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Mallon writes: "A new biography exposes the mysterious confidence behind George W. Bush's greatest failures."

George W. Bush speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in 2008. (photo: National Journal)
George W. Bush speaks from the South Lawn of the White House in 2008. (photo: National Journal)


How Bad Can a President Be? Behind George W. Bush's Greatest Failures

By Thomas Mallon, The New Yorker

01 July 16

 

ean Edward Smith’s biography of George W. Bush goes on sale a day before the former President’s seventieth birthday, and it’s safe to say that no one will be bringing it as a present to the ranch outside Crawford. Smith, a well-regarded practitioner of military history and Presidential-life writing, comes straight to the point in the first sentence of his preface: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” By the book’s last sentence, Smith is predicting a long debate over whether Bush “was the worst president in American history,” and while the biographer doesn’t vote on the question himself, the unhappy shade of James Buchanan will feel strongly encouraged by his more than six hundred pages.

And yet, for all the overheated denunciations—a rhetorical comparison gets made between Bush and Hitler—“Bush” (Simon & Schuster) doesn’t feel like a hatchet job. Like Bush himself, it is susceptible to sudden changes of heart and tone, and it never quite gets over a sense of loss for aspects of the pre-9/11 figure that Smith seems to enjoy imagining, however sketchily, in the book’s early stages.

The writer certainly doesn’t revile the compassionately conservative candidate of 2000. Bush may have permitted some brutal staff maneuvers against John McCain, but the campaign that Smith re-creates is mostly distinguished for eschewing “Nixon’s classic formula of running to the right in the primaries and then moving back to the center for the general election.” Making plans to govern “as the nation’s C.E.O.,” Bush disavowed nation-building abroad and put forward an agenda almost entirely focussed on what no one yet called the homeland. By Smith’s reckoning, Bush ran a better campaign, and then a better recount, than his opponent. If the author favors the dissent in Bush v. Gore, he never questions Bush’s legitimacy or lets up on the unappetizing aspects of his opponent, from Gore’s inclination toward “résumé enhancement” to his pompous debating demeanor. (Four years later, in his first duel with John Kerry, a charmless, impatient Bush seemed almost fatefully infected with a variant of Gore’s earlier boorishness.)

Smith points out that Bush attended no meetings of the National Security Council in the seven months prior to September 11, 2001. In her reports on these gatherings, Condoleezza Rice—Bush’s national-security adviser, workout partner, and something of an alter ego—tended to synthesize disagreements among the participants, leaving Bush with a false feeling of consensus. The President’s own focus was chiefly on matters like stem-cell-research regulation and the sort of educational reforms he had pushed through a Democratic legislature as governor of Texas. On the morning of 9/11, Laura Bush was in Ted Kennedy’s Senate office, having come to testify for the No Child Left Behind Act; the White House she returned to later that day was a wholly different place, a domestic cruise ship that had become an aircraft carrier.

In Smith’s view, the military and moral calamities began right then. If he is moderately critical of the President for being “asleep at the switch” in the period before the terrorist attacks—Bush felt no particular alarm when an August 6th C.I.A. briefing indicated that Osama bin Laden was up to at least something—the biographer is simply aghast once Bush seizes the controls. Within three days of September 11th, he says, the President had acquired a “boundless” confidence that put the country on a “permanent war footing” and the White House into a “hothouse climate of the President’s certitude.”

The war in Afghanistan, whose necessity Barack Obama insisted on in 2008 and beyond, is deemed by Smith to be scarcely more justifiable than the later one in Iraq: both are “disastrous wars of aggression.” In an earlier book, Smith found the Gulf War fought under George H. W. Bush to be uncalled for as well, and here he seems comfortable making a distinction that holds the September 11th attacks to have been “tragic, but scarcely catastrophic.” The younger Bush’s with-us-or-against-us assertion in his September 20, 2001, speech to Congress (“Any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime”) was in some respects only an amplification of what Bill Clinton had stated three years before (“Countries that persistently host terrorists have no right to be safe havens”), but Smith reads it as “a serious overstatement.” Maybe so, but his chapter “Toppling the Taliban” might have more revisionist force if it weren’t deployed with so many overstatements of its own: “Within a month [of September 11th], the United States had lost world sympathy.”

In another anti-superlative, Smith suspects that the invasion of Iraq will “likely go down in history as the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.” The thirteen-year legacy of “preëmption” makes this a hard prophecy to counter, and Smith’s well-ordered scenes on the subject—Paul Wolfowitz pushing for war against Saddam on September 12th, just as he’d been pushing for it in April—do dismaying work. James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, the wise men of his father’s Administration, tell Bush to go slowly or not at all, but George Tenet, the holdover C.I.A. director from the Clinton years, assures him that convincing the public of the need to invade Iraq over W.M.D.s will be a “slam dunk.” As persuasively as anyone before him, Smith presents a strong story of how a successful military mission quickly unaccomplished itself; turned into quite something else (“the United States was going to bring democracy to the country”); and then festered into what Donald Rumsfeld himself, in his memoirs, judged to be “a long and heavy-handed occupation.”

