August 26, 2016

Jean Edwards Smith’s, Bush, the newly published biography of George W. Bush, demonstrates the reality I’ve come to appreciate more and more: each of our lives is made up of things well-done and not well-done; “ups” and “downs.”  We recognize some of these contradictory experiences; some we don’t.  Some are invisible to us, but they are realities nonetheless. 

Happily, over time this realization has provided me with a deeper sense of humility and peace. 
In Bush’s tenure as President, there was, above all, the imprudent and, in hindsight, all too clearly irresponsible decision to invade Iraq.  The decision to do this in the name of bringing “freedom and democracy” to countries that didn’t have it and to rid the world of Hussein was in President Bush’s mind even before 9/11.  Contrary to evidence that was being provided by the CIA and the UN Inspection team he insisted we needed to invade Iraq and depose Hussein to avoid the risk of his proceeding with the use of weapons of mass destruction.  
The decision ignored the lessons of history and the on- the- ground realities as to what the consequences would likely be (e.g., the historical animosity between the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds ).  Bush’s decision supported strongly by Cheney went against the advice of almost all of his counselors.  
There was not only the decision to begin the war, but then the execution of what to do after Hussein was driven out of power.  The total dissolution of the Baathist government and the Iraqi military preordained massive Sunni unrest and, in important measure, laid the foundation for what became ISIL and then ISIS.
There was also Bush’s decision to cut income taxes massively, which led to major deficits, especially with the significant cost of war.  
Smith’s book does do a good job of illuminating the many courageous acts and programs which President Bush led.  Many I had not adequately appreciated.  
His personal leadership in the attack on HIV/AIDS was singularly important in the sharply reduced incidence of that disease.   His courageous reaction in 2008 to the economic crisis following the advice of Secretary of Treasury Paulson and bailing out financial institutions stopped what could have become a truly great depression from happening.  
His “No Child Left Behind” program, while flawed in some areas (too much testing) advanced the recognition of the huge racial disparities in our children’s educational outcomes. That has been and will continue to be a driving force in attacking those disparities.  

His expansion of prescription drugs for seniors, while a costly improvement, was a greatly needed initiative even as it was controversial among many Republicans.
President Bush's strong advocacy of sensible immigration reform, while not ultimately successful, was a brave and correct undertaking which displayed President Bush’s courage and genuine compassion. 
There is no question of Bush’s single-minded and brave pursuit of what he thought was right.  I believe his ideology and faith-based fervor led him to see himself and the nation's being able to do more than it practically could or should try to do in terms of improving what he perceived to be the desired outcome in people’s lives.  This I say with particular reference to the invasion of Iraq and his overall “Freedom” agenda.  

I find the conclusion of Smith’s book to be “too cute by half,” as he writes:  ”Whether George W. Bush was the worst President in American history will be long debated, but his decision to invade Iraq is easily the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American President.”
First of all, I can’t imagine history regarding Bush as the “worst” President in history. No way!  He has lots of winning competition on that front . I would place Buchanan and Pierce at the head of the list. 

When it comes to foreign policy decisions, while I can’t think of one worse than invading Iraq,  I regard our entry into and expansion of the war in Viet Nam as being at least at the same level.  As Iraq represents for Bush, Vietnam represents the chapter in Lyndon Johnson’s tenure as president which will likely forever overshadow his many accomplishments.  Chief among them was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, something that never would have happened if it were not for him.

These Presidents’ lives illustrate what’s true in all of our lives, and certainly in my life.  Some things I’ve done well and some I haven’t.  Some I take pride in; others I look back on with regret. We do the best we can; we try to do what we think is right--what, at least in some measure, can make the world and other people’s lives a bit better.

 Smith’s biography of George W. Bush (like most biographies) doesn't attempt to probe other differences George Bush’s life made in ways that perhaps count the most. These are the differences which will be manifested in the lives of his and Laura Bush’s children, and their children.  Nor the positive influence he brought to others with whom he was associated closely during his life.  

For many, if not most of our lives, these will be the biggest differences we make,  for the better or for the worse.  We should never forget that.

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