Un Cachito de la vida

Un Cachito

Un Cachito de la vida - A little piece of Cameron's life

This is part 1 of a 3-part group of articles I've been meaning to write for the last month (I'm slow!) on my feelings on US presidents and the recent campaigns. And now that you know my politics, I want to share my thoughts on George W. Bush.

There has been ongoing debate and commentary recently about how bad of a president George W. Bush has been. Some pundits say he's the worst and some say he's the second worst. I don't have the historical knowledge to argue definitively on that topic (neither do most people), but my feeling is that those statements are just hyperbole.

Throughout the last 5 years (coinciding with the war in Iraq), I've heard increasing rhetoric about Bush and how he's a "liar," a war criminal or worse. Sources range from the ridiculous Al Sharpton, "Clearly, [President Bush] lied. Now if he is an unconscious liar, and doesn't realize when he's lying..." to those high in government like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, "President Bush is a liar...I think [Bush] is a loser." His job rating is around 29% - a fall that has been stunning when you consider that just after 9/11, he a record high rating of 90%. Does he really deserve the flak he's been taking? Is he really a liar and a criminal as some attest?

I'm an avid news reader, and I have read many articles about his "illegal" activities and still read many comments about how Bush lied to everyone. The problem is, none of these claims seem to have any merit. I won't say he has never done something illegal or lied, but the people making these claims don't have concrete data to back them. The opposition claims he lied about Iraq, but that just doesn't seem to be the case. If you go back to the beginning of 2003 and put yourself in Bush's shoes, without any benefit of hindsight, you'll see that pretty much everyone in the world thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and he had obstinately refused to comply with some 12 previous UN resolutions. Of course, if you're going to war, you should make sure your claims are true - and the info that was declared by the CIA and others did in fact support Bush's theory that Saddam was a threat. It was determined he (Saddam Hussein) needed to be eliminated. Whether the analysts reported false information is a different story, but can't be blamed on Bush. Also, whether you think the war was necessary or not is again a different story and not relevant to Bush being a liar or a criminal.

Some say the war was illegal, but there was a UN resolution authorizing force (though some claim they think Bush should have gone back to the UN again) and the US Congress did declare war. Therefore, the war was not illegal. On the issue of illegal wiretapping, the media has routinely called them illegal, but the problem is that it is a gray area where there wasn't explicit law prohibiting Bush from doing what he was doing. If there were, then it would have had to be stopped. Instead, Congress passed a bill to clarify the issue - effectively saying that the president had the right to order non-warrant wiretaps on international calls in order to combat terrorism.

I think beyond these hot-button legal issues, there are three other issues that have hurt Bush's reputation (and these aren't in any order). One is the long, costly and problematic war in Iraq. The original execution of the war - the "Shock and Awe" - was brilliantly run by Donald Rumsfeld, but as we now know, there appeared to be highly erroneous assumptions of how things would carry out after Hussein's fall, and no real follow-up plan. Based on those assumptions, Bush's "Mission Accomplished" stunt wouldn't have been a big deal, but of course, it now seems a big blunder. Rumsfeld's specialty was the use of a relatively small, powerful force to quickly wipe out a visible enemy. But when the nearly-invisible insurgency kicked in, that force was inadequate. Whether due to Rumsfeld or the top military brass, I don't know, but significantly more forces weren't committed to Iraq for too long and that gap gave the insurgency time to gather money, weapons and power. Disaster ensued. As tired of the war as I was however, I still felt it was our duty to fix the mess we got into - as did Bush. Fortunately the defeatists were ignored and "The Surge" went forth and has worked wonders (mixed with other happenings like the 'Sunni Awakening'). Looking back, I don't know how much direct input Bush has had in the running of the Iraq war, or whether he just let Rumsfeld and Cheney run it, but he does bear some responsibility.

Issue number two is the alienation of much of the world. This is largely due to the Iraq war and Bush's unilateral and sometimes arrogant approach to it - think, "You're either with us or against us." When he talks, it is sometimes with a smirk that can be frustratingly maddening and further enforces this idea of assumed supremacy. Mix all that with the fact that much of the Middle East thinks (erroneously) that the Iraq war is just a war on Islam, and you have a situation where the US has really lost a lot of stature and power in the world. Some countries like France didn't help things by matching Bush's haughtiness with their own. Regardless, both our friends and our enemies were angry at the US. That is sad and even a little scary - our ability to push for change in Iran and Palestine has been seriously weakened. I'm hopeful that Obama can get some of that back.

