November 30, 2006

Rating Presidents...

Martin Wolf:

US voters have now repudiated those who sought to impose democracy by force abroad. In spite of the gerrymandering of districts, the advantages of incumbency and renewed recourse to the politics of fear, common sense prevailed. George W. Bush is still president. But he is damaged political goods. That is good, because change is desperately needed.

The signal feature of this administration has not been merely its incompetence, but its rejection of the principles on which US foreign policy was built after the second world war. The administration’s strategy has been based, instead, upon four ideas: the primacy of force; the preservation of a unipolar order; the unbridled exercise of US power; and the right to initiate preventive war in the absence of immediate threats...

...The US must now start again. It must design a foreign policy for the current age. In doing so, it should discard almost everything the Bush administration has proclaimed.

First, the aims of foreign policy go far beyond the misnamed “war on terror”. The Islamist terrorists with which the world should, indeed, be concerned do not even pose the same existential threat as the cold war’s competition among superpowers. Equally important are maintenance of a prosperous world economy, management of the rise of new great powers, economic development, not least in the Islamic world, and management of the global commons.

Second, military power is far less effective than its supporters suppose. The threat of force cannot change the policies of other great powers, except to make them more suspicious of US intentions. It must make potential enemies still more determined to obtain nuclear weapons. As Iraq has shown, vast power cannot even impose stability on a country of 21m.

Third, the legitimacy of America as a global power rests on the ability of the US to command the respect of other countries and peoples. Gerhard Schröder could not have won an election in 2002 on an anti-American platform if the German people’s confidence in the US had not been undermined. Yet more important, the war against jihadi terrorists is a war of ideas. It will be won not by fear, but by making the west’s values more attractive to hundreds of millions of Muslims than those of its fanatical opponents. The willingness of this administration to treat the rule of law as an optional extra has made it far more difficult to defeat the terrorist ideology in the long run.

Fourth, multilateral institutions matter. They turn what would otherwise be clashes of prestige and power into acceptance of shared rules of good behaviour. Above all, only the willing co-operation of at least the world’s leading powers can address many of the global challenges. Shared institutions make such co-operation more credible and more sustained.

Fifth, solid alliances matter. The coalition of the willing has proved a slender reed. Even the UK is unlikely to let itself be dragged into a venture similar to Iraq again, in which it is fully committed but has no influence on how policy is executed. Yet the US has proved unable to achieve what it seeks unaided. Fixed alliances are indeed constraints, but they are also means of securing commitments.

The foreign policy of Mr Bush, arguably the worst president since the US became a world power, has come to a dead end. The big question is what happens now. [my emphasis throughout]

Wolf is perhaps the most distinguished columnist at the FT, and not a man prone to mindless hyperbole. His calling Bush "arguably the worst president since the US became a world power" is therefore quite a statement indeed. And if Bush doesn't start to make major course corrections very soon, that verdict will likely begin to get shared by more and more rational, intelligent observers. Put differently, it is no longer easy to just holler "Carter!", or "Nixon!", and assume you've just proven your case Bush isn't as terrible as all that. At very best, it's debatable, as the policy blunders have been that egregiously bad.


Posted by Gregory at November 30, 2006 02:34 AM
Comments

On the contrary, he makes "Nixon!" look good. Nixon went to China. Nixon talked to the Soviets. Nixon implemented broadly popular domestic programs, like the Clean Air Act, that he didn't particularly like.

The relevant comparisons are Harding and Buchanan.

Posted by: Jay Ackroyd at November 30, 2006 03:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Buchanan doesn't count when one is considering presidents since the "US became a world power". And while Harding certainly had the potential to be the worst president, the fact that he died 27 months into his first term limited the damage he could do.

Carter was merely ineffective as President -- and while Nixon was a crook and deserved to be impeached, in general his Presidency was far from a disaster.

Indeed, saying that Bush is "arguably the worst president since the US became a world power" in not merely unhyperbolic, its an understatement. No one in the post WWI era comes even close to the damage Bush has done to the US's standing as a world power -- and we have yet to truly experience the impact of his disasterous economic policies. (and when one considers the potential damage wrought to our civil liberties by Bush, the real question is whether the idea of the United States will survive his destruction.)

