George W. Bush has turned over more than just the presidency to Barack Obama. This past Tuesday, the new President inherited a crippled economy, a war in the Middle East, and the expectation that he will right the wrongs of the Bush administration. As President Obama assumes his role as Commander-in- Chief, it is appropriate to consider the legacy of the former Presidents two terms in office.
This is not an easy task, partly because the heat of todays political climate tends to heighten passions and blur judgement, but also because we have yet to see the results of many of Mr. Bushs decisions. It is now President Obamas job to bring them to a close. He acknowledged as much during his inauguration speech as he referred to the current war, the economic crisis, and what he called our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will surely be among the most debated decisions of Bushs presidential term. So many outcomes are still uncertain. Will Osama Bin Laden ever be found? Will democracy prosper in Iraq, or will it lapse into more mayhem or chaos? Will Al-Qaida collapse? The answers to these questions, and how soon they arrive, might determine how we view the legacy of the Bush administration.
Mr. Bush confronted this topic in his farewell address to the Nation on January 16. There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions, he said, but there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil.
The absence of attacks on American soil is doubtlessly a positive outcome. But with troops still on the ground, there is little indication that the war is over. Furthermore, the increasing cost of human lives has earned America more enemies than ever in the past. This is possibly one of the reasons why President Obama will begin withdrawing troops as early as sixteen months into his presidency. Indeed, he has already initiated talks with his top aides about a redeployment strategy.
No matter where you look, domestic or foreign policy will have a significant impact on how future historians will view the Bush administration, says Ed Schatz, professor of political science at UTM. On a rhetorical level, at the moment, the contrast is astounding between what the Obama administration holds out as a promise and what the Bush administration held out as policy. Time will tell whether the difference, which appears to be so stark at the moment, will actually end up being so stark in the future.
One thing is obvious: with so much gone wrong in America today, it is easy to blame the exiting president for the nations headaches. Some are undoubtedly Mr. Bushs doing. But the origins of others are not so easy to pinpoint. It is not clear, for example, how much Mr. Bush could have done to prevent the economic crisis.
President Obamas election and inauguration have so far been met with unparalleled enthusiasm, both at home and abroad. But it would be useful to keep in mind that while President Obama may promise a bright future for America, we have only pledges to judge him by so far. Some commentators have already complained about what they perceived was a swift and convenient change of policy as he addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last June. Whatever he does or says, no one can continue to inspire that level of faith for four years, not even President Barack Obama.