What President Obama can learn from “the failure” (George W. Bush)

By Harvey Fenigsohn

The majority of Americans now agree that George W. Bush – the 43’rd President of the United States – indeed failed, with polls revealing that he is the most unpopular president in modern American history. Let us consider what President Barack Obama can learn from his failures. After all, another, far more intelligent George, the great philosopher, George Santayana was right when he said; “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Numerous failures mar the Bush record, but perhaps 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 over 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. Nevertheless, 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 a president ever again dared assign the CIA and the U.S Army to perform such acts, we must assure these groups that they will never lack our support when they refuse to carry out such unlawful, 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 based on integrity and talent, not political expediency.

When George W. Bush took office, he inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion, the strongest economy in U.S. history. Today, this country has suffered the worst economic decline since The Great Depression. Though Congress, too, bears the blame for our latest economic debacle, the executive branch has the responsibility of carefully regulating the banks and the stock market, and managing the budget responsibly. We should never again elect a president who would squander our treasure on a senseless war and mismanage our economy, concerned only with the prosperity of the rich and privileged, rather than the well-being of all Americans.

In neglecting to make any real attempt to solve our energy crisis, and in ignoring grave 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 we have a president who would ignorantly and callously risk the future of the nation, failing to lead when we desperately need his leadership.

Yes, there are indeed many lessons to learn from the failed presidency of George W. Bush.

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