A failed presidency is no happy matter for the country. Thus, this article is written in sorrow.
A breach of faith is even worse. Thus, this article is also written with indignation.
George Bush's presidency has failed on foreign and domestic policy. It has failed to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. It failed to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of our country.
In the country we live in now, much of the traditional media has failed as well. There is somehow, impossibly, debate about what the last eight years have done to our country. There is no debate.
President George W. Bush failed on domestic policy. Here are the topline failures, the details are legion:
1. Failure to take any action, even to convene a meeting, after being informed repeatedly in the summer of 2001 of potential terrorist attack. It is very hard to know whether the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. Bush would not even convene a meeting, not even respond to the alarm (George Tenet, "the red lights were blinking", Cofer Black's special visit to Condi Rice, then National Security Chief, Tom Friedman's June 26th column on moving the fleet out of Bahrain due to "chatter"). The reason: Bush et al. were focused on bringing back Star Wars and little matters such as terrorism were nuisances. Recall also that Attorney General Ashcroft had submitted an FBI budget to reduce anti-terrorism capabilities to save money.
2. Failure to prevent the first biological warfare attack on the United States. Unfortunately, the anthrax attack on the US was largely forgotten until recently when the alleged perpetrator committed suicide. It was the first biological warfare attack on US soil. In the space of a few months Bush failed to prevent the 9/11 attack in New York, the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, and the anthrax attack on Congress.
3. Failure to adopt and enforce security measures at our ports and chemical plants. Despite 100 million people being downwind from major chemical plants, despite inspecting only 10% of the containers arriving at our ports, Bush and the Republican Congress refused to impose new security obligations on those chemical plants owned by their paymasters and rejected as 'too expensive' 100% container inspection at the ports. A GAO report recently called the Administration "tardy" even in securing radioactive materials in the United States.
4. Failure to conduct the Presidency in a way that acknowledged that the 2000 election was close and controversial. Instead Bush used the razor-thin majority to shove a radical rightwing agenda down the throats of the 50.1% of the people that voted against him. A president is supposed to be president of all the people once the election is over. That is a breach of faith with the American people. It is also stupid, as there is no reservoir of goodwill created.
5. Failure to maintain the US as the world's #1 economy, as it has been for 60+years. The European Union is now the world's top economy. And many of the policies of its member countries are in direct and complete opposition to those of the Bush Administration. Whereas the Bush policy has been to attempt to eliminate any and all assistance from the government to people and reduce the obligations of employers to employees whenever possible, the European Union stands in stark and complete contrast.
We recall when Bush was going to be the "CEO" president - it is almost humorous to consider the lunacy of that premise now, but in business, the bottom line matters and right now, the bottom line is the European Union is leading the United States.
For 30 years, the Right has been telling us that programs such as universal healthcare, free higher education, strong social welfare programs, daycare, paternity leave, mandatory vacations, cap-and-trade and taxes to pay for it all would lead to economic ruin, but the verdict is in. Those steps lead to success, not ruin.
6. Failure to keep the dollar within a reasonable band of parity with the Euro and other major currencies. Money people lack sentiment, and thus a good sign of the world's regard for US policies (see below, "foreign policy") is their investment in its currency. So, while the radical right blathers about the resilience of the US economy on night talk shows, the very same people march into their offices every day and buy other currencies. The US dollar is just barely recovering from an all time low, and that is one of the main reasons you are paying so much for gasoline because the oil is imported (see below).
7. Failure not to explode the country's indebtedness. Ronald Reagan also exploded the deficit, but there were 2 decades left before the baby-boomers were to retire, so he had a bit of a cushion, and then George HW Bush and mostly Bill Clinton saved Reagan's financial ass by making the country fiscally responsible. George W decided that his path to glory was to out-Reagan Reagan, and so he presided over the greatest instance of fiscal mismanagement in the entire history of the world--a projected $5 trillion surplus was transformed into a $4 trillion deficit, for a $9 trillion turnaround. In earthly terms that is $120,000 for every family of four in the United States.
8. Failure to strengthen the middle class. The only path to sustained prosperity is a strong, and growing middle class. Bush rewarded his super-wealthy friends at the expense of the middle class--whether it is trade or tax policies that reward companies for shipping good jobs overseas, or gaping deficits that devalue the dollar increasing the cost of everyday goods for the middle class, or decreasing funding for job training, child health, veterans benefits...everything this son-of-a-Barbara Bush could do to weaken the middle class, he did.
9. Failure first to provide soldiers adequate equipment, and then to provide adequate medical care and benefits upon their return. In one of the most egregious acts of callousness, the Bush Administration did not take care of our soldiers when they went to war ("you go with the army you've got"), they opposed increasing veterans benefits, and they did not deliver veterans the care they needed and deserved for their sacrifices.
