History Handed George W. Bush Greatness on a Platter, but He Kicked It Aside

Mr. Philips, a specialist in African history and politics, is professor in the Department of International Society at Hirosaki University. He has recently been working on the relative economic efficiency of slavery as opposed to wage labor. His e-mail address is philips@gol.com.

Three times in history the United States of America has been attacked early in a president’s term of office.  In such a situation the president may find greatness thrust upon him, or at the very least he (and so far it has always been a he) may achieve greatness.  None are really born great. 

Some American presidents cannot handle greatness.  Such was George W. Bush.  Only now that his presidency is finally over is it fair to judge his overall performance, since there can no longer be either any final achievement that could compensate for any of his failures, or any last disaster that would condemn him beyond any hope of redemption.  For better or worse, his presidency is history.  Historians can now fairly compare him to other war presidents who also faced attacks on the United States. 

The very first time the United States was attacked early in a president’s term came at the beginning of Abraham Lincoln’s first term of office, when the armed forces of South Carolina attacked the United States federal military at Fort Sumter, which protected the approach to Charleston Harbor.  Thus began the American Civil War, or War between the States, the war in which more Americans died than in any other war. 

In a situation where the United States is under attack, even by fellow Americans, the president does not need to inspire Americans to defend their country.  When Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers he readily got more than he thought he would need, and didn’t even need to draft troops for over a year, by which time he had learned that the rebels were far more serious and determined than he had imagined. 

Although Lincoln thought the war would be over far sooner than it was, he still acted with courage, determination and above all the political acumen that had helped him win the presidency in the first place.  He moved quickly to unite the country by getting the political opposition on board for the fight, discussing strategy with his chief rival for the presidency, Senator Stephen Douglas, and even appointing Democrat Edwin Stanton as his Secretary of War early in 1862.  When one of his cabinet secretaries suggested starting wars with European powers, thinking this would bring the southern states back to fight a common enemy, Lincoln politely declined.  He refused to respond to foreign provocations for the duration of the war, famously calling for “one war at a time.”  He cashiered generals who freed slaves against orders, insisting that he was fighting only to defend the country against rebellion.  Congress even passed a Constitutional Amendment, still theoretically capable of ratification, which would have entrenched slavery forever in the United States Constitution. 

The very southern determination that so prolonged the war thrust Lincoln’s greatness upon him.  After nearly a year and a half of almost unrelieved southern victories, Lincoln faced a stark choice.  He could either free the slaves to deprive the southern economy of its most important labor force, or he could lose the war.  He chose to declare all slaves held in rebel territory free, effectively offering them their freedom if they would desert and join the cause of the United States.  It still took several months before the tide of the war began to turn at Vicksburg and Gettysburg as the steady exodus of slaves began to have an effect, but the Emancipation Proclamation won the war, and secured Lincoln’s greatness for all time as one of the most beloved of all American presidents. 

The next time the United States would be attacked early in a President’s term was at Pearl Harbor.  Franklin Roosevelt’s policy at the time was “Preparedness,” as most of the world was already at war.  But Roosevelt was not just a bystander.  His policy of sending Lend-Lease supplies to Britain and China, and in fact any nation willing to fight the Axis powers, not only helped the resistance to international aggression, the massive fiscal stimulus involved also brought the United States itself out of the Great Depression. 

Roosevelt, like Lincoln, was politically savvy.  He knew he led a divided nation, in which there was even significant support for the Axis powers.  Like Lincoln he appointed a Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, from the opposition party, which in Roosevelt’s case was the Republican Party.  Roosevelt refused pressure from others in the country for an immediate declaration of war, instead choosing to fight the Axis by means politically acceptable to his fellow Americans, many of whom were still convinced that it was impossible for an enemy to attack the United States.  Inevitably those enemies would have to either attack the United States itself, or give up fighting at all. 