The dark thread of Smith’s book is what he calls the “torture trail” of rendition and enhanced interrogation and prisoner abuse, a pathway perhaps made inevitable when Bush, after 9/11, “elevated the terrorists to the status of belligerents” but not combatants. Smith pays devastating attention to how the military figures around the President argued strenuously against behaviors that could be construed as violations of the Geneva Conventions. Generals Tommy Franks and Richard Myers, along with Secretary of State and retired General Colin Powell, insisted that, regardless of the casuistic memos coming out of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, any skirting of international law put American fighters at a retaliatory risk of the same treatment. In 2005, John McCain, who had been brutalized by his North Vietnamese captors four decades earlier, shepherded an “anti-torture amendment” through Congress over the Administration’s energetic opposition; after an apparent reconciliation, Bush insulted McCain not with a veto but with a signing statement that made clear he would interpret the amendment however he liked. Military men—Grant, Eisenhower, General Lucius Clay—have often served as Smith’s subjects, and his scorn for the modern-day civilian “chicken hawks” is so strong that he chooses this quotation from General H. Norman Schwarzkopf for a chapter epigraph: “After Vietnam we had a whole cottage industry develop, centered in Washington, D.C., that consisted of a bunch of military fairies that had never been shot at in anger.”

It may have been Vice-President Dick Cheney who first advocated military commissions instead of civilian trials for captured terrorists, and it may have been the N.S.A. director Michael Hayden who urged going to “the edge,” but each step through this dank basement resulted not from “decisions made by Cheney, Tenet, Rumsfeld, or the military. They were direct decisions of the president.” Bush relished the speed with which he made them, and gave himself the title of the Decider. Smith’s post-9/11 Bush is both doubt-free and indubitable, a man who effected the “personalization of the war on terror” and of Presidential power in general.

But where is the personality of this personalizer? How does a man whom Smith scarcely describes come to work such a mighty will over appointee after appointee and agency after agency? Where, in short, is the Bush in “Bush”?

Smith may have the Carlylean sense that history is shaped more by the decisions of individuals than by the large movements of social forces, but he is fundamentally more a historian than he is a biographer, and much more comfortable when his current subject is holding a meeting in the Roosevelt Room than when he is riding his off-road Trek bicycle. The author’s disinclination toward the private and the psychological leaves a reader of “Bush” wondering exactly when and how an “unnerving level of certitude” took hold of the title figure. If no President “since Woodrow Wilson has . . . so firmly believed that he was the instrument of God’s will,” just how did the messianic annunciation take place? Smith says that, shortly after 9/11, James Merritt, once president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Bush, “God knew that you would be sitting in that chair before the world was ever created.” But lots of pastors tell lots of Presidents lots of things, and most devout Christians believe what Merritt said about whatever chair they sit in.

After covering the failure to find W.M.D.s in Iraq, Smith compares the President to Captain Queeg for displaying “a willfulness that borders on psychosis.” If Bush is going to earn the comparison, his biographer needs to do a better job of demonstrating how he travelled what would have been a long road from the mind-set of his days at Harvard Business School: there, Smith says, he was merely “energetic, but ill-informed, untutored, and unread.” Both of these purported Bushes are observed by Smith from an abstract and considerable distance, the biographical equivalent of Bush’s aerial assessment of Hurricane Katrina, and Smith approaches the earliest parts of the life with no more sustained attention than Bush himself approached Yale. The future President has reached the age of thirty-one—back in his childhood home of Midland, Texas, ready to make a losing run for Congress—by page 29.

Smith is not the first student of Bush to realize that he is more his mother’s son than his father’s, but readers of “Bush” don’t get to see the forging of the bond. Robin Bush, George W.’s younger sister, who died of leukemia at the age of three, comes and goes in a phrase. One has to turn to something like Pamela Kilian’s modest biography of Barbara Bush, from 1992, to learn that not long after her daughter’s death Mrs. Bush “overheard George tell a friend, ‘I can’t play today because I have to be with my mother—she’s so unhappy.’ ” He was learning to be not an overachiever but entertaining. There are still people around who can flesh out such events, but it seems that awfully few original interviews have gone into “Bush”; the book is widely but secondarily sourced, and in places could more rigorously attribute direct quotations. Bush himself did not sit down with the author.

At the bottom of Smith’s pages, one finds a great many extended, conversational footnotes. Often they are historical asides, interesting if somewhat tangential, but so numerous as to form a kind of retreat, a typographical Camp David where author and reader keep avoiding the heart of the biographical matter. One is left wondering about so many things. What Bush gained by giving up drinking—a fast, if late, career start; the chance to be a more responsible husband and father—is indisputable; but did he lose anything? Some antic part of himself, the one that once cheered a grief-stricken mother? Most important, if Bush’s faith gave him certainties that became overweening and dangerous during his Presidency, why did they not so manifest themselves while he was on the road to Damascus fifteen years earlier, or when he was inveighing against nation-building in 2000? Smith gives us a few interesting details about upstairs life in the White House during the weeks after 9/11 (the President and Laura Bush both began taking Cipro after the anthrax letters arrived at the Capitol), but it remains the work of another biography to show whatever inner transformation Smith believes occurred during that “tragic, but scarcely catastrophic” period.