While many historians still argue that Buchanan was the worst President ever, I have to give that award to Bush. Buchanan was certainly a disaster -- but Buchanan was the equivalent of a disasterous play put on by a community theatre; Bush is a disasterous Broadway production.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at November 30, 2006 04:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As an admirer of the principles underlying Nixon's foreign policy as well as much of its conduct, I suppose I ought to be the one to remind people that Richard Nixon bore direct responsibility for the worst Constitutional crisis since 1865, a crisis that crippled executive authority in Washington for several years and deranged not only America's foreign policy but its domestic policy as well. Other Presidents have sometimes been awarded credit or blame they did not deserve, but Nixon earned every bit of the opprobrium heaped on him as the result of the Watergate affair. No President in the modern age has yet done anything nearly so unworthy of his office or damaging to the country.

A comparison, or rating of President Bush to Nixon or any of his other predecessors is probably not the most useful thing at this time. Nor should we take without a shaker or two of salt evaluations by commentators judging Bush by his lack of devotion to the values that are important to them. Wolf, for example, may have little reason to care that high-level attention within the American government to foreign policy issues outside the Middle East has been scarce for the last five years, that decisions about such issues can be left unmade for months or years, or that as the administration has sought funding for its Iraq adventure it has chosen to do so in a way that bypasses the normal procedures for funding government operations -- even omitting the detail that operations in Iraq have been paid for with borrowed money. But we have reason to care about these things.

Bush will be President for the next two years. The deficiencies in his administration and the rest of the government will need to be faced squarely and addressed one at a time. I understand and sympathize with people wanting to vent more generally about how bad they think Bush and some of his associates are, but it might be more useful to consider how exceptional Bush is, or is not, among politicians of his own generation than to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how history will rate his Presidency.

Posted by: Zathras at November 30, 2006 05:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I get a kick out of the hedging: Bush is 'arguably' the worst President; 'if' Bush doesn't start to make major course corrections soon...

Arguably the worst? Tell me who was worse than Bush. He makes Nixon look like Solon, for god's sake. Bush is so bad that we could get another Nixon in office and consider ourselves well off.

And that 'if'! Rusmfeld's replacement has some mighty interesting skeletons in his closet; Baker's ISG has given up on whatever recommendations it's going to make a month before it formally makes them (by which point events on the ground will have rendered them obsolete anyway); and Bush has returned to his "no end but victory" rhetoric, right on the eve of his meeting with King Abdullah and Maliki being scrubbed. And, as p lukasiak points out, we haven't even seen the long-term effects of Bush's policies yet: we may be rid of Bush in 2 years, but Bushism will haunt us for a very long time thereafter.

Years ago - before Iraq went completely FUBAR, before Katrina, before the assaults on the Constitution became enshrined in law - I said that the difference between the Borgias and the Bushes was that the Borgias at least left the world a legacy of brilliant art, literature, and architecture, whereas the Bushes gave us nothing but corruption and ruin. I had no idea how prescient I'd turn out to be.

Posted by: CaseyL at November 30, 2006 06:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"No President in the modern age has yet done anything nearly so unworthy of his office or damaging to the country."

I suspect there would have been a Constitutional crisis some time in the last four years, if the GOP Congress hadn't been utterly submissive to the whims of Cheney and Addington and Yoo.

Posted by: Jon H at November 30, 2006 06:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"No President in the modern age has yet done anything nearly so unworthy of his office or damaging to the country."

I suspect there would have been a Constitutional crisis some time in the last four years, if the GOP Congress hadn't been utterly submissive to the whims of Cheney and Addington and Yoo.

Posted by: Jon H at November 30, 2006 06:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have to admit that I too, easily join in the "Bush-is-the-worst" chorus; it is so easy to do so because Bush has so spectacularly set himself up as a target for it.

But I too recognize that the chant has its limits. Scoring easy points off Bush isn't constructive anymore, and isn't even that much fun in spite of his fecklessness. What has become clear, at least to me, is how much of a creation he is - a creation of his father's money and connections, which in turn provided a cushion for his various business failures; his family's political history, which enabled him to seem politically connected yet allowed him a certain measure of disinterest until he was called on to fulfill his place in the family destiny; right-wing focus groups that cast around for a new post-Reagan model and a conservative Christian base that found him agreeable; and a skewered sense of destiny that made him feel he could enter some sort of political pantheon on the back of his family name and wealth even though he had done nothing on his own that could be brought to bear with it. He was not, and still is not, the best and the brightest, and the personal loyalty he supposedly prizes has never found its way into
an expression of positions or craft of policies of a kinder, gentler sort; there has been little to nothing in the way of his domestic policies that does not reek of social Darwinism, accentuation of privilege, reinforcement of unearned wealth, nor does he seem bothered by the notion that getting something for nothing has at the least a dubiousness at its source, and at its worst - a venality.

