On Bush’s Jr’s fitful watch Latin America edged nervously out of Uncle Sam’s shadow. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia boldly assert their independence and thumb their noses at Uncle Sam. Twenty years earlier, and even when Bush Sr sat in the Oval Office, the “strong leadership” craved by Americans of all political stripes would have seen Chavez and Morales briskly toppled, their estimable reforms swiftly aborted and the kleptocrats handed back the keys to the presidential office by the CIA and their local right-wing allies.
Barely a month went by in Bush Jr’s second term but that some liberal or left pundit would predict a US attack on Iran. Lurid scenarios were drawn of the US and its local ally, Israel, unleashing the bombing sorties to Iran’s nuclear complex. It turns out that the Israeli high command made numerous requests for clearance for its planes to overfly Iraq on their way to Iran, but were adamantly nixed by George Jr.
Jr’s greatest single trumph in reducing America’s standing was his insistence that the assembly elections in Iraq go forward as planned, in December of 2005. Bush Sr., it will be recalled, shrank from finishing off Saddam Hussein in 1991 because it would most likely have meant the Shia would take power, to the great benefit of Iran. When the invasion of 2003 did topple Saddam, seasoned counselors advised Bush Jr to suspend the elections the Ayatollah Sistani had insisted upon, for exactly the same reason.
But the 43rd president obstinately rejected these counsels, saying that he’d promised Iraqis the gift of democracy and nothing would deflect him from this course. The elections took place on December 15, 2005, in a mortal blow for U.S. objectives in Iraq and a larger disaster for it in the entire region.
Was this doggedly incompetent saboteur of empire an “accident” of history, born of hanging chads in Florida in 2000 and the ruthless competence of James Baker in outmaneuvering Al Gore’s efforts to claim the White House amid the Forida recounts?
Blame first his mother, Barbara Bush, an unpleasant creature who never forgave George Sr for dragging her from behind the lace curtains of respectability in Connecticut to West Texas where she endured the miseries of a frontier wife, helpmeet to a failed wildcatter. She let her hair go white, grieved for the daughter that died and snarled at the lads while her faithless husband gadded about the world. It was Barbara who gave George his petty, mean-spirited vindictiveness and George Sr who passed on the relentless philistinism. Blame Laura who took in hand the lay-about cokehead of the Houston years and nudged him into politics.
But no one ever took Jr seriously as a contender on the national scene until Republicans, aghast at the prospect that John McCain might seize the nomination in 2000, seized on Bush as the man who would save them from this fate. They scarcely dared dream that he might actually become president. That required the campaign skills of Al Gore, looming over the barely articulate Bush in so loutish a display of arrogant ill-manners in that first debate that Americans gallantly rallied to Bush’s cause.
Somewhere in late 2003 blaming everything on Bush became a national pastime and alibi. He took the hit for fifty years of venal failure by the city fathers of New Orleans and the legislators of Louisiana to protect their city. He’s even had to shoulder the blame for the Wall Street meltdown and the subprime crisis, for which Congressional legislators and overseers can far more justly be held responsible.
Blessed blunder dogged his every step, and where he scanted on some necessary incompetence Dick Cheney was at his elbow to ensure disaster was not averted. Bush made so half hearted an effort to “reform” Social Security – the last defense of older Americans – that Wall Street, the instigator of the “reform”, remembered with profound nostalgia the man, Bill Clinton, who was well on the way to destroying Social Security without even a yap of alarm from the watchdogs, until the Lewinsky scandal forced him to abort the mission.
Bush leaves America a poorer but in some ways a better place, more conscious of its blessings. Just as it took bad King John to force the drafting of the Magna Carta, on Bush’s watch Americans have learned, amidst the threat of losing them, that they have constitutional protections. A commander in chief who made Jerry Ford sound like Demosthenes has given them a fresh sensitivity to language, even the dream that they might have a president who can speak in whole sentences.
Bush passed his final White House years in morose seclusion, despised by all, obeyed by none – a welcome rebuke to the concept of “unitary power” and an omnipotent executive.
Now Obama proclaims his mission of renewing America, always a sinister prospect. We’re heading back in to the high country of moral uplift, and dispiriting talk of America’s “mission”...
-- Alexander Cockburn, "Hail To The Chief".