Bush himself was a consumer of biography, from Marquis James’s “The Raven,” a study of the redeemed alcoholic Sam Houston, to the fourteen lives of Lincoln that he read during his eight years in the White House. Smith is aware of all this, but seems not to believe that point of view belongs to biography and not just the novel. In episode after episode of this volume, one wishes for a sustained attempt—however qualified and speculative—to imagine what Bush himself might really have been thinking, beyond the face-value quotations from his own and others’ memoirs. During the recount, was his sense of mental well-being intact or hanging like a chad? What about that walloping facial boil he developed? It was an eruption famous enough to inspire an episode of “Veep,” but it goes unmentioned in “Bush.” Smith’s book ultimately has less intimacy than such as-it-happened histories of the Administration as Peter Baker’s “Days of Fire.”

Smith’s prior works, to which he frequently refers, supply odd, handy moments of precedent and perspective. When we hear Bush arguing that John Roberts’s sunny, consensus-building temperament is an important qualification for a Chief Justice, Smith, the author of “John Marshall: Definer of a Nation,” reminds the reader that the “charm and easy manner” of Roberts’s distant predecessor may have been even more important than his intellect. In pointing out that Bush served as head cheerleader at his prep school, he notes that this “was something of a leadership position at Andover”—phrasing that the reader takes for sarcasm until Smith goes on to explain, in earnest, that Eisenhower and Reagan held the same post at West Point and Eureka College, respectively.

But history doesn’t supply psychology, and perspective is not the same as perspicacity. Smith quotes, without disagreement, Barack Obama’s courteous but manifestly untrue remark that Bush is “comfortable in his own skin.” Those who observed the President’s sudden shifts from the guy “you wanted to have a beer with” to stinging scold have realized that they were experiencing not so much changes in mood as moment-by-moment veerings between different selves, each authentic but neither integrated to any normal extent with the other. Bush’s fanatical insistence on punctuality and his ever more exacting physical-fitness routines seem less a matter of self-discipline than of self-control, which is something different and more desperate. His habitually early bedtime may have derived from how exhausting he found it to be himself.

The years 2005 and 2006 were Bush’s anni horribiles, the period that included the worst of the insurgency in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and an off-year electoral “thumping”—Bush’s word—that turned both houses of Congress over to the Democrats. (Full, defensive disclosure: I served during some of this period as deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, where, “Brownie” aside, we did a heckuva job getting small emergency grants to cultural institutions on the Gulf Coast.) But the second term began with Bush playing offense on all fronts: his Inaugural Address on January 20, 2005, proclaimed it to be “the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” Two weeks later, he gave a State of the Union address that returned the emphasis to domestic initiatives that he had had to defer since September, 2001: he intended to transform Social Security through private retirement accounts, and he would liberalize immigration policy. “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande,” he had liked saying in 2000, the sentiment an oratorical forerunner to his brother Jeb’s characterization of the “act of love” that motivates people to cross the border.

“Bush was reaching for the stars,” Smith writes. “His foreign policy aim was to spread democracy throughout the world, his domestic goal was to enshrine individual choice. The common denominator was personal liberty.” Having won the second term his father lost, he had the “vision thing” that his father didn’t, and Smith is aware of it. The author could have made Bush’s international AIDS initiative, which ultimately directed tens of billions of dollars abroad, into a grudging footnote, but he instead gives a full chapter to what he calls “an amazing achievement,” perhaps the most lasting one of the Bush Presidency.

Immigration and Social Security, however, came to naught, in large measure because of Hurricane Katrina. “Politically, [Bush] could never recover” from his slowness off the mark, Smith says; his perceived indifference hurt him more in the second term than the perception of illegitimacy had hobbled him in the first. He could not have been unaware that his Presidency was floating away, and that Iraq appeared ready to end not in a muddle but in a rout. Smith quotes Karen Hughes, one of the “Iron Triangle” of aides Bush brought with him from Texas to the White House in 2001: “He felt really strongly that it was his sheer force of will that was holding the line between winning and losing the war. That everybody else was ready to abandon it.” Bush had to persuade Rice, who had become the Secretary of State, to overcome her doubts about the five-brigade “surge” that eventually reversed the slide. In ordering the change, he told the skeptical Joint Chiefs of Staff, “I am the President”—a reminder that they had been out of the chain of command since 1986. The surge seems to be the only military decision by Bush that Smith half approves of, via a kind of mathematical paradox: “The fact that the surge was not solely responsible for the decline in violence in Iraq in no way diminishes its importance. By coinciding with the decline it provided Bush with a rationale for beginning the drawdown of American forces.”

Iraq’s greater stability probably allowed Bush to get through the 2008 financial crisis as well as he did. Smith faults him for a slow, Katrina-style response to the subprime-mortgage collapse, but sees him taking command in time to push the TARP bill through Congress on its second try: “If we’re really looking at another Great Depression,” he said, “you can be damn sure I’m going to be Roosevelt, not Hoover.” He was by now “very much alone” in a White House devoid of stalwarts and familiar faces; the relationship with Cheney, even before their falling out over the President’s refusal to pardon I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby for his part in the Valerie Plame affair, wasn’t what it used to be. Smith, offering a supreme irony, or maybe just a supreme concession, says that Bush, albeit ferociously unpopular, was at last, in 2008, “growing into the job.”

