Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Bush Legacy Begins

Now that the war in Iraq has been won, President George W. Bush's historical legacy is already being reset as a resolute commander-in-chief who will leave office with the greatest foreign policy turnaround in the history of American international affairs.

Brian Kelly,
at this week's U.S. News and World Report, announced his magazine's new-found appreciation of the president, saying that Bush had, "the fortitude to execute one very tough call, and so far the country's better off for it" (the magazine's essentially renouncing its cover story of May 2007, "A Sinking Bush").

At Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria, an academic expert in world politics, and the editor of Newsweek International, makes a backdoor case for the president's history-making firmness and resolve: "
What Bush Got Right":

A broad shift in America's approach to the world is justified and overdue. Bush's basic conception of a "global War on Terror," to take but the most obvious example, has been poorly thought-through, badly implemented, and has produced many unintended costs that will linger for years if not decades. But blanket criticism of Bush misses an important reality. The administration that became the target of so much passion and anger—from Democrats, Republicans, independents, foreigners, Martians, everyone—is not quite the one in place today. The foreign policies that aroused the greatest anger and opposition were mostly pursued in Bush's first term: the invasion of Iraq, the rejection of treaties, diplomacy and multilateralism. In the past few years, many of these policies have been modified, abandoned or reversed. This has happened without acknowledgment—which is partly what drives critics crazy—and it's often been done surreptitiously. It doesn't reflect a change of heart so much as an admission of failure; the old way simply wasn't working. But for whatever reasons and through whichever path, the foreign policies in place now are more sensible, moderate and mainstream. In many cases the next president should follow rather than reverse them.
Note here that Zarakia himself was one of the leading advocates of strategic retreat from Iraq.

In November 2006,
at the same time the administration was preparing the shift toward a new counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq, Zakaria, in a Newsweek cover story, laid out the case for an American withdrawal from the war, with the following title:

Rethinking Iraq: The Way Forward

The drawdown option: It is past time to confront reality. To avoid total defeat, we must reduce and redeploy our troops and nudge the Iraqis toward a deal.

Zakaria was wrong in 2006, and badly so. But unlike the editors at U.S. News, he's apparently not prone to journalistic introspection nor the admission of analytical mistakes.

But the icing on the cake is
the new poll out from Rasmussen finding that just 41 percent of Americans think that President Bush will be rememberd as "the worst president ever":

Forty-one percent (41%) of Americans say George W. Bush will go down in history as the worst U.S. President ever, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

But 50% of Americans disagree, despite Bush's record low poll numbers on his job performance.
Rasmussen finds a partisan split to opinions on the Bush legacy (and he's at 33 percent in public approval), but it's striking that half the country has begun to place President Bush's leadership in perspective. Contrast this to the historical profession, composed of mostly left-leaning scholars, with 61 percent of them rating G.W. Bush as the worst president in history (see also here and here).

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, President Bush does not have the lowest public approval rating on record. That distinction goes to Harry Truman, who upon leaving office held
a 22 percent approval rate in Gallup polling.

President Truman today is generally considered
one of the top ten presidents in American history. With President Bush, if the shifting media portrayal of administration "resolution" is a decent indicator, George W. "Truman" Bush will in time also ascend to the "near great" category of America's great presidential leaders.