I can remember as a early adolescent, playing football watching with friends a large, blue painted airplane cruising overhead. The plane we thought was Air Force One with the President Bill Clinton. It could have been him though I doubt it. The atmosphere at the time from watching the news was positive and upbeat. The second return of that now former President years later was triumphal, he was greeted like a long lost son, a man who “brought” peace to the land. Indeed on UTV there was a clip of a very young boy proclaiming that Clinton had brought peace to the world. Never mind that “bringing” peace to these lands would be enough of a superlative.
I suspect that there will be no six year olds on TV tonight saying anything of the sort of George Bush. An ex drunk from Texas, the pariah of the family who ended up hitting Jesus instead of the bottle and became the forty third President of the United States. He was slyly and icily lampooned in John Sayles Silver City (2004) and he has become comic cannon fodder no doubt keeping those irritating impersonators on the BBC in employment.
If a person is to be judged by the state of affairs they leave something in, then Bush must surely come in as one of the worst Presidents in United States history. There is much that can be railed against his handling of the Environment, Economy, The widening gap between the rich and poor. The Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay. His full scale injection of religious dogmatism into domestic and foreign policy.
The worst damage is the easiest to see. Leaving the debacle of Iraq aside for a minute, the hatred of America much of it irrational and abstract is now more widespread and vociferous. This is as I have said despite the deaths on the war on terror the most lamentable effect of the Bush Presidency
The war on terror is a misnomer. An empty phrase used by politicians and fearful media. It cannot be called a war because war’s end and terrorism in whatever form cannot be stopped. Although we should resist painting the conflict we are now in as sweeping monolithic forces lining up against each other. There is every reason to accept that we are now in as Samuel Huntington’s book denotes a clash of civilisations. It is not a war over land or resources fought with guns and bombs. It is a battle over hearts and minds, beliefs or lack of them. It’s clash is largely in the public arena, politics, media, schools. Over issues such as human rights, liberty and culture. We were right though to invade Afghanistan, smash Al Qaeda and depose the Taliban. Nearly everything else we have done though has been mistaken and gravely so. It does not help that Bush, a product of the American bible belt paints this battle as some kind of religious crusade. There is something chillingly similar in two of the most seminal men in the 21st century. Both men are sons of fathers who made millions via oil, Both grew up in searing hot lands- Texas and Arabia. Both are unfailingly religious who’s certainties over mutually competing magic books have sent hundreds of thousands of men to their deaths. American innocence’s was not the only thing that was brought down in the 9/11 attacks but ideas of religious toleration and respect for faith.
There is now an new generation of Muslim men motivated to hate the west. Whereas before much of it was symbolic and abstract the daily images of carnages in Iraq will imprint on the minds of many Muslims that the west is evil and must be destroyed. In America and Europe liberal relativists have now fully imbibed the dogma that Islamic terrorism is a product of the capitalist imperialist west. Along with the dogma that America started it to begin with. Perceptions of our moral superiority to the likes of the Bin Laden, the Khomeini's and the Ahmadinejad’s has been eroded through the actions of the Bush Administration. Iraq has left America militarily weak to deal with the real enemy in the Middle East, Iran. To contemplate another invasion in another Muslim country or to let a self confessed anti Semite build bombs to wipe Israel off the map, is an awful stark choice. Confrontation with Iran may be necessary to ensure a full scale eruption of a nuclear holocaust is prevented. The effects though would be that the violent and possibly worldwide response from Muslims will linger for generations. Likewise many on the left do not have the stomach to stand up in their own country for things like free speech, a free press and human rights never mind support a pre-emptive strike on Iran to ward off an attack on Israel no less.
Hopefully the next president can take a cooler, less knee jerked more reasoned response to Islamic terrorism and the Middle East. A building up of relations again with Europe, ending human rights abuses such Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition. As Martin Amis rightly stated it is not what terrorism does but what it provokes in response to it. America has panicked and lost its way. Even if Mcain wins I doubt even he will act as cravenly as Bush does, whatever else can be said I think we will all breathe easier when we wave goodbye to Bush.