George W. Bush was absent from the 2008 Republican Convention, to the pleasure of his would-be successor, John McCain, who experienced a moment of luck in the form of Gustav, another hurricane. The Republicans cancelled the Convention session for which Bush’s and Cheney’s in-person appearances were scheduled; the assemblage in St. Paul, Minnesota, was hardly threatened by the storm, but McCain took the opportunity to show the voters how quick­­ly he could get down to the Gulf Coast.

Three weeks from now, Bush will once more be absent, as the Republicans convene in Cleveland to nominate the man who steamrolled the former President’s “low-energy” brother. One strength of Smith’s biography is the way it makes the reader continually consider whether the foreign overreachings of the forty-third President will prove more lastingly harmful to the country and to the world than the underreachings of the forty-fourth, but that is not a matter that will be on the Republicans’ mind this July. They will be gathering for a political Jonestown, pledging to help elect as the next Commander-in-Chief a man who insists that a protester who rushed the platform from which he spoke last March had “ties to ISIS.” (He knows because it was “on the Internet.”) Bush will perhaps be at his Crawford ranch, maybe even painting one of his odd, Hockneyesque canvases. They glow not with faraway fires or any particular certitude, just a sort of opaque serenity, something that may at last have descended on a man no longer obligated to see past the fence.

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-42 # DogSoldier 2016-07-01 09:12
Unfortunately for the rest of us, I'm predicting that Bush's worst rating is not going to last much longer. Hillary Clinton will be an order of magnitude worse. She, who never met a war she didn't like, will double down on Bush's middle eastern disasters. Clinton thinks that war and the threat of war are the tools of diplomacy, and unlike her predecessors will not avoid antagonizing Russia and China, who will fight back if threatened. Unfortunately, there may not be not be anyone left to complain about her failed presidency.
 
 
-20 # nice2bgreat 2016-07-01 09:33
Quoting crzkat:
I'm predicting that Bush's worst rating is not going to last much longer. Hillary Clinton will be an order of magnitude worse.

Revisionist historians will always muddy the water against holding corporatist politicians accountable or to blame.

The Democratic Party is on continuous mode in defending -- through sophistry and specious excuses -- their representatives and favored candidates.

The Republican boogeyman and their industry financiers are always to blame, and "there was no other way", regarding strategy and effort, because of "political realities".

There are people who will point out truth, but the Party apparatchik as a matter of course, and their operatives in the media and organizational hierarchies will mount permanent defenses and their own narratives.
.
 
 
+31 # Skyelav 2016-07-01 10:15
Yes siree. Politics as usual - all designed to keep the masses from revolting.
 
 
-22 # ronjazz 2016-07-01 11:55
Quoting nice2bgreat:
Quoting crzkat:
I'm predicting that Bush's worst rating is not going to last much longer. Hillary Clinton will be an order of magnitude worse.

Revisionist historians will always muddy the water against holding corporatist politicians accountable or to blame.

The Democratic Party is on continuous mode in defending -- through sophistry and specious excuses -- their representatives and favored candidates.

The Republican boogeyman and their industry financiers are always to blame, and "there was no other way", regarding strategy and effort, because of "political realities".

There are people who will point out truth, but the Party apparatchik as a matter of course, and their operatives in the media and organizational hierarchies will mount permanent defenses and their own narratives.
.


Idiotic bullshit.
 
 
-5 # Magginkat 2016-07-03 06:20
I know that you realize that you are talking to a bunch of Fox/conservativ e BS, Ronjazz. Here's something to throw at the moronic Hillary haters. Of course this article might be way over their heads: The most thorough, profound and moving defense of Hillary Clinton I have ever seen.
http://bit.ly/263um9m
 
 
-5 # Magginkat 2016-07-03 06:23
Ooops left out a word or two. The first sentence should read:

I know that you realize that you are talking to a bunch of Fox/conservativ e BS brainwashed fools, Ronjazz.
 
 
+4 # fuzzbuzz 2016-07-04 11:14
That's a terrible, terrible "defence" by the way. I've actually read it. Nothing logical in there whatsoever. Only the argument that "Hillary isn't so bad, so and so is worse". ("Hillary receiving money from Goldman isn't bad, because Trump received more", "Hillary changing her stance isn't bad, all politicians do it", "Hillary divulging state secrets isn't bad, Petraeus divulged even more"), then generally calling anyone against Hillary "sexist".

Terrible logic, purely appealing to emotions
 
 
+61 # MsAnnaNOLA 2016-07-01 09:35
Bush cabinet is endorsing Hillary. Enough said.
 
 
+20 # Barbara K 2016-07-01 10:40
At least they are not backing Trump.

..
 
 
+34 # futhark 2016-07-01 12:21
Quoting Barbara K:
At least they are not backing Trump.

..


Barbara K, I think you are missing the point MsAnnaNOLA is making. Does it make Ms. Clinton's candidacy any more palatable to have virtually all the PNAC neocons endorsing and/or supporting her? Would it be to Mr. Trump's credit to have this gang of thugs behind him instead?
 
 
+17 # Billy Bob 2016-07-01 20:03
They're not backing Trump because Trump would be an improvement over President Cheney.

They back Clinton because they have so much in common!

You'd be defending Bush too, if he'd run as a Democrat.
 