With these vectors so starkly out in the open, do we have to wonder what kind of leadership we can expect from them when personified in one man? I'm an EFL teacher in Japan, and I can clearly remember, early in 2001, having a discussion with some students in a class before our main lesson. They asked me what I honestly thought of the new Bush. I told them - honestly - that I thought he was good for one term and that was it. I saw nothing exceptional in him and was convinced the election had been stolen. I also remember saying that his biggest worry was managing the surplus, and that I hope he didn't screw it up.

Note: EARLY 2001.

Boy, was I ever wrong. And in spite of what Zathras has said, and which I can find myself nodding in agreement on, if you really want evidence from anyone on what they think of this President, or of his legacy (to use the term loosely), what I've said above would be what I'd submit, with "Q.E.D." on it.

Posted by: sekaijin at November 30, 2006 08:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Besides being unarguably the worst US President ever, judged by the disastrous consequences of his policy decisions, Bush is also a failed world conqueror. I'm not sure who else has has such grand hegemonic ambitions and failed so spectactularly in all world history, but I imagine Bush's peers in this regard make a very interesting crew.

Posted by: Marky at November 30, 2006 10:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not sure who else has has such grand hegemonic ambitions and failed so spectactularly in all world history, but I imagine Bush's peers in this regard make a very interesting crew.

Xerxes, Saddam, and Hitler come to mind.

Posted by: J Thomas at November 30, 2006 01:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Should we go back to the cold war policy?

Posted by: marie at November 30, 2006 02:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The damage Bush & Cheney have done to this country will take years to repair. Rather than show the world our resolve, invading Iraq has shown our impotence and, at the same time boosted our enemies' influence in the region.
Marie, as a matter of fact I think the Cold War could serve as a model of how to confront militant Islam.

Posted by: gregdn at November 30, 2006 02:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush is the worst President in a long, long time. He makes one idiot decision after another. When is the last time he made a decision based on anything other than his gut?

Posted by: Ghost of Tom Joad at December 1, 2006 02:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

" When is the last time he made a decision based on anything other than his gut?"

Sept 11, 2001, when he spent 5 minutes staring vacantly into space and the rest of day playing cut-and-run-and-hide on Air Force One. Decisions based on gutlessness.

Posted by: CaseyL at December 1, 2006 02:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just out of curiosity, why all these qualifications ('since the US became a world power', 'in a long, long time', etc.)? I mean: what President can match the combination of Iraq, the destruction of our fiscal position (plus handing leverage over us to, of all countries, the PRC), the damage to the Constitution and the rule of law, the damage to our standing in the world and to the trust we used to enjoy, not to mention the failure to take action on other problems like global warming? I mean: who even compares?

Posted by: hilzoy at December 1, 2006 05:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Don't forget that Bush is the only president to lose a planet.

Posted by: David Tomlin at December 1, 2006 09:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mostly irrelevant. You can push Mr Wolf´s reputation as much as you like. To paraphrase our ex-foreign minister: I am not convinced.

First point: Arguably the Bush administration has not neglected these other aims.

Second point: Obviously there are limits to military power, but surely it has its place? The notion that the threat of force "cannot change the policies of other great powers" is disingenuous. When has the US militarily threatened great powers? Credible military threats can change the BEHAVIOUR of certain countries. That is important enough. "It must make potential enemies still more determined to obtain nuclear weapons." Nonsense. Simple determination is usually enough; I don´t know what difference it makes if they are still more determined. If Mr. Wolf wants to claim that the Iranian desire to obtain nuclear weapons (and wipe out Israel?) springs from Bush´s actions port-2001, why doesn´t he say so? Perhaps because the facts say otherwise?


Third: Anybody who thinks that Anti-Americanism was not a vote winner in Germany before 2002 does not know what he is talking about. I live there. I remember the 1980s ("USA-SA-SS" was a popular graffiti back during your beloved Reagan-Bush-Baker era). The only difference was that most Germans knew deep inside that they needed the US for their own defence; they don´t feel threatened today. Legitimacy does not mean a thing. Germans like Putin more than Bush; is this moral idiocy or is it Bush´s fault? I say idiocy.

"...making the west’s values more attractive to hundreds of millions of Muslims than those of its fanatical opponents." I would say this has already happened, and the fanatical opponents do not like it, hence all the killing that is going on.


Fourth: What is he talking about? Do these bromides have any application to any current problems? What he is really saying is: We cannot go without Russia, China and the Europeans. Fine, then we can´t go. Good thing we are not in a fight for survival. Question: What do these powers have to offer? How far does the prestige and credibility of Russia go in Anbar? What if Russia doesn´t give a damn about our interests? Did that ever occur to him?