The attack on Pearl Harbor came early in President Roosevelt’s third term of office.  In the American system of fixed presidential tenure and regularly scheduled elections, this meant that Roosevelt, like Lincoln before him, had nearly a full four year term to win the war, or at least bring victory so near that the country would vote their confidence in him by sending him back to the White House for another four year term, as they had Lincoln.  Here was where Roosevelt’s policy of Preparedness paid off.  Thanks to the first peacetime draft in its history and an armaments buildup, the United States was ready, willing and able to participate fully in World War II as a major combatant.  By winning that war and ending the Great Depression, among many, many other accomplishments, Franklin Roosevelt earned the admiration, not only of Americans but also of peoples around the world.  Like Lincoln he has a place in history as one of the greatest US presidents of all time, greatness perhaps not thrust upon him, but an achievement of his own. 

The contrast between these two presidents and George W. Bush could not be greater.  Bush ignored warnings that al-Qa’ida, having already attacked US embassies in East Africa, intended to attack the North American mainland as well.  Bush was unprepared when they did attack.  Instead of seeing the war through to the bitter end by capturing or killing the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, he started a second, unrelated war, for reasons still not very clear, with a country which had had nothing to do with the attacks, and which in fact was on hostile terms with the perpetrators.  For the first time in its history the United States was involved in two major, unrelated wars at the same time. 

Bush also lacked the political acumen of Lincoln and Roosevelt, or perhaps even their patriotic instincts.  Instead of appointing a Secretary of Defense from the opposition party, trying to rally the country to his cause through war bonds, increased military recruitment, and “Know your Enemy” education campaigns, Bush tried to use the war for political advantage.  Reelected narrowly by manipulating “terror alert levels” to manipulate the public’s fear, Bush tried to use his “mandate” to privatize the Social Security system, the national plan of payments to retirees that Franklin Roosevelt had put in place to ensure that elderly Americans would no longer starve to death, as many of them had done in the Great Depression.  When the majority of Americans finally realized that Saddam Hussein had had nothing to do with Al-Qa’ida or the September 11 attacks in New York, George W. Bush’s approval ratings fell dramatically, and never recovered from historic lows.  It is safe to say that he will never occupy the place in the American pantheon occupied by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. 

Four years after the attack on Fort Sumter, General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate States of America were history.  Four years after Pearl Harbor, General Hideki Tojo was a prisoner and the Japanese military was history.  Four years, five years, six years, seven years, now eight years after the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Ladin is nowhere in sight and al-Qa’ida is now stronger than ever.  History handed George W. Bush greatness on a platter, but he kicked it aside. 

Bush was divisive and ineffective.  Instead of boosting the armed forces through a draft (which would have been politically feasible in the wake of 9/11) or even adequate arms and supplies, Bush left the military strained nearly to the breaking point with “stop loss” programs, and a so-called “surge” that didn’t really send additional troops to Iraq but merely extended the tours of the troops who were already there.  His economic mismanagement and lack of oversight (or even acumen) left the United States, and indeed the world’s, economy in its worst shape since the Great Depression.  Probably the best that any historian can say about George W. Bush right now is that he will never be the worst president in the history of the United States.

That distinction remains with James Buchanan.  Even had Bush been so divisive that Americans were killing each other in a bloody Civil War that called into question the very survival of the country when Bush left office, it would have taken Bush eight full years to do it.  Buchanan did it in half that time.  As the American Civil War raged over four years and 10,000 battlefields, producing approximately a million casualties, about the only thing both sides could agree on was that James Buchanan had been a disaster as president of the United States.  May we never look on his like again. 


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Jaeffrey Jack Artz - 10/29/2009

"Bring us together again." So we begged candidate Nixon. "Again" for the way we got divided under LBJ, who tried to complete FDR's domestic vision.

Yes, FDR had to make a decision, which cannot but divide. But he cut it so well, that the dissenters were few and isolated: William F. Buckley going to Mexico to study Spanish; prep-school boys in search of their separate peaces.

