Bush: Blinkers on to the End
President Bush's curtain-closing news conference was classic Bush: He appeared by turns confident, defiant and charming. But along with those characteristics, he displayed one of his most stubborn and least admirable traits, simply not believing things he doesn't want to believe. Or at least pretending not to.
Bush was asked what he thought of the view that the United States had lost considerable standing in the world during his two terms. And he responded with: "I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged. It may be damaged amongst some of the elite. But people still understand America stands for freedom; that America is a country that provides such great hope."
I understand how much Bush would like that to be true, but it simply isn't. The Pew Global Attitudes Project last month released a study of international polls that showed that views of America from nearly every corner of the world dropped in the eight years of Bush rule, in some cases dramatically. (Just for example, favorable attitudes in Germany fell from 78% in 2000 to 31% in 2008. In Turkey, America's strongest Muslim ally, favorable views plummeted from 52% to 12%.)
The study reinforces what is one of the saddest aspects of Bush's legacy -- the way American conduct and policy squandered the global good will, sympathy and cooperation engendered by the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Through the war in Afghanistan and even during the brief period when it appeared that saber-rattling about Iraq was more rhetoric than actual strategy, European, Asian, Arab and African nations deplored the attacks and vowed to unite in a battle against terror. America was seen as a victim. Even Iran cooperated in the war in Afghanistan and reconstruction talks and efforts.
But when Bush could not muster the same kind of global support and military alliance for a war in Iraq that he did for Afghanistan (and that his father did in ousting Iraq from Kuwait), Bush was impatient and would not be deterred. Rather than try to find and and go along with an international consensus, the United States decided to strike virtually in its own. What had been a unified front against terror became a unified front against the United States. And that's a sorry state of affairs to leave for a new president -- and not a fact turned away by simple wishing.