Fifth: So the alliance determines the mission? "Fixed alliances are indeed constraints, but they are also means of securing commitments." Unfortunately, the constraints are usually more real than the commitments. NATO is "committed" in Afghanistan, right? Shall we go country by country and discuss what they have offered? The dirty secret is that few of them have anything more to offer, regardless of who is in the White House.

Yes, it would feel very good to have the agreement and support of allies, even if the support is mostly symbolic. But this is not about feelings.


Finally, let´s not pretend that other nations so not have their own motivations. For example, a nuclear Iran is not in the interest of my native Germany. It goes against everything our leaders say they believe (No nukes, stability, standing by Israel). Germany is also Iran´s biggest trading partner. But we are not going to do anything. We had three decades of "constructive dialogue" with them, but what have we to show for it? Years of diplomacy have already failed. Sanctions are not even discussed. Just to spite Bush? Will we court disaster just because we are mad the "cowboy"? No, we are just feckless. Our prestige is based solely on indulging regimes like that in Iran. As soon as we do anything else, our vaunted soft power means nothing. How far would you go to secure the commitment of such an ally?

Posted by: wf at December 1, 2006 11:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Worst President Ever!

Certainly there have been others who were really bad. The problem with W's wide ranging failures is that at this stage, we don't know if the problems he created out of whole cloth, are repairable.

Posted by: Tom Perry at December 1, 2006 05:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Who is worse then Bush?

Andrew Johnson. Sure Bush has bungled Iraqi reconstruction but Johnson ruined US reconstruction after the Civil War. He set race relations back 100 years. The civil rights movement would not have been necessary if Johnson would not have allowed southern racists to dominate the South again. He should have hung all the leaders of the confederacy upon gaining the presidency.

Posted by: Roy at December 1, 2006 11:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You guys have missed the worst part of Bush.

That is - LOTS of Republicans REALLY LIKE HIM. I suspect that if he could run again for President, you would be shocked that he would be close to winning, if not manage to win (steal) another election.

Republicans voted for Bush the first time while REFUSING to listen to any body mentioning his alcoholism, generoulsy AWOL military adventure, bad business management, poor performance as a student, etc. He won again by fear mongering and with the help of a Republican support group that didn't give a damn where Bush was taking us.

Consider that there are plans being discussed to spend $500 Million on a Bush library. That speaks volumes!

Posted by: Mark-NC at December 3, 2006 03:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nixon and Carter are both better than usually rated. Nixon was a pragmatist on economic matters, and a minor (yet still significant) visionary in foreign affairs; furthermore, the fact of his resignation shows, that despite the paranoid excesses of Watergate, he still at some level understood and respected the U. S. Constitution.

Carter has never been forgiven for speaking the unpleasant truths that people didn't want to hear: his human rights policy, for all the mockery it provoked among right-wing real-politik-oes, marked an historic reversal of US attitudes towards Central and South America; his syn-fuels project, had it been been carried out, would not have helped global warming, but would greatly have reduced our dependency on mid-Eastern oil; he told us to turn the thermostat, and installed a solar panel on the White House.

Which brings us to Reagan, a genuine candidate for Worst President of the American Century (and sequel), one of whose first acts was to have the solar panel removed. That spoke volumes. He cut and ran from Lebanon, and even some Neo Con (artists) are willing to blame him for that. But his greatest claim to worst status comes from unleashing and mobilizing the Religious Right as a force in American politics, which is, simply put, why we have today's ambulatory disaster inhabiting the White House. That is to say, Reagan enabled the ascent of Bush, and is therefore (in my view) the worser of the two. Plus, parenthetically, the Reagan funeral obsequies were a disgrace to any functioning democracy, and would have made blush the corpse of a Roman emperor in his casket.

Posted by: hyperpolarizer at December 3, 2006 08:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nixon and Carter are both better than usually rated. Nixon was a pragmatist on economic matters, and a minor (yet still significant) visionary in foreign affairs; furthermore, the fact of his resignation shows, that despite the paranoid excesses of Watergate, he still at some level understood and respected the U. S. Constitution.

Carter has never been forgiven for speaking the unpleasant truths that people didn't want to hear: his human rights policy, for all the mockery it provoked among right-wing real-politik-oes, marked an historic reversal of US attitudes towards Central and South America; his syn-fuels project, had it been been carried out, would not have helped global warming, but would greatly have reduced our dependency on mid-Eastern oil; he told us to turn the thermostat, and installed a solar panel on the White House.