Jaeffrey Jack Artz - 10/29/2009

Stumped? Well your list has it numbered one: Franklin Roosevelt led us to victory in WWII. That's what my parents believed. (I have come to appreciate Social Security as his greatest achievement, but that's just me.) And since WWII seemed to solve the Great Depression, the war victory racks up that credit for FDR (although my father expressed this thought by giving "that great economist, Adolf Hitler, the credit for solving our depression.)

As time goes on, I see FDR learning from his experience in the Navy Department under Wilson. I come to see FDR using the Second World War to complete Wilson's vision. And since Wilson had great historical conciousness (a "war to end all wars" is proof of this), completing his vision, so bitterly lost in his own time, automatically becomes great. "Tantum mollis erat ...." The work was so great that it undid both men.

John Edward Philips - 10/29/2009

War confers greatness? I thought everyone thought Lincoln was great because he freed the slaves. War did give him that opportunity, in fact war give him little choice but to free the slaves.

A student once asked me what Franklin Roosevelt's greatest achievement was. "Wow, let me think about that and get back to you." was my first answer. WWII, FDIC, TVA, WPA, Social Security? I was stumped. I asked my mother, who remembers when FDR was president. She was stumped too, and promised to talk about it with some of her friends who also remembered FDR. When she got back to me she said that his greatest achievement was to rule us without dividing us. When Hitler was blaming everything on the Jews, and Stalin was blaming everything on kulaks, Franklin Roosevelt made Americans feel good about being American, and brought us all together. That was something W Bush couldn't bring himself to do, and ultimately his divisiveness was his greatest failing.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 10/26/2009

FDR indulged in warlike acts toward both Germany and Japan before the latter attacked... We cannot fairly judge the administration of Dubya until the situation settles down in Baghdad, but right now it looks like a prosperous, quasi-democratic nation will arise in Iraq, presenting a good example to its neighbors. If so, we may well look back on George W. Bush as the Simon Bolivar of the Middle East, i.e., a great success in foreign affairs.

He is already proven a great success at home by the prevention of all further jihadist attacks after 9-1-01... Also worthy of mention is how the Bush tax cuts, fought hard against by the Democrats in Congress, pulled the U.S. out of an economic mess following 9-11, when grass was growing in the runways of our airports and rental car businesses were failing. It is worth reflecting that as president Al Gore would have advanced the opposite economic policies in the same circumstances.

And then, much as Lincoln found General Grant, Bush finally found General Petraeus, and singly-handedly saved the "surge," which turned defeat into victory-- when that action was opposed by the majority in Congress and a majority among the American people. The latter accomplishment is the stuff of which greatness is made, not failure.

Jaeffrey Jack Artz - 10/25/2009

I feel like you all are arguing over the shadows on the wall of the cave. There are too many uncertainties about the facts underlying the events of which you speak.

As far as the events that Lincoln and Roosevelt dealt with, the facts are more certain; but many basic facts about the “attack on America” in the past decade are uncertain, even unknown. This makes it difficult to come to any judgment on George W. Bush.

As a preliminary matter, if character counts, then George W. Bush is incapable of greatness. Leaving aside the question whether so old-fashioned a concept as greatness means anything nowadays, George W. Bush was physically strong enough for great deeds; but, with a syntactical handicap as great as his father’s, George W. Bush was manifestly incapable of great words.

Mr. Philips thinks that war confers greatness. Judging from his pick of presidents, the great ones are the winners in war. This would make it difficult to consider any president since Franklin Roosevelt great, since the U.S. has not won any wars since World War Two.

Maarja Krusten’s comments focus on this very problem for U.S. presidents: their awareness (fear) that losing a war will be a first. Was Douglas MacArthur right when he said There is no substitute for victory? One admires President Nixon’s choice of words that avoided this dilemma. Not victory, but “peace with honor.”

It should also be remembered in this regard, that Richard Nixon had an historical consciousness that produced a remark opposed to Mr. Philip’s assumption that successful war-making is what makes a president great: “The greatest name to be called is Peacemaker.” No president yet since Nixon (with the possible exception of Reagan) has aspired to peace, rather than war.