10. Failure to live up to his 2000 campaign pledge to declare CO2 a pollutant, and failure to recognize the importance of global warming, and to act. Eight years, eight critical years in the fight to save the planet from the ravages of our own doing, and now the stakes are higher, the solutions required more radical and dislocating.
11. Failure to take pre-emptive steps to lessen the potential damage from Hurricane Katrina, whose power and path were reported days in advance. While Katrina blew and inundated, Bush was celebrating John McCain's birthday with McCain. Bush's flyover several days later, staring out the window of a plane is another enduring emblem of his Administration.
12. Failure, even after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, to ensure competence in the appointments to all agencies, but especially those upon which the people depend for physical safety. He appointed Michael Brown, whose expertise was running Arabian horse shows, to run FEMA. He appointed an industry-flak to run the Bureau of Mines. He appointed people without any experience whatsoever to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
It is bad enough to have appointed such hacks at any time. But, especially after 9/11, to entrust the safety of the people of the United States to a horseshow operator, of miners to an industry-flak, and to our brave soldiers and marines to party loyalists whose only credentials were that they helped in the Florida recount and opposed Roe v Wade would, in the language of torts, be considered a reckless disregard for the safety of others.
13. Failure to address the rising costs of health care, health insurance and the increasing numbers of people without health insurance. He has done nothing. More people are without insurance now than in 2001. When he supported the drug benefit (part D) under medicare, he prohibited the Secretary for Health to negotiate for lower prices.
14. Failure to invest in infrastructure. In order to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy, Bush did not rebuild or modernize our aging infrastructure, from roads to bridges to mass transport to Walter Reed, where our veterans are cared for, leading to still another shameful scandal.
15. Failure to fund 'no-child-left-behind'. There are many other objections to this initiative, but the most egregious is passing it as the key to our children's future, and then denying it full-funding because, with tax-cuts for the wealthy, we cannot afford it. This is a cynical, all-out attack on our country's future.
16. Failure to adopt an energy policy that would reduce dependence on oil and foreign oil. If not already obvious prior to 9/11, the vulnerability of the US to its foreign oil dependence became starkly clear after that event. Instead of building a national consensus, the Bush Administration stroked their Saudi masters, and fed their oil buddies in the US.
17. Failure to allow discarded embryos to be use to improve human health and save lives. Bush's first act as president was to deny federal funding to embryonic stem cell research, except for a limited number of not very useful pre-existing cell lines. Despite this, in the 2004 campaign he boasted he was "the first president to support stem cell research", true because they did not exist as a laboratory tool earlier, and supporting the limited number of not useful pre-existing lines was, well, "more support", but hardly an honest portrayal of the additional 4 years of non-funding his re-election would mean. The years (and jobs) lost that scientists could have been learning how to repair injured spinal cords, reverse Parkinson's disease, restore failing hearts, or eliminate the daily injections and finger sticks required of young children with diabetes (not to mention the blindness, kidney failure, and amputations that await them in the future)...one might call that criminal.
Foreign policy has been one failure after another. Much of this was by design--they preferred regime change in targeted countries and thus would not engage in diplomacy, other than telling adversaries what "they must do". Yitzhak Rabin, the late-Israeli Prime Minister, used to say, "you make peace with your enemies, not your friends". Bush was not interested.
Here is just a sampling of Bush's topline foreign policy failures:
1. Failure to rally the world behind the United States when they were offering their help after 9/11. The strongest and most powerful is not uniformly liked. The outpouring of support by almost the whole world after 9/11 offered previously unimaginable opportunities to make the whole world a better place. Instead, Bush alienated our friends, exacerbated differences with our foes, removed the US from critical areas (Israel/Palestine, Iran, North Korea), disdained world norms, and left us with the lowest prestige ever.
2. Failure to capture bin Laden. US special forces asked for 600 Army rangers to surround bin Laden at Tora Bora. Bush refused. The CIA reports bin Laden is on kidney dialysis, a procedure require sterile tubing, special machines, and at least 3 hrs on alternate days hooked up to that machine. It also requires surgical placement of a "shunt". Bin Laden has already lived longer on the run, on kidney dialysis than the median survival for patients on dialysis who are not being hunted. Bush's inability to capture a man on dialysis is emblematic of how lame his entire presidency has been.
3. Failure to establish a secure Afghanistan, and defeat the Taliban. For perspective just one fact is really necessary to understand how they blew it: prior to the Iraq war, the US moved two-thirds of its intelligence operations from Afghanistan to Iraq. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan.
4. Failure in Iraq. Where does one begin? The failure to be truthful about: a) the presence of WMD; b) the number of troops necessary to secure Iraq and the length of time they would need to stay--Cheney knew the truth, and said so, during the 1990s, but lied as vice president; c) the use of torture; d) level of training of Iraqi troops; e) purpose for which the war was launched. The Iraq War failed to be a "lesson" to other regimes and terrorists, but instead served as a spur to terrorism and recruitment. The results, thusfar, appear to have strengthened Iran's influence in the neighborhood. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is closer to Iran than he is to the US (and John McCain calls that success!).