Which brings us to Reagan, a genuine candidate for Worst President of the American Century (and sequel), one of whose first acts was to have the solar panel removed. That spoke volumes. He cut and ran from Lebanon, and even some Neo Con (artists) are willing to blame him for that. But his greatest claim to worst status comes from unleashing and mobilizing the Religious Right as a force in American politics, which is, simply put, why we have today's ambulatory disaster inhabiting the White House. That is to say, Reagan enabled the ascent of Bush, and is therefore (in my view) the worser of the two. Plus, parenthetically, the Reagan funeral obsequies were a disgrace to any functioning democracy, and would have made blush the corpse of a Roman emperor in his casket.

Posted by: hyperpolarizer at December 3, 2006 08:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Whew, finally a return to a sensible policy agenda:

1) Islamist terrorism (though it's not all that threatening).

2) Maintenance of a prosperous world economy.

3) Management of the rise of new great powers.

4) Economic development ("not least in the Islamic world!").

5) Management of the global commons.

What a relief to have gotten past all that scare talk about "proliferation" and "WMD".

That idiot Bush had me thinking a Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons and 2 million barrels per day of $60 oil could somehow affect the REAL issues.

I'll never fall for that again!

Posted by: thagomizer at December 3, 2006 11:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The post about Reagan was long overdue, and the only thing I regret is that I didn't think of it first. I have never been able to understand the adulation and admiration showered upon this man. Reagan was a happy accident, a situation that came upon him far more beneficially than it did for the nation. While I commented before about Bush II being a creation, perhaps the template for what others are able to achieve when they seize upon a mediocrity to turn into a man of the moment, as the right did with Bush II, was really set when the right first made Reagan their man.

There is a quote I have read, and I can remember it almost verbatim, though I can't remember who said it: "Ronald Reagan achieved the dream of every American man - to be taken care of in the name of independence, to play the man in charge while being supported." This is a far more suitable epitaph than the bromides, banalities, lies and idiocies heaped upon him at his funeral.

I graduated from high school in 1980 - exactly in time for the 'Reagan Revolution', and in the years since, I have traced how much America became so much more conservative because of it. Carter mainly could not be forgiven because he came along at a time when Americans, while still smarting from Vietnam and the economic upheavals vetted by the oil crisis, were still not prepared for someone to tell them some home truths about the consequences of our often-disasterous Cold War foreign policies, and where the future would lie with our continued dependence on ME oil and the vile politics that goes with it. Nobody wanted to hear it, and what little he had done was swiftly undone by Reagan.

After 26 years, with two Bushes, a slowly festering Palestinian question, utter lack of foresight and imagination with regard to energy supply and policy, and thoroughly lionizing the shit out of a fraud with a state funeral, I can only conclude that Bush isn't even an original fraud, though the consequences of his disasterous tenure auger far more for our country. No, the Bush template has Reagan's imprimature all over it.

Posted by: sekaijin at December 3, 2006 02:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

David Tomlin said:

"Don't forget that Bush is the only president to lose a planet."

DT, if you're referring to our poor friends on the planet Pluto, I'm LMAO.

On the other hand, if you're referring to Bush's dismal response to the threat of climate change on this here planet Earth, I'm more inclined to cry. :{

Posted by: Dan W. at December 3, 2006 11:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have only one quibble with the remarks about Reagan -- his political success wasn't an "accident". Although he's only a peripheral character in the book, Garry Wills' "Nixon Agonistes" portrays Reagan as an energetic and shrewd political tactician. Like most self-described "mavericks" and "outsiders", Reagan had his eyes firmly set toward DC for a long, long time.

Otherwise, the assessments are spot on. Reagan never did anything more imaginative or courageous than play to sentiments and resentments that always percolate after a military setback. The "Great Communicator" simply told people what they wanted to hear. Carter, by contrast, made the unforgivable error of speaking to Americans as though they were fair-minded, intelligent adults.

Posted by: sglover at December 4, 2006 12:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wow, I actually feel like I need to come to Reagan's defense...

Reagan was a REALLY bad President....but when it comes to the WORST, well, he doesn't even come close to Bush. The only way anyone comes close is if you grade on a curve...and then Buchanan and Harding become competitive....

(I mean, holding it against Reagan for bringing the Religious Right into politics is like holding Clinton's competence against him -- blame Clinton for Bush, because Clinton was so successful and made it look so effortless that tons of Americans thought it didn't matter who was in the Oval Office, and voted for far less qualified candidate because they'd rather have a beer with Bush than with Gore.)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at December 4, 2006 04:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

p. lukasiak - blame Clinton for Bush II? C'mon, you know better than that. Don't pull that one on me or anyone else here.