John Edward Philips - 10/23/2009

I wrote that "The very first time the United States was attacked early in a president’s term came at the beginning of Abraham Lincoln’s first term of office." British attacks were well into Madison's second term.

Granted that "early" is an ambiguous term, but the point was that each of these presidents had more than three years before the end of their terms to deal with the threat, not to mention the fact that it was the US that declared war in 1812 and attacked, not the British.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 10/23/2009

I stopped reading this piece where it said Lincoln was the first president to suffer attack. It forgets all about bombs bursting in air, Dolley, and the torching of Washington in 1814... To my mind, the omission is large enough to devalue anything that might follow purporting to cast light on American history.

Maarja Krusten - 10/22/2009

Correction (haven't had enough coffee yet this morning): "I don’t require that you look at this as you do; you need not require that I look at it as you do" should read as "I don’t require that you look at this as *I* do; you need not require that I look at it as you do." And, of course, modal has a typo and should be model.

Mr. Mainello and I have chatted here on the HNN message boards about leadership in the past. His background in the military and mine in the civil service differ. They both are areas which, in the context of executive branch actions, otentially can be affected by the factors I mentioned (information flow, power relationships, data assessment, pushback, whether groupthink exists or not, how units at various levels operate, and so forth).

Maarja Krusten - 10/22/2009

You may simplify the equation, certainly, if that works for you as an individual. Simplification does not work for me so your doing so for yourself does not affect in any way how I look at this. I don’t require that you look at this as you do; you need not require that I look at it as you do. How we look at this is not a zero sum game so I don’t see this as a matter of getting “realistic.” My way of looking at things is no threat to you just as yours is no threat to me.

We all bring our individual perspectives and experiences to bear on such questions. I’m affected by mine: I’m a federal historian with 36 years service in the government. Of that time, I spent 14 years as an employee of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, reviewing Richard Nixon’s secret tapes and files to see what could be made available to the public and what required restriction. Given my particular background, it is not surprising that among other things, I consider what Philip Zelikow once referred to as the helicopter view of history, captured so well by HNN editor Rick Shenkman in his writeup of sessions at the January 2008 AHA meeting. Among other things, he addressed the question, “Do historians usually get things right? Zelikow's judgment is that historians work in most cases at so great a distance from the events they describe that they generally have gotten no better a view than can be had from 10,000 feet up. What's needed, he said, is the view from a helicopter ... “ Zelikow cited deliberations during the Cuban Missile Crisis as an example.
http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/46155.html The view from a helicopter is not always available, but when such archival do records exist, people such as I believe that their contents warrant consideration.

The records need not be in a “fancy new Presidential Library.” They could just as well be at other facilities administered by NARA, the agency which runs and staffs the libraries. Indeed, NARA put out a request for public comment on that very issue this past spring and the resulting report to Congress on alternative modals for the system of Presidential Libraries now is available.

Gregory Canellis - 10/22/2009

Let's simplify this equation. Our Constitution states that we maintain a military "for the common defense." On 9/11, we were attacked on U.S. soil, and 3000+ innocent people were not killed, but murdered. As commander-in-chief, Bush failed to vindicate 9/11 miserably! Sure, I agree that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, and needed to be removed, but what are our global policies; ousting murderous dictators, or pursuing the one responsible for planning 9/11? Researching leadership styles, and decision making processes in a fancy new presidential library is all very interesting, but let's get realistic!

Mike A Mainello - 10/21/2009

Your consistency is refreshing. Most libs want to ignore the 1-2 million deaths Sadam inflicted on his country and then want to rush into Darfur.

I respect your consistency on this point.

Mike A Mainello - 10/21/2009

Wonderful defense of President Clinton.

John Edward Philips - 10/21/2009

You're right that we have a lot more to learn. There never is a "final judgement of history" despite what the press says. It's just that now we can render the preliminary verdict. Before Bush left office even that was premature.