5. Failure to reduce the tensions with Iran or to stop its acquisition of nuclear weapons. Because of a common interest, Iran helped the US during the war to take down the Taliban, and offered to open a relationship that had been frozen since the takeover of the American embassy in 1979. Again, Bush ignored the opportunity preferring to institute regime change in Iran as soon as we were greeted as liberators in Iraq and could move on to Teheran. The result is increased tensions with Iran, increased influence of Iran in the Middle East, a group of Sunni states that lived with Israel's nuclear capability for 40 years that is now thinking about becoming nuclear themselves as a response to Iran.
6. Failure to make any progress on Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. Based on the deeply analytical premise that anything that President Clinton had done must be abandoned, the Bush Administration did nothing for years to get the two sides together. As far as the two sides may seem from peace today, recall that in the waning days of the Clinton Administration there was continued progress at Taba (following the rejection by Arafat of the Sharm El-Sheik accords), and near finality to the parallel negotiations between Israel and Syria, with water rights and a few thousand meters of territory remaining in dispute.
Indeed, a prominent Republican Senator has said that the Bush Administration actively hindered further reconciliation, at least on the Israeli-Syrian piece. Elliott Abrams, a convicted felon whom the Administration employed in a State Department position not requiring Senate confirmation, is a known rejectionist, said to have been in Israel giving the "green light" to the attack on Lebanon, and expressed displeasure to the Israeli government at any hint they may talk (the "t" word) to Syria.
7. Failure to improve relations with Russia. George Bush was satisfied to understand Russia by looking into Vladimir Putin's eyes and observing his soul. He declared he could work with him. He didn't. Relations with Russia are regressing to cold war status.
8. Failure to learn the lesson of his one success. Libya's renunciation of WMD, that occurred when the Bush Administration actually negotiated with Qaddafi, and dropped the demand that Qaddafi turn over several high-ranking government officials who were likely involved with the PanAm 103 hijacking and murder. Although not a perfect outcome, it was superior to Qaddafi's acquiring WMD himself, a path he was on with the help of the Pakistanis.
To achieve this one success, Bush had to abandon his absolutist position that he held with respect to all the other sponsors of terrorism. To some extent, his failure even to attempt to repeat this success with other regimes, indeed his opposition to it, is even more egregious when he had his own positive outcome as an example.
George W Bush broke faith with the American people and with American values. He violated his oath of office by failing to faithfully execute the laws, and by undermining--instead of preserving, protecting and defending--the Constitution of the United States.
1. Bush took the country to war, that most solemn act, by lying to the Congress and to the American people about the level of certainty of Iraq's WMD, thereby violating a law (lying to Congress) and undermining an essential element of democracy, knowledge of the people.
2. Bush did not permit the UN inspectors to complete their job. Not only had the UN been conducting intrusive inspections, and thus had Saddam back on his heels, they were destroying on a daily basis some missiles that were in technical violation of distance capabilities that he had agreed with the UN.
3. Bush arrogated to himself powers never contemplated by the Constitution, arguing that in wartime the president's powers are absolute, and then claiming, through his lackey Gonzales, that the war authorization to combat terrorism provided him unlimited power.
4. Bush abrogated treaty obligations at will, claiming for example that the Geneva Conventions were "quaint".
5. Bush authorized torture, and rendition of suspected terrorists to countries they knew would torture.
6. Bush conducted domestic spying beyond the powers provided under FISA even as amended.
7. Bush used 'signing statements' to avoid faithfully executing the law, and instead only that portion of it that he wanted.
8. Bush lied to the American people about his knowledge of the outing of Valerie Plame, and lied about what he would do when those involved were discovered.
9. By outing Valerie Plame, who was engaged in counterintelligence operations regarding Iran's WMD, Bush (or Cheney, or both) provided aid-and-comfort to enemies of the United States.
10. By commuting Scooter Libby's sentence prior to his serving even one day in jail for perjury and obstruction of justice, Bush suppressed the investigation of the Valerie Plame outing, and thus obstructed justice himself.
11. Bush politicized the Justice Department of the United States so as to undermine its essential role of providing equal justice under the law.
12. Bush made broad and unsupportable claims of executive privilege to enable him, and members of his Administration, to avoid accountability for their actions.
13. If Barack Obama is elected president of the United States in November, George W Bush may well pardon Dick Cheney on January 19, 2009, and then resign. Dick Cheney will then become president-for-a-day, and issue scores of pardons to members and former members of the Bush Administration who have not been charged, including "former" President George W Bush himself.
Winston Churchill described the 1930s in Britain as "years the locusts have eaten". Those words are more apt for the United States in the first 8 years of the 21st Century under George W Bush.
And yet, we have only ourselves to blame--we let it happen.