • Bailouts to airline, financial and automotive industries (what ever happened to free enterprise ?).

  • Increased the size and power of the government (federalized the transportation security workers, Patriot Act, nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, explosion in size of intelligence industry).

    Turns out that Guantanamo, secret prisons, rendition, torture, "enemy combatant" isn't authorized by the Patriot Act. It is stuff the Bush administration claimed is part of the president's inherent powers, and Congress was too spineless to challenge that.

  • Failed to keep campaign promises (be a "uniter not a divider", avoid "nation-building").

  • Economic meltdown of 2008.

    Not entirely Bush's fault; there were lots of factors.
    FactCheck.org's "Who Caused the Economic Crisis?"
    The Perino Challenge: 'What Specific Regulation Did We Eliminate?'
    Richard S. Grossman's "Greed destroyed us all"
    But Republican hatred of regulation and GWB's appointment of anti-regulation people had a lot to do with it. PBS Frontline show said: after 9/11, huge numbers of FBI agents were moved from financial crimes units to anti-terrorism units, and never replaced. And after the crash, Republicans have obstructed many regulatory reforms that might prevent the next crash.

    But I blame Congress over 30 years (starting with Reagan, probably) as much as the Bush Administration, and I think any President really can't "manage" the economy very much.


Steven Rosenfeld's "50 Reasons You Despised George W. Bush's Presidency"
Kurt Eichenwald's "30 Years of Conservative Nonsense, An Explainer"
Greg Grandin's "How Our 1989 Invasion of Panama Explains the Current US Foreign Policy Mess"



From Conor Friedersdorf article 1/2012:
... the only two presidents for whom I've had the opportunity to vote, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, did not in fact govern in a way that seemed particularly shaped by the campaigns that they ran. As it turned out, George W. Bush was a divider, not a uniter, who pursued the polar opposite of a humble foreign policy, did in fact engage in nation-building, and wound up signing into law a campaign-finance reform bill he'd formerly called unconstitutional -- among other discordant notes between his campaign and tenure.



How many Bush Administration officials does it take to change a light bulb?

None. There is nothing wrong with the light bulb; its conditions are improving every day. Any reports of its lack of incandescence are delusional spin from the liberal media. That light bulb has served honorably, and anything you say undermines the lighting effect. Why do you hate freedom?

Prescient article: The Onion: Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'


Not sure if it is success or failure:
  • No Child Left Behind (massive increase of Federal govt influence in education; and apparently the original Texas program had statistics fudged: they didn't count mid-year transferred students or dropouts, so that was an easy way to hide bad students).
    article
    Wikipedia's "No Child Left Behind Act"


Not his fault:
  • 9/11 Attacks (Not an intelligence failure: we'll never be able to detect every band of 20 guys who want to do something. But I do blame the FAA and airports: they knew airline security was bad, and let it slide.).

  • Failure to catch author of the anthrax attacks (although the FBI certainly has not covered itself with glory in this and other investigations).

  • Dot-com crash of 2001/2002 (I think any President really can't "manage" the economy very much, and it was early in Bush's term).




See also:
Closing The Book On The Bush Legacy








What his party thinks of Bush's reputation:







George Bush's Legacy: A Failed Presidency


Please send any reasoned disagreements to me.





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