I'm a little surprised no one has taken me to task for assuming the "blundering generation" version of the Civil War over the "irrepressible conflict" version. Isn't the latter more popular than the former these days?

John Edward Philips - 10/21/2009

Clinton squirmed around the truth to a grand jury which was compelling him to testify against himself. He didn't lie.

Bush lied to Congress. If you or I did that we'd be in prison. Why isn't Bush?

Military cuts began with the end of the Cold War and were bipartisan. Clinton went after al-Qa'ida as much as the Republicans let him. Bush ignored it.

John Edward Philips - 10/21/2009

With Hitler there was a corpse.

My stance on Darfur? I don't know how that situation is comparable to Iraq. The obvious parallel would probably be the breakup of Yugoslavia. Perhaps you had Saddam's gassing of the Kurds in mind? The US didn't intervene over that.

The US doesn't have the means or the authority for another war right now. The strengthening of the African Union into an eventual federal government is the obvious way to go. Better funding and logistic support for the African Union forces would not only be easier for the US, it would encourage others to help, it would strengthen regional institutions and it would serve notice on dictators that their neighbors were fed up with them.

Mike A Mainello - 10/20/2009

I don't always respond, but I do read your write ups.

Mike A Mainello - 10/20/2009

If you read what I wrote it is obvious I have no proof. I gave you my reasoning, we never captured Hitler either.

Still waiting on the current Commander in Chief to make a decision on Afghanistan. He announced a new strategy in March 2009 and that didn't work so the commander on the ground gave him another option and he is still deciding.

Since Iraq was wrong in your mind, what is your stance on Darfur?

Mike A Mainello - 10/20/2009

Mr. Phillips,

Your non-partisan stance is a sham. Clinton was impeached because he lied under oath, not because of receiving a blow job in the oval office. I would be afraid of Hillary also, but so would our enemies if she was President instead of this inexperienced, present, non-decider and chief.

Mr. Clinton ran a faux surplus because he did not fund the military during his Administration. I should know I was on active duty for all 8 years.

If he hunted AQ during his presidency, this must mean code for chasing middle eastern women. Read the book by one of his military aides (Patterson) on how serious he took terrorism. One thing for sure he had plenty of opportunity with the Trade Center bombing, Embassy Bombings and the Cole.

Third if you don't think his and congress lowering of lending standards and blocking of regulation had a factor well then your head is in the sand.

Maarja Krusten - 10/20/2009

Mr. Mainello’s assertion that a draft was not feasible during the Bush administration correctly reflects contemporaneous news accounts available to the public. These suggested that top brass preferred volunteer forces to draftees due to some the problems with morale and discipline observed by commanders during the Vietnam War. That makes sense. People who have aptitude for a job and chose it rather than being forced into it would be easier to manage and lead than ones who are not. I daresay we historians will learn more about what lay behind this as archival records become available.

I'm interested not just in outcomes and post-decisional materials, but also in information flow, decision making, leadership, and the relationships among senior officials. Archival disclosures of pre-decisional materials from the National Archives and its George W. Bush Presidential Library also may shed some light on the decision making process and changes over time in power relationships. These are issues which historians strive to understand as they seek to craft nuanced narratives of what happened and shy. Books such as Barton Gellman’s Angler have hinted at changes in some of this between Bush’s first and second term. News accounts also have suggested that the Vice President’s influence waned somethwat.

Although less reliable than contemporary paper trails, memoirs and insider accounts, too, may shed light on some issues which historians will have to assess if they want to consider more than just outcomes. Some such accounts already have revealed a less cartoonish image of GWB than once existed, suggesting that he sometimes pushed back in areas outsiders did not anticipate (as his comment that he was not going to give a speech telling a gay person he can’t get married suggested). According to one post-Presidency account, we have heard that he concluded that Scooter Libby had lied under oath and that he and the Vice President had been at odds on other issues as well. Over time, I’m sure we’ll learn more about war decisions (not just the decision to invade Iraq and the post-war Germany analogy cited by Paul Bremer in an op ed, but also the thinking that lay behind changes in commanders, the Anbar Awakening and the Surge). We’ve seen that with other Presidents, such as LBJ. Consider how different the account at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/15/AR2009101503475.html?referrer=emailarticle is from what members of the public knew during the mid-1960s.

