Lessons to learn from the failed presidency of George W. Bush

By Harvey Fenigsohn

The majority of Americans now agree that the 43rd president indeed failed, with polls revealing that George W. Bush is the most unpopular president in modern American history. Bashing the former president is all too simple, but let’s consider what we may learn from his failures, if another George, the eminent philosopher, Santayana, was right when he said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Though numerous failures mar the Bush record, no doubt his worst was the debacle of Iraq. Deceiving the American people and Congress, Bush used his claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction to justify an unprovoked invasion with no exit strategy. At a cost of billions of dollars, Bush managed to establish Iraq as a magnet for terrorists and stain America’s reputation around the world.

We must be forever wary of any president who would use specious arguments to invade a nation posing no clear threat to our security, a president who would mislead us into a preemptive war, needlessly sacrificing 4,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of our so-called enemies. Today, though President Obama plans to withdraw all troops by the end of 2011, he refuses to use the word “victory” to describe the outcome of that unfortunate war, and few would disagree.

We can learn another lesson from the ethical failings of George W. Bush who, in supposedly fighting terrorism, sanctioned torture, including water boarding and other forms of dehumanizing brutality. The government has never demonstrated that any specific information obtained by torture was useful in combating terrorism. In addition to being illegal and immoral, such cruelty has proved to be useless, a lesson we should never forget.

Bush and his co-conspirator, Vice President Dick Cheney, may well have committed war crimes in their responsibility for the outrageous violations of human rights perpetrated at Guantanamo Bay. If ever again assigned to perform such acts, the CIA and the U.S Army must feel sure that we will support them if they refuse to carry out such unlawful and immoral orders. We must never again let a president use the pretext of national security to justify violating international law and ignore the human rights we hold sacred.

We can learn still another lesson from the failures of George Bush in how he reacted or rather failed to react to the threat of Hurricane Katrina and its catastrophic aftermath. Today, 9,000 Louisiana families continue living in trailers, acute hospitals remain closed, and many neighborhoods in the city remain in ruins. From this tragedy, we can learn that we must carefully choose a chief executive we can trust to respond decisively and humanely to any emergency.

Bush’s unwise appointments to high positions were notorious, including, Michael J. Brown, who mismanaged Katrina, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who approved the suspension of the right of habeas corpus, sanctioned warrantless wiretapping, unjustly dismissed honest U.S. Attorneys, and rationalized torture. From these botched choices, we can learn that we must elect a chief executive who selects government officials on the basis of integrity and talent, not political expediency. Some might argue that this is a lesson that has yet to be learned.

When George W. Bush took office he inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion, the strongest economy in U.S. history. Today, this country suffers the worst economic decline since The Great Depression. Though Congress, too, bears the blame for our present financial debacle, the executive branch has the responsibility of regulating the banks and the stock market, and managing the budget. Given the Bush administration’s failure to act wisely in controlling the economy, we learned that we must select a president who will never squander our treasure on a senseless war – one concerned with the economic welfare of all the people, not merely the rich and privileged.

In neglecting to make any real attempt to solve our energy crisis, and in neglecting lethal ecological threats to the environment, the former president seriously jeopardized our national security, a chilling irony given his boast that he kept us safe. Never again must be have a president who sacrifices the safely and well being of the American people for profit, failing to lead when we desperately needed his leadership.

Yes, there is much to learn from the failed presidency of George W. Bush

Leave a Reply