Terence Samuel: Bush's Misplaced Regrets

Roundup: Talking About History

[Terence Samuel is a Prospect senior correspondent. His weekly TAP Online column appears on Fridays.]

George W. Bush has been running around Europe misting up and emoting about how much he regrets talking and acting like the warmonger he's proven to be. "I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric," he told The Times of London.

Well, yes; he could have. But tone-deafness has been a defining characteristic of this administration from its inception. Remember that Bush campaigned in 2000 on a promise to "change the tone in Washington," only to keep his promise by making the tone worse. Bush has clearly turned his attention to burnishing his legacy, but it seems a little ridiculous to be apologizing at this late stage for the least of his offenses, when the large ones are so monumental.

Just so we're clear, the most regrettable elements of the Bush years have nothing to do with what the president said or how he said it. Rather, it was all the ridiculously ill-considered, foolish, and fundamentally wrong things that he did. For example, starting an unnecessary war that has so far deprived more than 4,000 American families of loved ones and the nation of the confidence of the world.

Bush is now openly begging for help from history to rescue his reputation, insisting that the eventual verdict on Iraq will be that "freedom prevailed." He's entitled to his daydreams.

But to me he seems worried about exactly the wrong things -- words instead of war, his own image rather than the damage he's done to the country and the world. His great regret, he says, is that his bravura may have left the impression that he is "not a man of peace."

There may be little he can do at about Iraq now or the $4-a-gallon gas, or the sense that this administration has been disingenuous, corrupt and incompetent. But I keep looking for some little hint that he has some grasp of the damage's he's done. So far, there is none.

But what is certain, and what will pain Bush until the end of his days, is that he will always be remembered as the president who dismantled and destroyed his own party after it had dominated American politics for more than a generation. Almost single-handedly...

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