Bush's Legacy and the Damage Done

With President Bush attending his last G8 summit in Japan, it is a good time to assess the foreign policy legacy of his Administration—and what a legacy!

From the Middle East to Latin America to Europe to South Asia, Bush’s policies have created multiple disasters.

First, let us quickly get out of the way the positive things he has done. He has substantially increased foreign aid, especially the amount dedicated to fighting AIDS and other infectious diseases in Africa. (The aid has been tied to the Bush Administration’s pet projects, such as abstinence-only programs and the purchase of brand-name drugs, but still…) And the Bush Administration has sobered up and negotiated (if in a tardy manner) with North Korea over its nuclear program.

That’s all I can up with. Otherwise, it’s been one catastrophe after another.

In the May issue of Current History magazine, Books Editor William Finan has listed five qualities of the Bush Administration that got it into its global mess: unmitigated triumphalism, belief in the infallibility of America’s military might, Bush’s supreme self-righteousness, his religious beliefs, and what Finan calls the Administration’s “smite them” doctrine. The combination of these elements has brewed a deadly cocktail.

The results are most apparent in the Middle East, where the Bush Administration’s legacy will be the hardest to mend. As Bassma Kodmani asserts in Current History, the Arab world is waiting for the new Administration in January 2009 to completely redo the record of the Bush crowd in the region—from Iraq and Iran to Israel/Palestine and Lebanon. Only then will the Arab governments and elites feel that the damage has been undone. To them, Bush is “one of the worst U.S. Presidents they have known in their long years in power,” Kodmani says.

Washington’s overweening arrogance and free-market zealotry has not endeared it in Latin America. That is why it has very few true friends in the area, save Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who came to power in a dubious election, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, whose government is cozy with brutal death squads.

In Europe, Bush first antagonized much of the continent with his unilateral invasion of Iraq. And he’s now busy annoying Russia with his installation of the missile defense system in Eastern Europe, supposedly to protect against incoming missiles from Iran. Russia’s pique is not surprising, since, as George Lewis and Theodore Postol point out in the May/June issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the system seems to be aimed as much against Russia as Iran.

Despite claims to the contrary by both Missile Defense Agency and State Department officials, the interceptors that Washington wants to deploy in Poland are fast enough to catch Russian ICBMs launched from locations west of the Ural Mountains toward the continental United States,” the authors write. “The location of the interceptor site in Poland is ideal for this purpose, as is the location of the European Mid-course Radar [in the Czech Republic].”

In South Asia, the Bush record has been dismal. Its main claim to fame in its relations with India has been a disastrous nuclear deal (see my detailed analysis) that will reward India’s ego trip of a nuclear weapons program in exchange for making it a junior partner in the Bush Administration’s global agenda. And in Pakistan, the Bush folks bafflingly hitched their fortunes to General Pervez Musharraf, who is finally being eased out of power in slow motion after nine years of autocratic rule.

Bush’s colleagues in Japan will probably breathe a sigh of relief next week that they won’t have to see much more of him after the summit. But come 2009, it’ll take the new Administration a long time to fix his legacy.