President George W. Bush: His place in history?
Some war-time Presidents aren’t popular. George W. Bush’s poll numbers (30.8-percent) prove it. Even though more popular than the Democrat Congress (18.7-percent), President Bush’s popularity also suffers from being a lame duck and from having no vice president in the White House trying to become president. This scenario hasn’t happened since President Truman, who left office with an approval rating of only 22-percent. But history has rehabilitated President Truman.
Abraham Lincoln was an unpopular war president. Lincoln prosecuted the Civil War using fascist tactics. Lincoln charged 11 southern states with rebellion. He sent the Union Army to arrest their leaders. With habeas corpus suspended, some rebels were arrested without warrant, held without bail, their homes subjected to warrantless searches, telegraph wires were tapped, and Confederate spies summarily executed. Winning helps. Also, he freed the slaves.
Woodrow Wilson was reelected in 1916 on a promise to stay out of WWI. But, as he told a group of pacifists, the U.S. had to enter the war so he could be seated at the peace conference. Later, Wilson, Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, and Vittorio Orlando FUBARed (technical military term) the Treaty of Versailles so badly that they made WWII virtually inevitable. Wilson died a broken man.
Until Japans sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelts desire to fight Hitler had little popular support. Only then, did FDR gain the support of the mainstream media and the general public. Winning WWII helped.
Harry Truman was an unpopular president who declined to run for a second reelection versus a winning WWII general who promised to go to South Korea and accept the status quo ante. Our troops are still in South Korea.
Had he not been assassinated, JFK might have been an unpopular president for deepening the U.S. commitment to replace the French in Vietnam. LBJ’s fear of being “less than JFK” compounded JFK’s error. LBJ ended up afraid to run for his own party’s re-nomination.
Nixon-Kissinger had the Vietnam War “won” a la Eisenhower by settling for the status quo ante; however, a Democrat-controlled Congress refused to honor Kissinger’s Treaty of Paris and left the ammunition-depleted South Vietnamese to be overrun in 1975. Losing South Vietnam hurt President Ford’s chance of reelection.
Unless one counts turning Iran from friend to foe to start the current war, Carter wasn’t a war president. Carter’s low was 28-percent.
Ronald Reagan won the Cold War with a combination of economic and military cards played with deft hands by Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher against a Soviet Empire crumbling after 73 years of the flaws inherent in communism. Winning helps.
Troops under President George H.W. Bush won Gulf War I in 100 hours; however, Bush’s popularity (89-percent) was wiped out when he broke his pledge of “no new taxes.” By 1992, his popularity dropped to 29-percent. The WWII aviator hero Bush was beaten by someone who never served and didnt intend to.
Writing in USA Today on June, 30, 2004, this observer opined that George W. Bush could claim victory in the “heartland” of the Middle East if our efforts prevent Iraq’s oil revenues from fueling al-Qaeda, if Iraqis could choose their own government, if the terrorists leave Iraq, and if the region is left with an independent Iraq sitting as a buffer between Persian Iran and its Arab neighbors to the West.
Four years later, al-Qaeda in Iraq is virtually dead. The Iraqis are handling their own affairs. Many of the terrorists have moved to the caves of Afghanistan or Pakistan and Iran is, so far, check-mated from achieving hegemony over the Persian Gulf and from further westward expansion.
Will history see the cost in blood and treasure as worth it? Time will tell. While Bush’s zeal for democracy is commendable, what he has done with regard to our national security (a la Lincoln, FDR, Truman Eisenhower and Reagan) will be the historical measure of his presidency.
While the outcome of the struggle with radical Islam is still in doubt, history will acquit George W. Bush or not based on what he did during his watch. Iran might want to take that into account.
After earning degrees from Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the Naval War College and Nebraska, syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, studied government and politics at Harvard’s JFK School of Government.
©2008. William Hamilton.