Andrew Roberts: History will say that we misunderstood George W Bush

Roundup: Talking About History

[Andrew Roberts is a Brisitsh conservative, author, and historian. ]

As he leaves the White House at the end of his second term, the President has a poll rating of only 23 per cent, and is widely disliked and even despised. His foreign policy has been judged a failure, especially in view of the long, painful, costly war that he declared, which is still not over.

History may place President Bush in a far better
light than he currently enjoys

He doesn't get on with his own party's presidential candidate, who is clearly distancing himself, and had lost many of his closest friends and staff to scandals and forced resignations. The New Republic, a hugely influential political magazine, writes that his historical reputation will be as bad as that of President Harding, the disastrous president of the Great Depression.

I am writing, of course, about Harry S Truman, generally regarded today as one of the greatest of all the 43 presidents, and the man who set the United States on the course that ended decades later in the defeat of Communism.

If the West wins the modern counterpart of that struggle, the War Against Terror, historians will look back in amazement at the present unpopularity of George W Bush, and marvel at it quite as much as we now marvel at the 67 per cent disapproval rates for Truman throughout 1952.

Presidents are seldom remembered for more than one or two things; the rest slip away into a haze of historical amnesia. With Kennedy it was the Bay of Pigs and his own assassination, with Johnson the Great Society and Vietnam, with Nixon it was opening up China and the Watergate scandal, and so on.

George W Bush will be remembered for his responses to 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq, but since neither of those conflicts has yet ended in victory or defeat, it is far too early categorically to assume - as left-wingers, anti-war campaigners and almost all media commentators already do - that his historical reputation will be permanently down in the doldrums next to poor old Warren Harding's.

I suspect that historians of the future will instead see Bush's decision to insist upon a "surge" of reinforcements being sent into Iraq, combined with a complete change of anti-insurgency tactics as configured by General Petraeus, as the moment when the conflict was turned around there, in the West's favour.

No one - least of all Bush himself - denies that mistakes were made in the early days after the (unexpectedly early) fall of Baghdad, and historians will quite rightly examine them. But once the decades have put the stirring events of those years into their proper historical context, four great facts will emerge that will place Bush in a far better light than he currently enjoys....

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Arnold Shcherban - 7/2/2008

<Harry S Truman, generally regarded today as one of the greatest of all the 43 presidents, and the man who set the United States on the course that ended decades later in the defeat of Communism.>
Ahistorical nonsense.
He set the US on the course of confrontation with the USSR as the part of Pax Americana design that resulted in many millions of victims worldwide and trillions of dollars wasted, the historical period that ended on the reasons having little or nothing to do with the Truman's conscious decisions.

<the War Against Terror>? is a War on Error (the consequence of same Pax Americana policies).

G.W.Bush will be remembered for his response in Afghanistan after 9/11? As if any other US President would respond differently! Then the US wouldn't be the US it is.
Not already mentioning the AGRESSION
against Iraq.

Michael Davis - 6/30/2008

Yes, those are all true. However you have to agree it is way too soon to objectively evaluate a president. Look how derided Reagan was in the 80s, now he's considered the last lion of the 20th century.
And yes, there's Truman. Hell, look at Nixon, his funeral was a love fest.
"Time wounds all heals" as John Lennon said.

Michael Davis - 6/30/2008

Amen. The surplus was nice to have, but we still had four trillion in debt to repay.
Regardless of the events of the last seven years, social security and medicare would still have been, and still are, two entitlements that will bankrupt our nation.

Michael Davis - 6/30/2008

No money because congress feels free to spend without regard to consequences...from both parties.
Gee, I can't wait for China and Japan to stop buying our T-bills, then you're gonna see some real feathers fly!

Vernon Clayson - 6/30/2008

Mr. Reinders, your comment that Clinton left a "huge surplus and set to pay down the nation's debt" is off base as there was no such thing. There were projections, much like the current administrations projections, not cash on hand. Clinton's BS said the budget would be balanced and a surplus established sometime early in this century if his policies were carried out, a probablility not even he could have sincerely believed. The 4% of government spending on the military and homeland defense is insignificant in comparison to all of the social welfare programs that are calculated to run out of funds withing a decade or two. For example, there is no SS trust fund, there are IOUs, the Democrats, of course, see no problem, they see the need to take more in taxes, it's easy, take more from the rich, that's even easier, define rich down to include more from wage earners. That's also easy, if a billionaire owes the governemnt millions, the government is in trouble, if a wage earner owes anything he is in trouble. It's our fault, we elected the bastards.

Mike Schoenberg - 6/29/2008

3 years after Katrina, New Orleans is still a mess. Now we have the Mid-West crisis to deal with and no money in the bank to pay for that. With those tax cuts we got and the deficits that have followed it's no wonder that the dollar has collapsed with the subsequent rise in the price of oil.

John Edward Philips - 6/29/2008

Bush's "War on Terror" might make sense if the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Otherwise we should have gone after Al-Qa'ida, the people who attacked us on September 11.

Four years after Pearl Harbor, Tojo Hideki was in custody and the Japanese military was history. Four years after Fort Sumter, Jefferson Davis was in custody and the Confederate States of America was history. Four years, Six, going on seven years after September 11, Usama bin Ladin is still at large, the cooperation and support we had from around the world has mostly evaporated, and Al-Qa'ida is stronger than ever. It's hard to imagine how Bush will ever look good in history. Unless that history is written by a victorious Al-Qa'ida.

Greg L, Reinders - 6/28/2008

We are too close to judge now, but the Republican Party always stood for fiscal restraint, cut if you can't pay for it. Clinton left us with a huge surplus and set to pay down the nation's debt. Bush has given us our first 3 trillion budget and the unique economic theory that you spend more and cut income is a good thing. I wish they would let me do that in my life. The budget items for defense and homeland areas, are about 4% of government spending, and Bush never found a bill he could veto, until the other party came to legislative power. Funny also how no one questioned the improper things being done until that happened to. He might be above Hoover and Coolidge.

david maclaren mcdonald - 6/28/2008

edit: Bush Pantocrator. Glass houses, stones, etc.

david maclaren mcdonald - 6/28/2008

And we're supposed to take seriously the judgment of a writer who refers to the New Republic as "hugely influential" or Harding as president during the Depression? Any sieve that lets such howlers through must almost by default declare the advent of a historical Bush Pancrator.

Vernon Clayson - 6/27/2008

Mr. Green, which man do you mean when you say "there are readers who may take this man seriously", Roberts or Bush? In your rush to condemn you didn't make yourself clear, I have no idea who the author is or what his reasoning is based on so I will leave that along. On the other hand, if you mean Bush, the opinion of serious scholars in the future won't be clouded by unreasoning hatred, Bush is just not as bad as some now think. Whatever his faults, he was blessed with timing, his predecessor was an easy act to follow, Reagan had the same fortune following the peanut farmer.

Michael Green - 6/27/2008

What really worries me is that there are readers who may take this man seriously.