More difficult to pin down will be the purely political advice Bush received, since records covering such do not fall under the Presidential Records Act. What led him to go with the 51% approach and was there internal pushback against it among his political advisors? That there was a failure to harness and capitalize on the outpouring of patriotic feeling after 9/11 is clear. What lay behind it is not.

John Edward Philips - 10/20/2009

Do you have any evidence that Usama is dead? He releases new tapes on schedule, but then so does Michael Jackson. If we can't catch him we have to stop the release of more tapes by going after the people who attacked us and who release the tapes. Either way we should be going after people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iraq should never have been attacked.

John Edward Philips - 10/20/2009

"Wow does your bias show."

Yeah? It's an opinion piece. Excuse me for having an opinion. And a few facts to back it up.

Please pay attention, because you already missed the point about Pearl Harbor happening early in FDR's term. That meant he had almost four years to deal with it before facing an election, the same as W and Lincoln.

Don't lecture me about what Clinton did or didn't do if you can't tell me where you were when you heard the news that US embassies had been blown up in east Africa. I know exactly where I was and I have been paying attention to al-Qa'ida since long before 9/11, unlike Republicans.

Clinton was going after al-Qa'ida, and all the Republicans were doing was screaming "Wag the Dog! Wag the Dog!" insisting that al-Qa'ida was not a threat, and we all had to stop everything we were doing and listen to live testimony from the real threat to the Republic, Monica Lewinsky's mouth.

That's why Bush ignored "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States." He really believed the Republican line that al-Qa'ida wasn't a threat.

"when he [Bush] acts on intelligence you guys scream" No, when he manufactures intelligence we should all scream. As the Downing Street memo reported "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy". As Joseph Wilson reported, there was no evidence Saddam had WMD. The Iraq threat was a hoax. The result has been that Iran has taken over Iraq. Our worst nightmare from Carter through Clinton has become reality, thanks to W. Bush.

I'm not going to argue about who was responsible for the business cycle. If you think politicians cause it you don't understand economics. I will only point out that a president who understood economics would run a budget surplus in a boom, and a deficit in a crash. Only an idiot like Bush would run a deficit during boom years. It was economic drunk driving.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/20/2009

Although it is only too plain that GW Bush never had the mettle nor the acumen to respond to Al Qaida's attack on the USA the way both Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt did to attacks during their respective watch ; his inappropriate reaction to 9/11 , or rather, the absence of a relevant reaction thereto, should be viewed and interpreted by a far more significant factor than personal disposition.

During both Lincoln's and Roosevelt’s presidencies, and up to the Truman Administration, USA policies were formulated and decided on pure America interests related considerations in the ABSENCE of any extraneous alien influence(s) that could sway its decisions one way or another in another party's interests, desires or ambitions.

During the Bush/Wolfowitz Administration that has changed radically: Israel, AIPAC & Co had become virtual partners in the USA decision making process with a slight edge in the partners’ balance of power to Israel and AIPAC when the issue under consideration related to the Middle East !

Bob Woodward recorded the hasty advice Wolfowitz proffered President Bush , immediately after 9/11, to attack Iraq and PD Zelikow , an inveterate insider of the USA decision making process,(http://911truthpedia.org/wiki/Philip_D._Zelikow ) did NOT mince words in noting that the security of Israel was the main reason why the destruction of Iraq, not Al Qaida, became the primary objective of America’s war effort reaction to 9/11!

During the Bush era the USA no longer had a free hand in formulating US policies!

Mike A Mainello - 10/20/2009

First he said you are with us or with the terrorists (it is a subtle difference).