Perhaps now it's relevant to append to my comment on Reagan (pace sglover) the fact that he played to American's ideological and political naivete. We wanted another Eisenhower and nothing more - someone who would make Americans feel good about themselves and would reify (in Andrew Sullivan's preposterous phrase) the 'goodness of America' - as though after half a millenium of slavery, genocide, preemptive war, colonialism, imperialism, Jim Crow and institutionalized discrimination, more war, economic cleaning and gutting and whatnot, that there was any goodness left at stake.

I would say that if anybody was responsible for the reinforcement of the Reagan template as I've outlined above (and from which the Bush meme can be traced), it ultimately was the American people, for allowing themselves to be suckered by a real actor and the confederacy of wowsers, Elmer Gantrys, moral busybodies with fuck-all to do but to poke their noses into the unlaundered sheets of private moral deliberation, and all the other assorted dunces that enabled Reagan to rise to the incompetence he did (and rose to power and influence on his back). Both Carter and Clinton, by contrast, were each actually far more of the kind of self-made man so many conned themselves into believing Reagan was. If Clinton made it 'seem easy', it was because he had more to bring to bear to the job; hell, Reagan made it seem just as 'easy' and no-one uses that as a basis for criticism. The relevant difference is that Clinton had what he had, as controversial and arguable as that is, while Reagan was nodding half the time, thoroughly dependent on his advisors (who half the time had to act more like handlers, so out of it he was).

But I will still not go as far as to say that Reagan was the worst President ever. Presidents come and go, and are praised and damned historically both along mutually untenable polarities - namely, their popularity, and the substance of their policies alike. But if any recent president before Bush in living memory comes close, I would say there is a compelling case for Reagan both because of the religious right that he in turn enabled to come to the fore as a force, and for his economic policies that set in motion the forces that have ruined our working culture today. But none of that would have meant anything had enough Americans allowed such forces to come to play. Perhaps, in a weird way, the 'worst President ever' debate means nothing without a 'worst constituency' debate to go with it.

But if you're looking at the presidents themselves and their vectors independent of history or even constituency, and looking where to assign blame - you can't hang Bush II on Clinton.

Posted by: sekaijin at December 4, 2006 05:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Perhaps relevant here is the issue of the advisors to various Presidents.

Ronald Reagan finally defeated the Soviet Union, by various means, mainly economic. He had some good advisers, including Britain's Margaret Thatcher, arguably Britain's best leader since Churchill.

President Bush has, as a British advisor, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. 'Nuff said.

Mr. Bush has succeeded in sending not one, but two, countries well on the way to becoming a police state.

Where's President Ryan when you need him?

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at December 4, 2006 11:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wolf writes:

First, the aims of foreign policy go far beyond the misnamed “war on terror”. The Islamist terrorists with which the world should, indeed, be concerned do not even pose the same existential threat as the cold war’s competition among superpowers. Equally important are maintenance of a prosperous world economy, management of the rise of new great powers, economic development, not least in the Islamic world, and management of the global commons.

The Soviet Union could be and was deterred by the threat of mutually assured destruction. Radical Islam is not deterred by that threat. Let's quote a moderate Muslim leader, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's former president. In 2001, He said that on the day the Muslim world gets nuclear weapons the Israeli question will be settled forever "since a single atomic bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel, while an Israeli counter-strike can only cause partial damage to the Islamic world." It doesn't look like he believes in the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. Rafsanjani is apparently willing to destroy Israel, even if it costs Islam countless millions of dead. Iran's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, says that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” According to Mark Steyn,

the Daily Telegraph in London reported: “Iran’s hardline spiritual leaders have issued an unprecedented new fatwa, or holy order, sanctioning the use of atomic weapons against its enemies.”

What would happen if Iran carried out its threat to wipe Israel off the map? How would Wolf's "prosperous world economy" respond to full scale nuclear war breaking out in the Middle East? Not very well, I would suggest. Yet, Bush is the one Western leader who is trying to confront that threat. He's tried European style-diplomacy (a.k.a. bribery and appeasement) and that is failing. Teheran continues its march towards nuclear martydom. Can we trust Iran to act responsibly when it acquires nuclear weapons and the means to use them? Could we have trusted Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons? All those WMD deniers forget that Saddam could have gotten nukes as easily as Libya nearly did once the sanctions regime collapsed under French and Russian pressure. So, Wolf is dead wrong on thinking that radical Islam is not a major threat. And, if he wrong on that how can we trust him to get anything else right?