Issue three is the response by FEMA to Hurricane Katrina. It is still mentioned often by the media and considered a major blunder. This one stymies me though and I don't think the media is on the same page as the general public here. While the news organizations love to bring the point up, comments tell me that much of the public is sick of hearing about it and sick of the fact that so many in New Orleans seem unable to take some responsibility and rebuild. Now, I'll admit that the damage was devastating and there was a lot of real loss and suffering. Where I disagree is that it is FEMA's responsibility to take care of all the citizens there 100%. The mayor, Ray Nagin, along with the governor, Kathleen Blanco, politicized things early on and were somehow able to remove much of the spotlight from their own inability to take care of their constituents. That is where the real crime happened. The federal agencies should be there to assist and augment the local efforts, but the media would like you to believe that FEMA is responsible for all the problems. That's just not true and even after years of living in FEMA-provided trailors, many citizens there are still expecting the government to take care of them. A minority will always need help, but I hate what I see as a major lack of personal responsibility by so many.

Wow, so I've covered what I think are the major contentions here but I haven't even mentioned some of the good works he's done. Bush is responsible for perhaps the largest investment in anti-AIDS work in Africa in world history - tripling the previous investment to some $9 billion. He reformed Medicare to give seniors more plan options and save them bundles in prescription costs, although the returns here differ depending on who you ask. He has passed the No Child Left Behind bill, which, while a target of criticism, has also been hailed by both political parties as a major benefit to the education system and the bill will likely be renewed. Additionally, Bush created an enormous pristine marine preserve northwest of Hawaii. He tried mightily to pass a much needed, moderate immigration bill only to be defeated by his own party. Bush tried to push Social Security reform after being re-elected but was defeated in those efforts as well, putting into question what will happen when I reach retirement age. I'm sure there have been other notable accomplishments as well.

In closing, Bush has failed to efficiently run the war in Iraq and has hurt the US's image due to that war and his sometimes arrogant approach to things, but he really hasn't been as bad a president as everyone makes him out to be. I hope history proves me right.

Posted by charr at 3:36 PM

Reader Comments

I read an article a few weeks ago that had a similar viewpoint. While Bush has had his failings, not everything he's done has been a failure. Lincoln had dismal approval ratings and was later hailed a hero. Public approval is a fickle thing, and in the end, rude and disrespectful treatment of our president says more about us than him.

Posted by dan at December 5, 2008 5:53 PM


President Al Gore could have been a great president, but we will probably never know.
Let's not forget that at the very beginning, George's legitimacy as a president was very arguable, not to say more.

Then, back in 2001, 9/11 happened several monthes after his duty started ...
Which led to a legal war in Afghanistan, backed by UN ... and another war in Iraq two years later.
You might want to read ( again ) Dominique de Villepin's speech at UN before US decided alone to invade Irak.
The huge majority in this room applauded with both hands, except Colin Powell who was livid. And we all know what was next : since there was no way for US to get any blessing from UN to start a (new) war in Irak. So Bush did not even care of asking other countries to vote, and invaded Irak.
Does this make this war an illegal one, well ...

For sure, while US army was stuck in Iraq, North Korea developed its own nuke, and some suspect Iran did too.
George made US administration one of the most hated in the world, and his war made him lose all his credibility in the Middle East.

I am also more than surprised you did not mention what ( still ) happens now in Guantanamo ...
As far as i am concerned,i not mind Jack Bauer torturing terrorists in a TV show, but when it comes to reality, i cannot agree with these methods.

George was good enough to convince most US citizens to give up their rights ( i mean patrioct act, wiretapping or laptop searches in airports ... )

Then, having been on charge for almost 8 years, subprime crisis happened ... and then a financial crisis ... and now a global economical crisis.

Yes, George did a lot for Africa, and for that, he should get more credit.

Will History prove you ( well, me, George, ... ) right or wrong ? Like he said :

"History, we don't know, we'll all be dead"

Posted by Gilles at December 6, 2008 2:27 AM

Good to hear from you and thanks for your post. Let me start by saying that we all know Europeans and Americans have some fundamental cultural differences. Europe sees the US as a bunch of warmongering cowboys and a lot of Americans see Europeans (and the UN) as unwilling or unable to put up a fight when it's needed. With this context, the two sides often come to different conclusions given the same information. I happen to be an American as you well know :).

Anyway, I read through Villepin's speech, the Wikipedia article over UNSC Resolution 1441 and skimmed over the full text of the resolution. And, as I mentioned in my main post, there are enough gray areas that you can't call the US's approach illegal. In hindsight, I'd say war was too hasty a decision, but that's irrelevant here.

