Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The historical view of George W. Bush

For biographies and historians, the devil is in the documents.

Now, I do not believe the previous administration will do well in the light of history -- when partisanship fades and cold analysis is wrought. However, if you believe this president stands even a snowball's chance in hell of ranking among the finer presidents, you need to lay off the paint thinner.

The administration now conceeds that reconstruction in Iraq was and is crucial to undermining the insurgency's appeal. On Iraq, today's New York Times:
"It almost looks like a spoils system between various agencies," said Steve Ellis, a vice president and an authority on the Army corps at Taxpayers for Common Sense, an organization in Washington, who read a copy of the document. "You had various fiefdoms established in the contracting process."

One authority on reconstruction who attended the session last month, John J. Hamre, said the report was an unblinking and unbiased look at the program.

"It's gutsy and it's honest," said Mr. Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a public policy group based in Washington. He was not the source of the leaked document. Even in the early stages of writing the draft, Mr. Hamre said, one central message on the reconstruction program was already fairly clear, that "it didn't go particularly well."

"The impression you get is of an organization that had too little structure on the ground over there, that it had conflicting guidance from the United States," Mr. Hamre said. "It had a very difficult environment and pressures by that environment to quickly move things."
The administration has spun its way out of the electoral purgatory it deserves for Katrina, yet the documents will damn them in the final analysis. Also from today's Times:
A Homeland Security Department report submitted to the White House at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, hours before the storm hit, said, "Any storm rated Category 4 or greater will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching."

The internal department documents, which were forwarded to the White House, contradict statements by President Bush and the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, that no one expected the storm protection system in New Orleans to be breached.

"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees," Mr. Bush said in a television interview on Sept. 1. "Now we're having to deal with it, and will."


Blogger zen said...

Add those documents to the growing list ("Bin Laden determined to strike US" "May use Airplanes" "Troop levels needed to pacify Iraq"...)
The tragedy is that before the historians have their shot, we are suffering through the incomptency and hubris.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I think you've twisted both stories. The government warned everyone out of NO well in advance; and Bush explained long ago that that comment was referring to what was anticipated AFTER the storm subsided and the levees had NOT broken.

And what do you mean the "administration NOW concedes..." - the administration has ALWAYS felt that reconstruction was an integral part of undermining the terrorists.

And I still very much feel that GWB will go down among the top 10 greatest Presidents in the long-term: 2 SC Justices, Dramatic foreign policy change, great way of building the economy. Now, if he'd go cut some pork and do a few other things, he can make top 5.

3:50 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

Ezzie, I'd like you to write a lot more on this topic -- in fact I am trying to bait you with this post. I'd like to see your rationale. Here's my preliminary look at the question. First, let us consider just their work in the term(s). No points for Habitat for Humanity nor Katrina relief. We could perhaps make two lists and consider pre- and post- terms, which would benefit George H.W. Bush, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, Taft (etc, etc) and may water down other leaders. Second, we must address assassination in some degree, almost projecting additonal years or terms. But, here's my list and some reasoning thus far (imperfect).

1. Abraham Lincoln: The Great Emancipator. He showed a fair understanding of war planning, a vision of his country, and presented the Declaration of Independence as a central document in our existence -- which it was not before his terms.

2. George Washington: Washington helped to bring dignity and cooperation to the presidency. I need to fact check this, but it was the Whiskey Rebellion he put down, no? Here's two points from his farewell address via the White House site: "In his Farewell Address, he urged his countrymen to forswear excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions. In foreign affairs, he warned against long-term alliances."

3. Thomas Jefferson: One belief of mine insofar as Greatness in presidents is their willingness to alter convictions for the betterment of the country. Jefferson's LA purchase was a classic, bold overreach (which TR would perfect). Though Washington countered Jefferson's political party move, it has shaped our nation's system (more or less well) for more than 2 centuries.

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt: His record on race is something that troubles me greatly, however, FDR was a master president. He guided the nation through a depression that could have threatened our republican ideals (Huey Long), mastered the p.r. and morale building that Reagan would showcase. Helped Britain and Russia at a time when the American population was some 20 years behind the president -- maybe 40 years -- in awareness of global responsibility. Appointed the finest commanders since Alexander the Great. He overreached on the Supreme Court, to his detriment.

5. Theodore Roosevelt: Progressive on the environment, on race, on economics, on the nature of the presidency, on the roll of government. He mastered the press (continuing McKinley's bag of tricks). Both sides of the electorate. Negotiated peace between Russia and Japan, hoodwinked the Panama canal, Sent the White fleet around the world. Spoke softly, carried a big stick. And helped coal miners, while avoiding a tragic freeze in the Northeast.