It is too soon to judge Bush. However, if Iran gets and uses nuclear weapons, Bush will go down in history as the worst US president ever.

Posted by: Pat at December 4, 2006 08:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is too soon to judge Bush.

No, it isn't, Now is a good time to judge Bush for his fuckups over the last 6 years. But it's too sooni to judge him for his fuckups in the coming 2 years.

However, if Iran gets and uses nuclear weapons, Bush will go down in history as the worst US president ever.

Yes, that would definitely do it. Stopping that has been one of his main goals, he's said, ahd yet he keeps doing things that strongly discourage iran fromi not doing so.

But it certainly doesn't take that.

Posted by: J Thomas at December 5, 2006 08:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"First, the aims of foreign policy go far beyond the misnamed “war on terror”."

Speaking of the “war on terror”, let’s take a few moments and look at some of the details of the horrible event that precipitated it and around which America’s foreign policy has been inextricably wrapped ever since.

One thing that struck me as odd in the days after 9/11 was Bush saying "We will not tolerate conspiracy theories [regarding 9/11]". Sure enough there have been some wacky conspiracy theories surrounding the events of that day. The most far-fetched and patently ridiculous one that I've ever heard goes like this: Nineteen hijackers who claimed to be devout Muslims but yet were so un-Muslim as to be getting drunk all the time, doing cocaine and frequenting strip clubs decided to hijack four airliners and fly them into buildings in the northeastern U.S., the area of the country that is the most thick with fighter bases. After leaving a Koran on a barstool at a strip bar after getting shitfaced drunk on the night before, then writing a suicide note/inspirational letter that sounded like it was written by someone with next to no knowledge of Islam, they went to bed and got up the next morning hung over and carried out their devious plan. Nevermind the fact that of the four "pilots" among them there was not a one that could handle a Cessna or a Piper Cub let alone fly a jumbo jet, and the one assigned the most difficult task of all, Hani Hanjour, was so laughably incompetent that he was the worst fake "pilot" of the bunch, with someone who was there when he was attempting to fly a small airplane saying that Hanjour was so clumsy that he was unsure if he had driven a car before. Nevermind the fact that they received very rudimentary flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, making them more likely to have been C.I.A. assets than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. So on to the airports after Mohammed Atta supposedly leaves two rental cars at two impossibly far-removed locations. So they hijack all four airliners and at this time passengers on United 93 start making a bunch of cell phone calls from 35,000 feet in the air to tell people what was going on. Nevermind the fact that cell phones wouldn't work very well above 4,000 feet, and wouldn't work at ALL above 8,000 feet. But the conspiracy theorists won't let that fact get in the way of a good fantasy. That is one of the little things you "aren't supposed to think about". Nevermind that one of the callers called his mom and said his first and last name ("Hi mom, this is Mark Bingham"), more like he was reading from a list than calling his own mom. Anyway, when these airliners each deviated from their flight plan and didn't respond to ground control, NORAD would any other time have followed standard operating procedure (and did NOT have to be told by F.A.A. that there were hijackings because they were watching the same events unfold on their own radar) which means fighter jets would be scrambled from the nearest base where they were available on standby within a few minutes, just like every other time when airliners stray off course. But of course on 9/11 this didn't happen, not even close. Somehow these "hijackers" must have used magical powers to cause NORAD to stand down, as ridiculous as this sounds because total inaction from the most high-tech and professional Air Force in the world would be necessary to carry out their tasks. So on the most important day in its history the Air Force was totally worthless. Then they had to make one of the airliners look like a smaller plane, because unknown to them the Naudet brothers had a videocamera to capture the only known footage of the North Tower crash, and this footage shows something that is not at all like a jumbo jet, but didn't have to bother with the South Tower jet disguising itself because that was the one we were "supposed to see". Anyway, as for the Pentagon they had to have Hani Hanjour fly his airliner like it was a fighter plane, making a high G-force corkscrew turn that no real airliner can do, in making its descent to strike the Pentagon. But these "hijackers" wanted to make sure Rumsfeld survived so they went out of their way to hit the farthest point in the building from where Rumsfeld and the top brass are located. And this worked out rather well for the military personnel in the Pentagon, since the side that was hit was the part that was under renovation at the time with few military personnel present compared to construction workers. Still more fortuitous for the Pentagon, the side that was hit had just before 9/11 been structurally reinforced to prevent a large fire there from spreading elsewhere in the building. Awful nice of them to pick that part to hit, huh? Then the airliner vaporized itself into nothing but tiny unidentifiable pieces most no bigger than a fist, unlike the crash of a real airliner when you will be