The fact is, Iraq was not fully forthcoming, and even Hans Blix said as much at the meeting where Mr. Villepin spoke. The US had authority to take matters into its own hands if the UNSC was unwilling to move forward and France said they would veto any further action. That was deemed by the US as a sign that the UNSC was unwilling to move forward and therefore it took it upon itself to enforce the "serious consequences" laid out in the resolution.

The Europeans said the inspections were producing some results and needed more time. The US implied it was the same old delay tactic and nothing substantial would come. The problem is, both were right, given their characteristic mentalities.

Now, regarding Americans giving up their rights, I would say that the US has definitely become more of a police state, which I hate. I've mentioned that to some extent in past posts. I also think that a smart terrorist could still get through and that many of the security restrictions are a façade. Unfortunately, in these blame-happy times, I don't know if Bush has an option. If something were to happen and he wasn't doing everything he could to stop it, he'd be grilled. It's an example of "Damned if you do; damned if you don't." I for one would rather take more risks than live in a police state. On the other hand, Bush gets a point or two for the fact that there has not been another major attack on American soil.

On financial issues, I really feel that you can't blame the presidency for most things - the economy is too global and is really it's own beast.

Now, with Guantanamo, I'm glad you brought it up. It is much more of a hot point for people outside the US than for most here. I am not in favor of closing it, but I do feel that it is not right to hold people for years without charging them with a crime. I think every prisoner there should be tried or released in a reasonable time frame. Although, I do think the conditions there are often better than in their own countries - minus the interrogations. Regarding those tactics, I have some mixed views. I don't condone torture, but what Amnesty International calls torture isn't necessarily what I'd call torture. I think there is room for harsh tactics in extreme cases. The problem is that it is too easy to call a non-extreme case an extreme case. You almost need an advisory board involving the president and others that can act quickly enough to be effective. I won't say I have all the answers there, but this comment is already too long. :)

Posted by Cameron at December 6, 2008 11:03 AM

Hi Cameron,

First, let me start by saying that European and American people have a *lot* of things in common. There are some huge differences, but still, we are both part of the "Western" world, and are fundamentally more similar than different.

My main problem with the war in Iraq is that it was started based on evidences that turned to be all false. I do not believe this is a major f*** up from the US intel' ... for various reasons, the war had already been decided and then "evidences" were made out of nothing. No mass destruction weapon was ever found.
Bottom line, this useless war is a disaster for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and the thousands of US people who lost their life or a relative.

About the financial crisis, it started with the subprime crisis. Unlike the war in Iraq, Bush cannot be blamed for having starting it, but as the president in charge, i believe he can be blamed for having failed to regulate the economy and prevent the crisis.

Guantanamo ...
What i really love about US is the Bill of Rights.
These are simple principles that guarantee fundamental rights to everyone, and I do believe any country in the world could include it in their consitution. Well, no, not everyone :-( only US citizens, in the US.
I am really pissed that the most powerful country in the world, which has great values, sometimes does not feel the need to apply its principles to himself.

Anyway, i am still glad the First Amendment is respected on your blog :-)

Posted by Gilles at December 6, 2008 11:50 AM

I didn't mean to imply Americans were completely different different from Europeans and I most certainly agree that both sides are very similar in many areas. I stated that one difference because it is a significant factor when assessing politics.

And yes, I welcome differing opinions as long as they are civil and have some intelligence behind them - which yours always are. You also make me hungry for a warm baguette and some good Pyrinees cheese. :)

Anyway, I see your point about the Iraq war, but I don't believe it is useless. It is tragic the lives that have been lost and that it could have been fought much more efficiently, but I would dare say that a free and respected democracy in the Middle East (if Iraq can achieve that status) is worth some suffering and loss.

Back on Guantanamo, I think we mostly agree and I think the "enemy combatants" have a right to hear the charges against them and get a relatively speedy trial.

Posted by Cameron at December 7, 2008 3:05 PM

I was just thinking about wiretaps and stuff, and like I mentioned earlier, I think the biggest problem comes in that it's too easy to cross the line and do an extreme security measure in a case that doesn't deserve it. For cases where that happens, I think there needs to be some punishment to the agencies initiating those measures. For instance, there was a muslim lawyer in the Oregon area a while back who was wire-tapped and accused and who's reputation was destroyed, but who was ultimately deemed innocent. There should be penalties placed against whoever gave authority to wiretap that lawyer.

Posted by Cameron at December 8, 2008 8:48 AM

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