 
+5 # fuzzbuzz 2016-07-04 11:19
Ah yes, the argument of "at least it's not Trump". No logic or reason whatsoever.

People like Barbara K are the perfect example of how the "lesser of two evils" trick works. You can get these people to vote their life away, as long as you show them a bogeyman to scare them into making them think "at least it's not the other guy".
We then high-five each other and pat ourselves on the back for "defeating evil" with "our super awesome IQ of 178".

That's what happens when people stop thinking critically, unfortunately.
 
 
-16 # ronjazz 2016-07-01 11:54
Quoting crzkat:
Unfortunately for the rest of us, I'm predicting that Bush's worst rating is not going to last much longer. Hillary Clinton will be an order of magnitude worse. She, who never met a war she didn't like, will double down on Bush's middle eastern disasters. Clinton thinks that war and the threat of war are the tools of diplomacy, and unlike her predecessors will not avoid antagonizing Russia and China, who will fight back if threatened. Unfortunately, there may not be not be anyone left to complain about her failed presidency.


You're an idiot, there is absolutely no proof of your spurious and ridiculous allegations and opinions.
 
 
+28 # grandlakeguy 2016-07-01 12:00
ronjazz, you obviously know NOTHING of Hillary's record.
Do some research and then come back to comment with some factual history under your belt!
 
 
+6 # CL38 2016-07-02 12:42
ronisalljazzedu poverclinton
 
 
+21 # grandlakeguy 2016-07-01 11:59
I have to agree with crzkat!
HRC is a dangerous hawk and considering her hideous history of foreign policy debacles she should never be allowed anywhere near a position of power ever again!
 
 
+21 # ligonlaw 2016-07-01 12:07
Quoting crzkat:
Unfortunately for the rest of us, I'm predicting that Bush's worst rating is not going to last much longer. Hillary Clinton will be an order of magnitude worse.

Hillary spent 8 years as first lady in the White House, served as a popular Senator from New York and has served well as Secretary of State She comes to the office better prepared than most, and a great deal better prepared than George W. Bush, who was a drunk and a coke-snorting playboy until he was 40. His intellectual deficiencies were exacerbated by his lack of interest in the subject matter of government. The prediction that Mrs. Clinton will fail sounds like the same prediction made 8 years ago when right-wingers prayed that the United States would crash and burn under President Obama. The fervent hope that a leader will destroy our country is the new religion of the right. The right hates the rest of the country so much they lay the groundwork for failure whenever possible. The right has echoed the desire that the United States would be destroyed by centrist or left-center leadership so often they sound like pawns of ISIS.
 
 
+9 # grandlakeguy 2016-07-02 17:20
ligonlaw,
The problem with HRC is not that she does not have experience it is that she has terrible judgement!
Here are three great examples:
1) her prominent role in destroying Libya, causing the deaths of untold tens of thousands of innocents and turning that country into a haven for Isis.
2) Honduras, more of the same as example one less the Isis component.
3) Her initial position on the TPP: "It is the Gold Standard of Trade Agreements!" While she sings a different tune now only a fool would believe that she would not wholeheartedly support it in the future if America and the world is unfortunate enough to see her become POTUS!
She is, after all, a totally owned employee of Wall Street and corporate interests. She will do as told by those who paid for her campaign.
 
 
-1 # ericlipps 2016-07-02 06:33
Quoting crzkat:
Unfortunately for the rest of us, I'm predicting that Bush's worst rating is not going to last much longer. Hillary Clinton will be an order of magnitude worse. She, who never met a war she didn't like, will double down on Bush's middle eastern disasters. Clinton thinks that war and the threat of war are the tools of diplomacy, and unlike her predecessors will not avoid antagonizing Russia and China, who will fight back if threatened. Unfortunately, there may not be not be anyone left to complain about her failed presidency.

I can't decide whether this post is merely viciously prejudiced or actively hopeful that Clinton will ruin herself as president so that all those bitter Bernieites out there can say, "We told you so."

Let me make a prediction: there will not be, as crzkat seems to expect, a nuclear war with Russia and/or China on the second President Clinton's watch (assuming, of course, that she is elected). There will, in fact, be no war at all with either of these countries. But if war comes twenty, thirty or forty years from now, there will be present-day Clinton-haters still alive who will blame it on Hillary.
 
 
-3 # AshamedAmerican 2016-07-02 12:10
Not sure why you are getting all the thumbs down, crzkat. I agree with you except on one point: she will not be the first to antagonize Russia and China. Obama is certainly already on that. And he is not the first. I would also add that Obama has already proven worse than BushII
 
 
-4 # reiverpacific 2016-07-03 10:28
Quoting AshamedAmerican:
Not sure why you are getting all the thumbs down, crzkat. I agree with you except on one point: she will not be the first to antagonize Russia and China. Obama is certainly already on that. And he is not the first. I would also add that Obama has already proven worse than BushII


Stupid and vindictive!
 
 
+3 # AshamedAmerican 2016-07-03 21:13
How so? No one did anything to me personally, so it cannot be vindictive.
Sentence 1 was sympathetic toward crzkat. #2 & 3 are factual as they both correctly blame Obama for antagonizing Russia and China. 4 claims that others have antagonized Russia and China before Obama. Is it number 5 that you claim is stupid. Are not all of Obama's wars etc. worse than Bushs'?

