George Bush’s place in history

Will the current US president be remembered as the worst ever?

Al Jazeera asks how future generations will view the 43rd US president [GALLO/GETTY]

As part of its special series on the legacy of George Bush, Al Jazeera spoke to two historians with very different views on the US president.

Here is what they had to say.

Robert S. McElvaine, chair of history at Millsaps College, Mississippi

I have carried out two very unscientific polls of historians on this very issue, the first in 2004 and the second this year and it seems pretty clear at the moment that historians are of the view that his is a failed presidency.

The most recent poll showed that the overwhelming majority thought his presidency was the worst in history.

This poll was done before the financial collapse that simply adds another failure to ones that were already there.

The disasters of the Bush administration are not the worst in history – the American civil war was the worst.

When I did the poll in 2004, I rated James Buchanan, who was president when the union dissolved and the civil war was on the verge of happening, as the worst.

On the other hand, Buchanan was certainly not as personally responsible for all that as Bush and his administration seem to responsible for the problems happening now.

The biggest failing is that he had an enormous amount of goodwill dropped in his lap from around the world following the 9/11 attacks and he has squandered that by going into an unnecessary war in Iraq which turned most of the world against the US.

His initial response to the attacks was to be befuddled but he seems to have done a better job as time went on and you could argue that the most positive part of his administration was that there have been no more attacks on the US.

But how much his policies were responsible for that is difficult to say.

As far as domestic policies he seemed to have followed the policies of Calvin Coolidge in the 1920’s by drastically cutting taxes for high-income earners.

He also took a budget surplus and turned it into the largest deficit in American history.

Some have said Bush’s reputation will improve, as Harry Truman’s did [GALLO/GETTY]

But there is never a final verdict of history and the more information we have, in terms of documents about what was actually going on, so any historian’s judgement is subject to change in terms of consequences of actions that were taken.

You can see some measure of the feelings about Bush from abroad in the reaction to Barack Obama’s overwhelming election victory around the world.

There was an enormous outpouring of support, the feeling the US was being restored to its idealistic role as a champion of genuine international co-operation in support of democracy around the world instead of at the barrel of a gun.

Bush has been compared to Harry Truman but while he did some good things, he is the only world leader who has used atomic bombs and it is hard for some of us to forgive him for that.

But Truman is a convenient person for Bush and his supporters to make parallels to as he left office as a very unpopular president but his stock has risen somewhat since.

A big part of Bush’s legacy will ultimately revolve around what will happen in Iraq and in the Middle East.

The war in Iraq may not be seen as so much of a disaster if a stable democracy emerges there, although that remains to be seen.

Mike Allen, professor of history at the University of Washington, Tacoma

You never know how someone is going to be judged as it takes 20 to 40 years for things to settle down and then we look back on it.

One thing we know for sure is that contemporaries are often wrong about US presidents.

What we can do today is look at different aspects of foreign and domestic policy and decide on the criteria of how he will be judged by future generations.

On domestic policy Bush will be judged on achieving some of the lowest taxes in American history and also introducing national testing standards in education.

The Iraq conflict will remain at the heart
of George Bush’s legacy [AFP]

On foreign policy, he will be judged on moving the fight against terrorists from a law-enforcement issue to a military one and also that after 9/11 there was no domestic terror attack under his administration.

The third thing is the nuclear disarmament of Libya, which is something that no-one even talks about now.

The fourth thing is the liberation of Iraq and female suffrage in the Middle East.

He will also be remembered for the stock market crash and that was on his watch, whether it was his fault or not.

I am absolutely flabbergasted to hear people say that he is the worst president in history.

But there is only one thing that we can be sure of and that is that his reputation will improve.

Harry Truman is the only president that I can think of that left with similarly low approval ratings.

He’s certainly end up with better ratings than he has now although I am not sure whether that will end up near the middle or the top.

When Eisenhower left office, everyone thought he was one of the greatest presidents in American history but now he has ended up in the middle somewhere.

Truman, everyone thought was horrible, but now everyone agrees he is one of the best presidents.

Carter has been trying to save his legacy for nearly 40 years but now its clear he will end up below the middle.

Bush could be compared to Truman in many ways as also made big decisions in terms of foreign policy and now, in retrospect, many people believe he did the right thing.

In terms of how people outside the US, I think that America in general is disliked in the world as there has always been jealousy towards Americans and antipathy for good and bad reasons.

Bush seemed to bring out the worst in foreigners and their view of the US.

I think that the foreign interpretation of Bush and American policy in general is judgmental and unbalanced.

Source : Al Jazeera

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