The National Catholic Review
The Editors
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In the wake of the Super Tuesday primary elections on Feb. 5, the field of candidates for the 2008 presidential nominations has been clearly defined. The contest for the Democratic nomination has been reduced to two, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, either of whom would break with historical precedent—one as the first woman, the others as the first African-American elected to the presidency. On the Republican side, John McCain appears to be well on his way to his party’s nomination, after his campaign had been declared dead in the water by our national pundits several months ago. None of the candidates for the Republican nomination identified his cause with the incumbent president, a point made embarrassingly clear when Mitt Romney declared that he would continue the legacy of George H. W. Bush, the incumbent’s father.

But what will be or could be the presidential legacy of George W. Bush? It is safe to say that President Bush began his first term in January 2001 without a strong mandate. An intervention by the Supreme Court had resolved the most prolonged presidential election process in U.S. history, and the defeated candidate, former Vice President Al Gore, had actually won the popular vote. The new president’s agenda was appropriately modest; he would conduct, he promised, a “more humble” foreign policy, resisting the temptation to engage in nation-building elsewhere in the world. But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, abruptly shattered that placid projection. Declaring a “war on terror,” President Bush launched retaliatory strikes on Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan that October, a campaign supported by an international community that was still expressing solidarity with the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

A year later, however, as the Bush administration attempted to rally support for a pre-emptive attack on Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the response from long-time international allies was negative. With little support from the international community and over the objections of Pope John Paul II and other religious leaders, the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, with little understanding of the challenge that postwar reconstruction would pose. It was a blunder of historic proportions. The war of choice in Iraq was not a necessary step in the campaign against terrorism but a costly distraction from that campaign. Five years later, the challenge of reducing the U.S. military presence in Iraq while discharging our responsibilities to the Iraqi people will be a painful dilemma for Mr. Bush’s successor, whether Republican or Democrat.

Preoccupation with the tragedy of Iraq, however, should not prevent recognition of the positive initiatives of the George W. Bush administration. Principal among these has been the President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (known as Pepfar), a multibillon-dollar investment in programs to combat the scourge of H.I.V./AIDS in Africa. The president’s concern for educational reform in the United States drew widespread support, even from those who found fault with particular details of the No Child Left Behind program. But there are other initiatives that President Bush could take in the remaining months of his presidency that would enable his successor to meet more quickly and more effectively the challenges the next administration will face.

Any lasting solution to the challenge of overcoming sectarian divisions in Iraq and establishing a stable government in that tormented country will depend on regional cooperation. For this reason President Bush should vigorously pursue his commitment to take an active role in the search for permanent peace between Israel and its neighbors. While the president’s assurance that a lasting agreement can be achieved before the end of his term in office is unrealistic, his personal involvement in the peace process will surely move the parties closer to an agreement. In broader terms, Mr. Bush could assist the diplomatic initiatives of the next administration by following the counsel of the more moderate voices in his administration and abandoning the heavy-handed unilateralism favored by Vice President Cheney and other neoconservative diehards who promoted and defended the unnecessary war in Iraq.

When future historians assess the administration of the second President Bush, they will surely recognize that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, abruptly brought the nation and its new president into a world radically different from the one that the former governor of Texas contemplated when he was chosen as the Republican presidential candidate in the 2000 election. In his final year in office, George W. Bush could enrich his legacy to the future by learning from the mistakes of the past.

