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Friday, February 1, 2008

An Appraisal on the Bush Presidency - Part I

As President George W. Bush enters the final year as Commander and Chief of the United States, the bright optimism that he possessed after his second campaign victory has taken on a more subdued nature. This restrained posture was evident as he delivered his last State of the Union (SOTU) address the other evening. As he recalibrated his approach to a congress now controlled by Democrats, I saw a chameleon of sorts standing at the rostrum. Gone were the bold assertions that he would not pander to the demands of North Korea, or waste time mediating between the Israelis and Palestinians or he would not extend diplomacy to rogue nations.

For a president who prides himself in being decisive, he seemed to morph into his own Jimmy Carter moment when he asked Congress to send him a remedy for social security. This brought back memories of President Carter asking for suggestions on how to solve the financial problems of the late 1970s. When compared with his previous SOTU addresses, this appeared to be more on the scale of little league baseball. As President Clinton’s former speech writer, Michael Waldman, put it, “For him to aim for big-altitude, swing-for-the-fences moments at a time when both parties are competing for who could turn the page from his presidency faster would look silly.”

I believe we can take a four-pronged approach to adequately judge Bush’s presidency: How well has he managed what will be the defining policy of his eight years – the two wars that he is waging – the War on Terror and the Iraq War; compare the nation that he inherited in 2001 with the nation that he will deliver to his successor in 2009; was he forthright with the American public; and what type of judicial appointments did he make.

First, in regards to the War on Terror and the Iraq War, I believe the priorities were not properly established. The President sent more than 100,000 troops to overthrow Saddam Hussein, under false pretenses I may add (see the article titled, A Disturbing Update on the Global War on Terror), while sending only 15,000 troops to the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan to wage a war against the perpetrators of September 11th. This strategic mistake of understaffing the war theater in Afghanistan is underscored by a recent report by the Atlantic Council of the United States that the U.S. is not winning the war in Afghanistan. And with terrorist attacks occurring on almost a daily basis in Iraq and the lack of public utility services, if it were not for the United States’ presence there with the ongoing war, the United Nations would probably have declare it a failed state by now.

On both war fronts, Bush has dragged the country into a quagmire that may take a decade or more for it to extricate itself. Colin Powell is attributed with using the pottery barn metaphor with regards to Iraq – “The Pottery Barn rule” says that if “you break it, you own it.” Despite the bipartisan call for withdrawing out of Iraq, it is unlikely that we will withdraw anytime soon, because Iraq’s government is less stable than it was under Saddam’s rule. And an American withdrawal will no doubt result in a total collapse of the fledgling democracy.

It is apparent to me that history will not be kind to President Bush’s handling of the two wars, the centerpiece of his administration. In fact, he boasted about his experience as a war-time leader as the main theme for his reelection campaign in 2004.

The second prong that we will examine in evaluating the Bush presidency will be to compare the nation that was handed off to him in 2001 to the nation that he will deliver to his successor in 2009:

· He received a balanced budget with a $236 billion surplus from his predecessor Bill Clinton; he will deliver an additional $3.5 trillion in debt to his successor.

· Bush inherited a middle class whose income rose by an average of $6,000 from 1993 through 2001; he will hand off a nation whose median household income has dropped by $1,000 during his tenure.

· During his eight years in office, health care premiums doubled from about $6,000 to $12,000 per family.

· Clinton handed President Bush a military that was at a high state of readiness, prepared to fight a two-front war; however, Bush will deliver a military to his successor that has such low morale it is unable to meet its recruitment goals.

· Bush inherited a nation where gasoline prices were less than $1.00 per gallon in many places; while he will deliver to his successor a nation that is paying more than $3.00 for a gallon of gasoline.

· America was respected as an international leader when George Bush took over as President; but as he is about to turn the reigns of power over to a successor, some countries believe that the United States in the biggest threat to world peace.

· Bush inherited a country that was strong economically; however, he will deliver a nation to his successor that must rely on foreign investments of treasury bonds to prop it up.

· The housing market was blazing when Bush took the oath of office; and he will hand off a mortgage crisis to his successor, not to mention the credit crisis that we are now seeing.

I believe on prong number two, history will judge Bush harshly as well. With this record, I kept wondering while he was delivering his State of the Union Address this past Monday if he would quote Mike Tyson after his final fight against Kevin McBride in 2005 – “I don't have the guts to fight anymore. My heart is not in it anymore. I don't want to disrespect the sport I love. I wish I could give the fans their money back.”

…to be continued

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