George W Bush, the 43rd President of the United States is taking his final bow, but the question on everyones minds is how will history judge Dubya? Many of you will have already made up your minds and no doubt feel it will judge him badly. Depending on your vantage point, what you define as ‘success’ may mean something wholly different. The details of Bush and his legacy will be debated for decades to come but among the many uncertainties, one thing is certain – you can’t judge history in the midst of it. Declaring Bush “the worst” president while he’s still in office is an effort in rhetorical futility. Historians know this all too well.
The best prediction one can make was summed up by presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on “Meet the Press” who claimed: “If Iraq became the model democracy or even just a democracy, and in doing so changed the whole complexion of the Middle East, then obviously that would be the legacy that would justify what Bush did and what our troops did.” And that’s exactly what Mr. Bush is banking on. That is what I believe will occur.
The fact remains, whether we like it or not, 8 years ago the world changed forever with the attacks of 9/11 and the paradigms of the Presidency of George W Bush and international relations as a whole were redefined in ways that will long out live his tenure and ways in which we might not have desired. Bush took tough decisions but, in the end, I believe right ones. For taking these tough decisions it is popular nowadays to trash him: the French do it, the Germans do it, the Brits do it, the Americans do it, the Democrats do it… heck the Republicans do it! Despite the fact that they all offered their overwhelming backing to him when he first set off on his ‘crusade’ against terror. The problem was we went wobbly. He didn’t.
I believe that George Bush deserves considerable credit for some of the bold decisions and great gambles he took that will serve the world well in the years to come. As with all politicians Bush’s legacy will not be based on the evidence of today but by the conditions of tomorrow. In the longer run his arrogance, his gaffes and other such vices will not define his administration as much as they do today, instead it will be Iraq and what comes of it that will mark his place in history. 9/11 saw attrocity and terror not witnessed on such a scale in centuries. It reminded us all too much of the potential wickedness of the human race. Bush’s response was entirely justified and his invasion of Afghanistan totally legitimate. Almost over night he went from the most unpopular to the most popular President in US history. He showed a flair for leadership and he captured the mood of a grieving nation and a outraged world perfectly. We, the wider world, backed him in his quest. So we too must bear the weight of responsibility.
Like leaders such as Thatcher before him, the exact nature of his legacy will be defined by those who love him and those who loathe him. He will inspire both extremes of passion in almost equal measure. However like the Iron Lady his legacy relies almost entirely on the plans he has put in place over the past few years that we will only really be able to understand in hindsight… one, two or 3 years down the line. Plans I believe will serve him and his legacy well. It is true the invasion of Iraq was misguided. He made a mistake, but his biggest mistake was his lack of preparation for the power vaccum that would inevitably emmerge in post Saddam Iraq. 30 years of supressed political and religious emotion blowing up in our face was never going to be pretty.
The Bush administration initially saw Iraq as a quick ‘in and out’ job and its policy represented this arrogant under estimation. However to Bush’s great credit, last year he redefined his approach and secured his long term legacy. Speaking to the American people on Jan 10th 2007, Bush announced a 20,000-strong “surge” in U. S. force levels in Iraq with most of the new troops being used to secure key Baghdad neighbourhoods. The new strategy also would permit American commanders to make local alliances with tribal leaders from the Sunni Awakening movement, something which had been previously dismissed.
Bush’s plan was ridiculed and criticised by almost all sections of society and the military. It also flew in the face of any previous notion that this was going to be a ‘cut and run’ job. As far as George Bush was concerned, and to his great credit, America had made the mess and it was their job to see it through. Bush’s generals and a majority of the American public initially opposed the surge making the idea of any short term political gain being the deciding factor in his decision ludacris. Despite such opposition and no obvious guarentee of success Bush authorized the surge anyway, applying the same type of gut instinct that led him into his earlier, disastrous mistakes. It payed off.
Last year suicide bombings claimed tens if not hundreds of lives daily. This is not the case today . The Iraqi government has had a prolonged and sustained period of respite in which to stabilise themselves and get to grips with the processes of government. It is true to say Bush was a reckless oppourtunist whose personality bordered on arrogance. His unwavering faith in the goodness within human beings and the redemptive power of freedom led him into a catastrophic and unwise war, one that resulted in the slaughter of untold thousands of innocent Iraqis and countless military personelle. Yet that same sense of moral courage also led him to stand by the unfinished project when the lives of millions more hung in the balance. Were it not for his bold leadership in Janurary 2007 god only knows what type of hell hole Iraq would be today. The region and the world are that bit safer for that decisive action.
In the long run, when Iraq finds stability, democracy and peace as it is begining to do, George Bush’s legacy will be re-examined and he will be vindicated. When history is written both sides of the story will be told. We are all farmiliar with the bad but the good side is still being written and will continue to be written long after he leaves office. It is because of the actions of George Bush ‘the Nazi neo con’ that girls and boys of all ages in Afghanistan and Iraq can have access to education, it is because of George Bush that the women of Afghanistan and Iraq have more freedom that at any time in the course of their history, it is because of George Bush that they and their children will grow up free from wicked dictators and oppressive regimes, it is because of George Bush that the formerly oppressed can express their political will freely through the ballot box and it is because of George Bush that many millions of people will be free for centuries to come. He has given hope and freedom to those that knew only despair and oppression. That is a legacy. That is his legacy. We will realise it soon enough.