Do you want to explain or are you becoming a rocback and lights' equivalent?
 
 
-2 # RMF 2016-07-02 15:59
No matter how bad a President Hillary may become, there is no way she could be "an order of magnitude worse" than W. This is at least partly true because the people will not now support a hostile invasion of a foreign nation on the scale of the Iraq War. They see what a mistake it was, and will not stand by silently in the face of similar aggressive military action.
 
 
+4 # fuzzbuzz 2016-07-04 11:22
..until they create another "catalyst" to change public opinion.

No one wanted more middle east wars until 9-11
 
 
+92 # reiverpacific 2016-07-01 10:01
“Bush was reaching for the stars,” Smith writes. “His foreign policy aim was to spread democracy throughout the world, his domestic goal was to enshrine individual choice. The common denominator was personal liberty.”
If anybody believes THAT, well, I've still got some of the original Winnie-the-Pooh books from my childhood that may appeal.
 
 
+51 # Skyelav 2016-07-01 10:25
Obviously no matter what this writer says and the New Yorker writer as well, no one much seems to get Bush. A juvenile drug pusher into his twenties -I have this on good faith that he was actually busted in Houston (possession with intent) - a frat boy alcoholic, put into office because they couldn't really find anything else to keep him out of their hair, and then president! Bush, the pawn of the war mongering right wing and of late the left and its monstrous candidate(s), trotting along behind everyone in the cabinet, especially Uncle Dick, the CEOs, and Laura (who was also rustling up the twins), can't really be seriously considered any kind of president at all. The country was being run by these folks I just mentioned as was Reagan's by Nancy et al, and Wilson's wife etc etc. Best we all just remember him as "Junior" or better yet, forget him completely and start worrying about the real enemies all around us. I'm afraid this book has other authors behind the message.
 
 
+45 # Trish42 2016-07-01 10:33
Yes, a Hillary presidency scares the hell out of me for foreign policy---until I look at what might happen militarily and domestically with Trump. I still remember all those people in 2000 who said there was no difference between Gore & Bush. Wonder what they're saying now....
 
 
-4 # shraeve 2016-07-01 11:38
G.W. Bush was not the worst US President. That title goes to racist Andrew Jackson, the closest thing we have ever had to Hitler.
 
 
+17 # reiverpacific 2016-07-01 14:26
Quoting shraeve:
G.W. Bush was not the worst US President. That title goes to racist Andrew Jackson, the closest thing we have ever had to Hitler.


I think that spurious title means in the twentieth and twenty first centuries.
But if Drumpf (Gawd forbid) gets the nod, we might see worse!
 
 
+25 # Ken Halt 2016-07-01 19:47
shraeve: Yes, you're acquainted his history, and he was a terrible prez. He was a 19th century military hero filled with braggadoccio,an d an unrepentant slave owner. His racism was the direct cause of the "Trail of Tears", the displacement of the AmerIndian Cherokee nation to Oklahoma from their ancestral homeland in Georgia, even after the SCOTUS decision that gave them victory in their fight to stay on the land. Given this sad history, let us weigh his inadequacies against those of GW, on whose watch the 911 attack occurred, who maneuvered the US into feckless wars designed to create business opportunities for US oil companies, these wars costing thousands of US lives, millions of Iraqi and Afghani lives, and trillions in US resources that could have been used for social programs in the US such as universal healthcare. Continuing the neolib and neocon policies of his predecessors, he accelerated the push for deregulation of financial markets and trade, leading to the 2008 recession, from which the we are still digging ourselves out. They were both astoundingly bad, why don't we nominate Jackson as worst 19th century president and GW as worst prez of the 21st century?
 
 
+28 # hereandnow 2016-07-01 11:57
The night before the start of the Irak war I sat and watched a short speech on Russian television given by President Putin. He was livid and the speech was about the impending begin of the invasion of Irak. He said that this coming illegal invasion of a sovereign naiton would turn out to be one of the worst political decisions ever made. In retrospect he was 100% correct. That invasion and the subsequent disbanding of Saddam's military gave rise to ISIS and other Islamic groups operating in Irak, Syria and across the entire islamic world. Heckuva job!
Remember that the leaders of France, Germany and the RF were totally against the invasion and destruction of Irak.
One can only wonder if democracy is a good thing when people like G.W. are given the control over large militaries.
Now with the NATO trying to provoke a hot war with the RF one has to wonder if the current president is any better ... what could he possibly be thinking? And then there is the choice between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump. I am sorry but I think that Ms. Clinton is a poor choice as she will probably increase the tensions with the RF and China. As for Trump, who knows what he will be like, probably also bad. Aren't there any politicians in that huge population of the US who understand the complexities of the world? Because as bad as W was, the two candidates for the next Presidency could well end up being not only worse, but the last President of the US.
 
 
+29 # economagic 2016-07-01 12:15
My ongoing point, that few people seem to get, is that we cannot know in advance which candidate would lead to a bigger disaster if declared president, AND WE NEVER WILL, because only one of them (at most) will become president in January, 2017.

