Friday, November 30, 2007

History Will Not Be Kind To President Bush

In twelve months, a new government will be elected in the United States. Only a few weeks later, President Bush will leave the White House and his controversial, history changing administration will come an end. Many Americans will obviously be very grateful, and happy, when that day comes.

With only 400 or so days left in power, President Bush is searching for a legacy, a final mission that will mark the end of his administration with a gleam of major success. A final peace between Israel and Palestine was one of Bush's dream, and while the Annnapolis talks currently underway may provide yet more routes on the roadmap, they are unlikely to be judged a great success.

Freedom for Iraq, and the spread of democracy across the Middle East was the key goal, according to Bush, of his two terms of presidency.

Bush will leave the White House with Iraq and the Middle East in a state of chaos. The early histories will claim that Bush failed to bring a lasting peace to the Middle East, but Bush himself claims that future decades will judge him more kindly.

Acclaimed historian, Professor David Kennnedy, believes historians in the decades to come will be even more harsh on Bush than the 2009 and 2010 histories of his presidency will turn out to be. Kennedy says the loss of American moral authority will one of the more lasting legacies of Bush in the White House.

From ABC Radio :
Q : ....polls show that America's moral authority around the world has been damaged post-September 11, and also your own domestic opinion polls show that many Americans disapprove of their President. Are there any comparisons in history, points at which America's reputation in the world has been at a low but it's bounced back?
DAVID KENNEDY: Well, I suppose there's some kind of a parallel in the Vietnam era, in which the same phenomenon, both aspects of the same phenomenon were manifest. That is to say both majorities of the American public and public opinion around the world at large turned very sharply against the United States as the Vietnam War went on, but the country managed to put that episode behind it, by and large, and get on with things through the decades of the 70s and the 80s and the 90s.

The damage that we've done to our moral authority and our legitimacy as an international citizen I think, in my own view again right now, is probably even more severe than it was in the 1960s, in the Vietnam era, but I'm hopeful that we can find our way out of this.

Q: You mentioned the way that America was able to bounce back after Vietnam. Are there any lessons that the next administration in the US can take from administrations that were running the country in that era, in terms of trying to get their own bounce back happening now?

DAVID KENNEDY: Well, yes, absolutely. I mean if you remember the way that President Nixon and Secretary of State, Kissinger, found the exit from Vietnam was by deepening their relationship with the two great communist states of that era, China and the Soviet Union.

So, in a sense, the United States embraced a kind of multilateralism and normal diplomacy with its two principal adversaries as a way of finishing the Vietnam episode, and I think something like that, there won't be an exact parallel, but some way for the United States to find its way back to multilateral relationships, to sharing power.

Q: You once wrote that history tends to reduce people to one sentence - 'Washington founded the nation', 'Lincoln freed the slaves and preserved the union', 'Churchill saved Europe'. What will Bush's one sentence be?

DAVID KENNEDY: Actually, that formula is not original with me. I was quoting Claire Booth Luce. But it's a very good way to think about this kind of thing, and I think George Bush's sentence will probably be something like, 'He vastly overreacted, indeed virtually panicked, in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks and took the United States on a unilateralist course of foreign policy that seriously undermined the multilateral and mutualistic kinds of institutions the United States had done so much to build after World War II'.

Now, that's a pretty long-winded sentence (laughs), but you get the idea.