In a recent issue of New York magazine, a collection of the country's most highly esteemed writers, editors, professors, and politicians wrote a piece entitled "How Are You Feeling, Mr. President?" The deftly put together assemblage of critiques, psycho-analyses, and witticisms was a humorous, yet revealing examination of the mind of "the loneliest decider since Richard Nixon," George W. Bush.
The piece, for all intents and purposes, bashes the actions of the president, from his decisions on the Iraq War to his inappropriate and insolent smirks. But more importantly, the article touches upon Bush's legacy. Will he be remembered as the worst president in American history? Or will the future, withholding perhaps a democratized and prosperous Middle East, prove him right?
Many Prep students view our current president as both incompetent and without consequence. However, one does wonder if the puerile mannerisms and seemingly impetuous acts of this "unloved and unlamented" leader will have some veritable purpose in the near future. Will the war in Iraq, which has cost the United States billions of dollars and thousands of soldiers, amount to anything?
With an approval rating of a mere 28% (according to a CBS News poll taken on January 22, 2007), and having been dubbed by Ted Sorensen (who was a speechwriter for President Kennedy) "the most incompetent president since Buchanan," Bush is most definitely not at the high point of his career. Believe it or not, there was a time when Bush was very well liked (with an approval rating in the high 80s in 2001), eloquent, and without that indelible smirk, which Deepak Chopra described as being "one of the most unnerving things about George W. Bush."
Bush's condescending smile, which managed to survive the disaster that is the Middle East, gives the impression of a self-righteous and worryingly cheeky leader. It's almost as if he's trying to tell the world that he knows exactly what he's doing and is confident of his actions.
Unfortunately, the world is not convinced; no one, not even the Republicans, is sure of what can be achieved from the Iraq War. And Bush's recent actions, firing Rumsfeld and calling for a troop surge of more than 20,000 soldiers into Iraq, seem to be more the actions of a desperate leader than a confident one. ?He is stalling, trying to buy himself a few more months of time, praying that something, anything, will happen in Iraq that will let him claim a kind of victory, however trifling and evanescent,? writes John Heilemann, of New York magazine.
Even though Bush has roughly two more years in office, many political commentators have described his presidency as being in the lame-duck period, which is the period of diminishment of political power and unresponsiveness to the electorate - essentially he doesn?t have to care what the voters think. When you come right down to it, Bush is flailing in a sea of political sharks.
The Democrats have won control of Congress and are pushing, more aggressively with time, for a pull-out of American troops from Iraq. The Republicans are running away from him, as Bush sinks deeper into a pool of de-escalating public approval and ?foreign-policy calamity." Only the sycophants remain on his side, particularly Senator John McCain, who has his eyes on the presidency. But Bush is swimming, not to political safety (he doesn?t seem to care about the Republican Party anymore - why should he when he?s a lame duck?) but to his political legacy. He?s staying the course for a democratized Iraq, having rejected a proposal by the Iraq Study Group for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.
George Bush wants what Harry S. Truman received: a place in the history books as a good, headstrong president who didn?t give up in the face of strong opposition. Truman, like Bush, had extremely low public approval ratings during his presidency. Scholars today, however, rank Truman as one of the best presidents in American history.
Right now, it seems highly unlikely that Bush will attain the kind of legacy awarded to Truman, simply because of the mess he created in the Middle East and the problems he has largely ignored elsewhere (North Korea). Bush has delved his hand too far into the cookie jar, only to find his hand stuck in an empty container. The new Democrat-controlled Congress will eventually vote for a phased removal of troops, crushing Bush?s legacy and turning the Iraq War into a more expensive, Middle Eastern version of the Vietnam War.
Prep students play a vital role in this political scene, for we are the next generation of voters and policymakers that will decide upon the future of the Middle East. This is not a problem that will go away quickly, even with the eventual removal of Bush and the domination of the Democrats. If we do not act cautiously and wisely, we may find ourselves still stuck in the deserts of Iraq twenty years from now. The burning "bush" promises of a free land flowing with oil and enterprise. It is our choice to decide if this voice is just Republican folly or an attainable legacy.