Persons declaring that either Trump or Clinton is the lesser evil as a matter of fact, as opposed to opinion, are dealing on the basis not of reason but of faith (their Belief System). They are entitled to their opinions, and I am entitled to ignore them when they claim that their opinions are established fact before the fact has occurred.

Note that I do not say "if elected," as there are serious questions in many people's minds (Bob Fitrakis for one, Greg Palast for another) whether any president has unequivocally been elected to office since 1996.
 
 
-3 # RMF 2016-07-02 16:07
Not questioning your logic, but if we preclude throwing darts at an election-choice board to make voting decisions, we are left with only one alternative -- the words spoken and policies advocated by candidates. In this respect, it's clear Hillary comes out on top. Put another way, ex ante we voters must assess intended policies -- ex post is for the historians.
 
 
+5 # AshamedAmerican 2016-07-02 21:09
Nope. The better alternative is to assess by their records.
 
 
+4 # fuzzbuzz 2016-07-04 11:25
Quoting AshamedAmerican:
Nope. The better alternative is to assess by their records.


Agreed. Their words (whether "good words" like Clinton's, or "bad words" like Trump's) can't be taken at face value.
 
 
+42 # futhark 2016-07-01 12:42
Mr. Bush intentionally violated the principles of international relations established by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ending the Thirty Years' War in Europe. These principles include mutual respect for the territorial integrity of sovereign nation states with recognized borders and non-interferenc e with their internal affairs.

No real case could be made that anything going on in Iraq was a tangible threat to the United States. The vaunted Weapons of Mass Destruction are now known to be products of neocon wishful thinking. Indeed, Mr. Bush himself amply demonstrated his disbelief in their existence by concentrating troops and war materiel in Kuwait, just across the border from Iraq in the weeks and months prior to the invasion, where they would have been optimally placed as targets for any chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons Saddam Hussein may have possessed.

I am definitely with Jesse Ventura and others who call for Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Miss Rice, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz, and other PNAC neocons who held office in the Bush administration to stand trial at the International Criminal Court at the Hague for war crimes. A high priority of the incoming administration ought to be for American ratification of the Rome Statute empowering this court. The United States was a signatory to the Statute, but it has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
 
 
+17 # Ken Halt 2016-07-01 20:07
fut: You have clearly laid out the problems with the Bush admin rush to war. The people you name are war criminals, and I look forward to the day they will be brought before the Int'l Court of Justice and condemned to rot for the rest of their lives in jail. That said, we have a presidential contender who voted in favor of the GW war powers act, in spite of the obvious lies and misinformation dispensed by a corrupt admin. This betrayal of Senator Clinton's responsibility to weigh important matters and vote in the best interest of the US public is the main reason I can never vote for her in a general election. I knew the GW admin was lying, view the Bernie Sanders video on Youtube explaining his opposition, he knew they were lying, so how is it that the vaunted HRC intellect could not connect the dots? HRC is a fraud, an acknowledged agent of the deep state oligarchy who will say and do anything her masters want.
 
 
+7 # indian weaver 2016-07-01 19:59
"Now with the NATO trying to provoke a hot war with the RF one has to wonder if the current president is any better ... what could he possibly be thinking?"

I agree. Obama is every bit the terrorist as is dubya and dick, but in a different outfit, different cast, different location, same script. I see that Obama is usually given a pass on his own torture and terrorism lawlessness and horror show. After all, Obama bombed the Kunduz hospital, fed the Saudis all the bombs they want so they could bomb 2 more hospitals in Yemen, and here we have Obama, the vapid coward who has never faced death in the face, that is typing on his play station in the Black House basement, ripping to shreds 100s of innocent people, nay 1000s, worldwide with his drones. How can Obama be figured any better than dubya is beyond me. Obama is in the Class with the War Criminals, and he's just as big a star as dubya and dick. Slimy lying fucking coward, the worst. And I voted for him twice. I'll never again vote Democrat or Republic. I'm voting for myself, the closest person to sane I know. God help the country, but I hope God does not help Obama, Dubya, Dick, Rumfeld, Rice, both Clintons, ...
 
 
+5 # AshamedAmerican 2016-07-02 12:37
You are correct, hereandnow.

Obama is continuing our rulers' quest for world domination.

And many levels of systemic corruption prevent any potential politician from gaining the power to as much as point out the complexities of the world.
 
 
+8 # pagrad 2016-07-01 11:58
The closest thing would be Trump.
But, he is not President of anything.
 
 
+27 # grandlakeguy 2016-07-01 12:01
After Bush the first
we got...
Bush the worst!
 
 
+1 # vilstef 2016-07-01 17:55
We have two bad choices.

If it isn't clear that serial liar and narcissist in chief Dumbf is the worst choice, where have you been the past year?
 
 
+12 # indian weaver 2016-07-01 20:02
Hard to say about that, really. Trump is just more flamboyant, knows how to act the part, whether he can play it is another thing. We don't know "who is the most evil"! And we don't want to find out.
 
 
-9 # jpmarat 2016-07-01 12:41
RSN could provide an article on the death count attributed to Genghis Khan and the Commenters with mommy issues would bleat, "Hillary is worse!" Yes, she is pretty bad, but compared to most politicians of her era, she does fairly well. We don't get to elect with our individual vote an infantile, narcissistic hologram of our imagined selves, our self delusions. I think the comments here should focus on the issue of Pathological Certainty, perhaps a defensive, elitist, and religious issue with JR, certainly a monumental threat with Trump. Young Trump was rich & handsome. People who wanted stuff from him treated him like a god. I think the Greeks would have an explanation, however non empirical.
 