6. Woodrow Wilson: In addition to leadership in World War One -- keeping the American army seperate from the European command -- Wilson conducted the following: "Wilson maneuvered through Congress three major pieces of legislation. The first was a lower tariff, the Underwood Act; attached to the measure was a graduated Federal income tax. The passage of the Federal Reserve Act provided the Nation with the more elastic money supply it badly needed. In 1914 antitrust legislation established a Federal Trade Commission to prohibit unfair business practices.

Another burst of legislation followed in 1916. One new law prohibited child labor; another limited railroad workers to an eight-hour day. By virtue of this legislation and the slogan "he kept us out of war," Wilson narrowly won re-election."

7. Harry Truman: He continued his predecessor's work with a great degree of social legislation early on -- the Fair Deal. He implemented the Marshall Plan, helping to contain communism and rebuild Europe, which in turn fueled an American economic boom that lasted most of the rest of the century. The Truman Donctrine established early Cold War policy.

8. Dwight D. Eisenhower: Middle of the road on domestic issues, he encouraged the interstate highway system and helped to cool down the Cold War.

9. Ronald Reagan: I'll give credit where it is due. He inspired a nation in need of such leadership. The armed forces turned around under his watch. I can list a number of problems with this presidency, but the achievements and his skill in navigating along a rival Congress are the hallmarks of a good president.

10. John F. Kennedy: This is, of course, a difficult presidential legacy to gauge. Navigating the Cuban Missle Crisis may be the finest two weeks in foreign policy history for any U.S. president. Kennedy deserves credit and distinction for inspiring a number of subsequent political leaders and the Civil Rights push of the 1960s -- though it is impossible to gauge what a full 4 or 8 years would have looked like.

I do not think Bush can unseat any of these "top 10". I would, at present, place him in the middle sort of presidents. He's had a one party Congress for a great deal of his presidency. He's made a bad Supreme Court pick. Pulled back on a torture ammendment, then did an end around on it. At best, his Iraq policy was an irresponsible and naive risk and at worst it may yet damage our national security. We shall know more about Iraq's political hopes within six months.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Oooh, tempting. First, I'd have to read up on past Presidents - but I'd suggest you read James Taranto's book on the Presidents where he rates them. It's supposed to be excellent. Heck, buy 2 copies, and send me one! :)

I'll seriously consider posting on this, though. You should put that ranking as a post - I only glanced at it, but it looks good (sorry, writing a roundup now).

8:56 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

ezzie, I think this is something we could debate and discuss for some time.

i'll check out your book rec at work tomorrow, instead of doing work.

i intend to do a longer post this weekend or next addressing the presidents. i will need to read a lot more as well.

i tell you though, best case scenario i may put him (W.) at 11... it's the worst case scenario that bothers me greatly.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I could see him stretching as far up as #5, though mostly because I'm not as enamored with 5-10 as I am with 1-4... I'm not saying he will, only that he could.

That 9/11 is ignored completely in today's day and age is incredible - I don't think anyone's really thought about that.

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clinton- self-made peacetime president under whom the economy grew to record levels (net growth). Nominated and confirmed two SC justices while withdrawing none. Steered the country through an opposition led shutdown of the government. Had actual forgein policy change to convert US to global police away from long-term stand-off with opposing global power. Engadged in peacekeeping, election enforcement and peaceful nation building around the world. Neogotiated and agreed to treaties to bring about greater global security and improve long term environmental conditions. Prevented numerous terrorist attacks surrounding year 2000. Unprecedented public support even after leaving office. Zero aircraft carrier landing stunts.

1:17 AM  
Blogger zen said...

From a WaPo editorial:

"Incompetence is not one of the seven deadly sins, and it's hardly the worst attribute that can be ascribed to George W. Bush. But it is this president's defining attribute. Historians, looking back at the hash that his administration has made of his war in Iraq, his response to Hurricane Katrina and his Medicare drug plan, will have to grapple with how one president could so cosmically botch so many big things -- particularly when most of them were the president's own initiatives."

There's a time when those that swoon over W have to step outside of the bubble themselves and realize that not all criticism of this admin can be labled "Bush bashing." Any worthy unbiased historian will surely conclude that ambitions without results aren't worth much. So as noble as Bush's 'vision' can be argued for, undeniable is the lack of achieving success he promised. To assume so is very premature.

12:52 PM  

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