Second I have to ask, when was the last time Mr. OBL has been seen? I believe he is dead. The CIA does not want to be wrong so they won't certify without bones, but I think he died in one of the caves or in one of the bombing of the caves.

Gregory Canellis - 10/20/2009

I agree with some of Mr. Mainello's points, but I would not be so quick to defend George W. Bush. Immediately after 9/11, I was taken in by the Bush retoric: "you can run, but you can't hide!" and "you're either with us, or against us," referring to nations who harbor terrorists. Bush had the best trained, most modern technologically advanced military in the world at his disposal. Bush should have destroyed al-Qa’ida; relentlessly pursued Osama bin Laden (even going so far as to invade Pakistan) and brought him to justice, dead or alive! Then he could have sent a message to other terrorist organizations and the world: "this is what happens when you attack the United States." That would have been a great George W. Bush. Instead, thousands of lives were lost in Iraq, and the man responsible for 9/11 is still walking around breathing air.

Mike A Mainello - 10/19/2009

Wow does your bias show. Let me address just few of your points.

First you start off pretty badly by saying "Three times in history the United States of America has been attacked early in a president’s term of office." Then you mention President Roosevelt. Come on he had already been in office for 8 years and had been fully informed on what was going on in the world. If anything, why are you not criticizing him for missing Pearl Harbor. If he had stepped down like he should of and allowed another election, maybe the outcome would have been different. Maybe if he had not followed the policies of the previous 8 years and extended the Great Depression then we would have been in better shape.

"Bush ignored warnings that al-Qa’ida, having already attacked US embassies in East Africa (Commenter adds - under Clinton), intended to attack the North American mainland as well." First no smoking gun has ever been produced, but it is fact the President Clinton ignored the opportunity to attack al-Qa'ida and did not take Osama Bin Laden when he was offered.

"he started a second, unrelated war, for reasons still not very clear, with a country which had had nothing to do with the attacks, and which in fact was on hostile terms with the perpetrators." See here is where you get really paranoid. You blame him for ignoring chatter that caused 9-11, but then when he acts on intelligence you guys scream. You can't have it both ways. Iraq and Afghanistan are related in one way - they border IRAN. We now have Iran pretty much surrounded should they do anything. In addition a functioning democracy is starting to take hold in the middle east.

"Instead of boosting the armed forces through a draft (which would have been politically feasible in the wake of 9/11) or even adequate arms and supplies, Bush left the military strained nearly to the breaking point with “stop loss” programs, and a so-called “surge” that didn’t really send additional troops to Iraq but merely extended the tours of the troops who were already there." Sorry wrong again. The draft would not have been "politically feasible". Not only did the people not want it (Democrat Rep Rangel proposed it and then voted against it), neither does the military. Now the size of the military could have been increase if the congress would have authorized it (3 branches of government remember). One thing the military learned is that adding untrained people does not help, it gets people killed. The military was strained, I agree, but they were backed up by the guard and reserve and conducted 2 wars with very minimal casualties (yes I served and I am retired from the US Army).

Yes tours were lengthened but also additional troops were sent. Let me ask you this, what was the tour length in WW2? I guess President Roosevelt didn't care about the troops either.

"His economic mismanagement and lack of oversight (or even acumen) left the United States, and indeed the world’s, economy in its worst shape since the Great Depression." Please study before you spout. This problem is rooted in DEMOCRAT policies. The Community Re-investment Act (CRA) forced banks to lower lending standards increasing demand for home loans. This drove up prices. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (run by a bunch of Democrat appointees) bought more sub-prime mortgages. This also drove up prices. Democrats in congress successfully blocked requests from the Bush Administration to implement regulations on these institutions.

So was President Bush perfect - no. Was he the root of all of the problems you mention, not in the least. Politicians are great at quietly creating problems and then loudly trying to fix there mess while blaming the other guy. Your facts are wrong and your bias is inexcusable for an academic.

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