Comments

Edward Alten | 2/20/2008 - 3:03pm
I agree with the Editors of America that it would be an act of patriotism and a healing legacy if President Bush would offer to form as soon as possible an independent panel of International experts to begin advising presidential candidates of realistic options to end our involvement in the Iraq war. He could also establish a domestic panel of immigration experts to begin advising them of realistic options for new immigration legislation. Such an offer would show him to be at arms length from these issues, a desirable feature in light of his current popularity, but by forming them would show Americans his compassion that many of us really believed he had when he was elected. Panel results could then be published for voter understanding and voters could then ask presidential and legislative candidates which options they would take if elected. The results of this are obvious and would help guide voters to elect a president and a legislature who are on the same page about these issues.
Edward Juillard | 2/19/2008 - 3:55pm
Wow! To say that you guys are kind to the most anti-Catholic president (due to his violation of Just War and dismantling social service programs for the poor) since Ronald Reagan,(who had an unofficial war against the preferential option for the poor not to mention the Jesuits in Latin Amwerican), would be putting it mildly. Listing No Child Left Behind as a positive part of Bush's legacy is beyond absurd.It has reduced and subjected education in our country to the lowest common denominator of learning: memorization with no substantive understanding to fit state mandates that are not based on pedagogical principles. The most glaring ommission fron the editorial is that the man is responsible for the complete destruction of Iraq and the lives of a thousands of Iraq civilians through an unremitting bombing campaign (with two million living in exile). His legacy should be impeachment and being held accountable for the deaths of literally thousands of civilians in Afganistan and Iraq.
Tim Reidy | 2/19/2008 - 10:03am
This is a test.....
M.Ward | 2/18/2008 - 11:39pm
You are far too charitable. The world was made much radically different by the Administration's overblown and incompetent response to 911 than the was ever attributable to the original act. Due to the Iraq fiasco we are disrespected and reviled across the globe as insular self-absorbed and erratic in the use of power. This is a diaster in an increasingly small and interdependent world emerging into an era of economic, geopolitical and resources competiton and conflict (think India and China) in which the stakes for the coming generation of young Americans will dwarf 911. Domestically the Administration banrupted the government and the nation, and further diminished the notion of the national government ever being a viewed as a trusted vehicle for framing and acting on the great challenges we face as a nation. January 2009 can't come fast enough. Praying for you children and grandchildren, and asking their forgiveness for tolerating it all seems appropriate. The burdens and challenges of eight years of hole digging have been laid on them. Oremus.
Thomas Burke | 2/18/2008 - 8:57pm
While you have mentioned in your articles certain realities that the Bush administration dealt with since 2001, which became big problems during his administration other areas that also contributed to this failed administration are the Katrina response effort on the part of the Federal Environmental Management Agency (FEMA), and the on-going Border security problem and its implications for Homeland Security. I would like to take the time to mention one other failure, the continuing erosion of Middle Class America, due to the exporting of American jobs overseas as a result of those so called free trade agreements. It seems to me that if we are to have less dependence on expensive social programs that drain the National Treasury and directly affect the economy such as the Social Security program, jobs must be created in order to help Americans get back to work. I don't mean low paying jobs, but good paying jobs whereby more funds would then be available and deposited into the Social Security trust funds in order to stabilize the deficit problem. Organized Labor has championed the Poor, and the Middle Class in this country for years, and continues to do so, they are real Americans who operate under Democratic principles by which ths country was founded, but are constantly under attack by this administration and conservatives representing big business interests such as Enron, who only look out for themselves and their way of life. If you really want America to prosper once again quit exporting jobs in the name of globalization and allow Americans to recapture their pride and dignity and go back to work to good paying jobs. The Lord knew that the people must be be fed first, before he spoke to them in his Sermon on the Mount and this is no different, if Bush wants the attention of the people, and wants to leave a memorable legacy he must give them the security of a good paying job and everything this country once stood for will fall into place as it has in years gone by when the men and women of this country were gainfully employed. Its' the Christian thing to do. While this Conservative administration so opposed abortion in this country as I do, if jobs continue to be exported and the middle class continues to erode as a result, married couples who un-intentionaly expect a child are now put in a position whereby some may consider abortion because they are not able to afford another child without a job and a means to raise another child. Where is the morality in that I ask you?
MARIAN GRAY | 2/18/2008 - 5:56pm
What an audacious attempt to manufacture your own negative opinions with the expectation that readers will obligingly accept your thoughts and opinions as meaningful facts. I laughed at your attempts to sit in judgment of eight years of any presidency with personal interpretations stated as fact, when there is clear disagreement to your conclusions. His immediate legacy for this reader is that he was a decent man who said no to partial birth abortion and strictly adhered to his oath to protect us and the right to life for all. Before you judge others, check out your own legacy. When everything is hashed out over and over for the next 40 years, then and only then will historians tell us what the legacy is for George W. Bush. Until then, any guesstimates are ridiculous and serve no purpose other than inflating your egos.
MARIAN GRAY | 2/18/2008 - 5:56pm
What an audacious attempt to manufacture your own negative opinions with the expectation that readers will obligingly accept your thoughts and opinions as meaningful facts. I laughed at your attempts to sit in judgment of eight years of any presidency with personal interpretations stated as fact, when there is clear disagreement to your conclusions. His immediate legacy for this reader is that he was a decent man who said no to partial birth abortion and strictly adhered to his oath to protect us and the right to life for all. Before you judge others, check out your own legacy. When everything is hashed out over and over for the next 40 years, then and only then will historians tell us what the legacy is for George W. Bush. Until then, any guesstimates are ridiculous and serve no purpose other than inflating your egos.
MARIAN GRAY | 2/18/2008 - 5:56pm
What an audacious attempt to manufacture your own negative opinions with the expectation that readers will obligingly accept your thoughts and opinions as meaningful facts. I laughed at your attempts to sit in judgment of eight years of any presidency with personal interpretations stated as fact, when there is clear disagreement to your conclusions. His immediate legacy for this reader is that he was a decent man who said no to partial birth abortion and strictly adhered to his oath to protect us and the right to life for all. Before you judge others, check out your own legacy. When everything is hashed out over and over for the next 40 years, then and only then will historians tell us what the legacy is for George W. Bush. Until then, any guesstimates are ridiculous and serve no purpose other than inflating your egos.

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