 
+14 # dsepeczi 2016-07-01 13:52
Quoting jpmarat:
RSN could provide an article on the death count attributed to Genghis Khan and the Commenters with mommy issues would bleat, "Hillary is worse!"


Your commentary here is as insulting as it is uninformed. Mommy issues ? Have you not read a single thing that any of us have been warning about with regards to Clinton ? Your blind loyalty to the democratic party even though it abandoned you and all the rest of us more than 3 decades ago is quite alarming, as it displays just how successful the propaganda can be. Bush was absolutely horrible. His biggest failure ? Iraq. Why ? Because it took down the leader of a sovereign nation and opened the doors for a terrorist takeover of the region. On this, you likely would agree with me. Yet, if I were to point out that Obama/Hillary have done equal, if not worse, damage by enacting more "regime change" in Libya and Ukraine, while also trying to do the same in Syria ... all of which has achieved the exact same results, then you'd go on the attack. I hold her foreign policy and her true TPP stance as the worst of many issues with Hillary Clinton. None of my issues with her have anything to do with my sweet mother. They have to do with a historical analysis of where voting for the LOTE has gotten us so far and the realization that the only way things will change is when we force that change by making a third party viable. That's why I'm voting for Jill Stein who, for the record, is also a woman.
 
 
+6 # grandlakeguy 2016-07-02 18:51
Look up the war and death count of Jimmie Carter.
He was of our era and killed no one!
 
 
+1 # reiverpacific 2016-07-03 10:39
Quoting jpmarat:
RSN could provide an article on the death count attributed to Genghis Khan and the Commenters with mommy issues would bleat, "Hillary is worse!" Yes, she is pretty bad, but compared to most politicians of her era, she does fairly well. We don't get to elect with our individual vote an infantile, narcissistic hologram of our imagined selves, our self delusions. I think the comments here should focus on the issue of Pathological Certainty, perhaps a defensive, elitist, and religious issue with JR, certainly a monumental threat with Trump. Young Trump was rich & handsome. People who wanted stuff from him treated him like a god. I think the Greeks would have an explanation, however non empirical.


You may have inadvertently hinted at the reason Drumpf got so many votes; the wannabe's who have to exist in large numbers within a shallow-value, capitalist-driv en social system such as the US.
I just had a Facebook friend from Scotland write "Every time I see Donald Trump, I have to wonder about the US education system."
 
 
+4 # Robbee 2016-07-01 13:35
nuns don't kill people! - texans kill people!
 
 
+22 # RMDC 2016-07-01 15:10
If you find videos of the Second Innaugural, take a look at the shots of the parade down constitution avenue. That's me holding up the huge sign "Worst President Ever." I still think he will be the worst president the US ever had. Hillary and Obama are terrible but they will be better than Bush. At least the two of them have brains. Bush was a burned out drunk and a coke head.

I talked to someone recently who spent a week as in intern in the Bush White House. The thing that shocked him most was Laura Bush chain smoking cigarettes and Bush pounding down beers. The two never changed, though they kept the images clean.

But the real thing was that Bush was just stupid, stupider than Reagan. He was totally incurious. He just did not care about anything having to do with him job. He was content to ride his bike and exercise and watch TV.
 
 
+7 # DogSoldier 2016-07-01 16:58
He was never meant to be anything other a talking head, same with Reagan. In fact, the exact same crew that decided Reagan's policies, decided Bush's. They just changed their positions around. Whether or not, he maintains his position as worst president ever depends on whether you include all the Presidents, if you do as was mentioned above Andrew Jackson a racist, murderous, drunken, madman, pirate takes the honors, or just 20th & 21st century presidents. In any case, the party ain't over yet, and Hillary is on her way. I still think she'll beat Bush.
 
 
+7 # AshamedAmerican 2016-07-02 12:48
Yeah, RMDC, just because Obama and Clinton have brains, that does not make them less terrible. If anything, it makes them even more dangerous.
 
 
+19 # guomashi 2016-07-01 16:01
Bush was a criminal.
He violated the Iraq war resolution.
Why isn't he in jail?
 
 
+18 # vilstef 2016-07-01 17:56
Curious minds and the International Criminal Court want to know.
 
 
+17 # ericlipps 2016-07-02 06:40
Quoting guomashi:
Bush was a criminal.
He violated the Iraq war resolution.
Why isn't he in jail?

Because he's a Bush, and that family is far too wealthy and well-connected for any of its members to wind up in the slammer.
 
 
# Guest 2016-07-02 13:15
This comment has been deleted by Administrator
 
 
+10 # librarian1984 2016-07-02 13:16
"Why isn't he in jail?"

Afflu-immunity?
 
 
+1 # Patriot 2016-07-04 19:28
Excellent! Right up there with flus-trated, another great coinage.
 
 
0 # hwmcadoo 2016-07-07 15:08
The worst and I think almost tied barely beating Obama and the real worst may be next. Is this some kind of horrible contest?
 

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