able to see at least some identifiable parts, like crumpled wings, broken tail section etc. Why, Hani Hanjour the terrible pilot flew that airliner so good that even though he hit the Pentagon on the ground floor the engines didn't even drag the ground!! Imagine that!! Though the airliner vaporized itself on impact it only made a tiny 16 foot hole in the building. Amazing. Meanwhile, though the planes hitting the Twin Towers caused fires small enough for the firefighters to be heard on their radios saying "We just need 2 hoses and we can knock this fire down" attesting to the small size of it, somehow they must have used magical powers from beyond the grave to make this morph into a raging inferno capable of making the steel on all forty-seven main support columns (not to mention the over 100 smaller support columns) soften and buckle, then all fail at once. Hmmm. Then still more magic was used to make the building totally defy physics as well as common sense in having the uppermost floors pass through the remainder of the building as quickly, meaning as effortlessly, as falling through air, a feat that without magic could only be done with explosives. Then exactly 30 minutes later the North Tower collapses in precisely the same freefall physics-defying manner. Incredible. Not to mention the fact that both collapsed at a uniform rate too, not slowing down, which also defies physics because as the uppermost floors crash into and through each successive floor beneath them they would shed more and more energy each time, thus slowing itself down. Common sense tells you this is not possible without either the hijackers' magical powers or explosives. To emphasize their telekinetic prowess, later in the day they made a third building, WTC # 7, collapse also at freefall rate though no plane or any major debris hit it. Amazing guys these magical hijackers. But we know it had to be "Muslim hijackers" the conspiracy theorist will tell you because (now don't laugh) one of their passports was "found" a couple days later near Ground Zero, miraculously "surviving" the fire that we were told incinerated planes, passengers and black boxes, and also "survived" the collapse of the building it was in. When common sense tells you if that were true then they should start making buildings and airliners out of heavy paper and plastic so as to be "indestructable" like that magic passport. The hijackers even used their magical powers to bring at least seven of their number back to life, to appear at american embassies outraged at being blamed for 9/11!! BBC reported on that and it is still online. Nevertheless, they also used magical powers to make the american government look like it was covering something up in the aftermath of this, what with the hasty removal of the steel debris and having it driven to ports in trucks with GPS locators on them, to be shipped overseas to China and India to be melted down. When common sense again tells you that this is paradoxical in that if the steel was so unimportant that they didn't bother saving some for analysis but so important as to require GPS locators on the trucks with one driver losing his job because he stopped to get lunch. Hmmmm. Further making themselves look guilty, the Bush administration steadfastly refused for over a year to allow a commission to investigate 9/11 to even be formed, only agreeing to it on the conditions that they get to dictate its scope, meaning it was based on the false pretense of the "official story" being true with no other alternatives allowed to be considered, handpicked all its members making sure the ones picked had vested interests in the truth remaining buried, and with Bush and Cheney only "testifying" together, only for an hour, behind closed doors, with their attorneys present and with their "testimonies" not being recorded by tape or even written down in notes. Yes, this whole story smacks of the utmost idiocy and fantastic far-fetched lying, but it is amazingly enough what some people believe. Even now, five years later, the provably false fairy tale of the "nineteen hijackers" is heard repeated again and again, and is accepted without question by so many Americans. Which is itself a testament to the innate psychological cowardice of the American sheeple, i mean people, and their abject willingness to believe something, ANYTHING, no matter how ridiculous in order to avoid facing a scary uncomfortable truth. Time to wake up America.

Posted by: Enlightenment at December 6, 2006 05:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And yes, Dubya is by far the worst president ever.

Posted by: Enlightenment at December 6, 2006 05:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am impressed with how pathetically minor the criticisms of Reagan are. Bascially "he had policies and politics I disagreed with".

Reagan did not "unleash the religious right", that was a result of Roe v Wade. He played to their rhetoric, but no more than that.

In the case of Lebanon, he had the moral confidence to leave rather than take on a potentially endless military commitment.

Anyone who thinks Reagan's economic policies were a failure simply doesn't remember stagflation properly. He was much more restrained on spending than Dubya--the comparison is positively embarrassing.

His strategic policies worked, and worked as intended. It was precisely because he was a very successful President, that American politics shifted.

It is precisely folk who understood what Reagan was about, such as Bruce Bartlett, Andrew Sullivan and others, who are so hard on Dubya now. For good reason.

Posted by: Lorenzo at December 6, 2006 07:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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