I think this came out first on some billboards, maybe along a highway in Wyoming. More recently Facebook friends began posting it on their feeds.
In case you miss the point, it’s a photo of former president George W. Bush seeming to wave goodbye to us. The caption says “Miss me yet?”
I thought it was well done and also a nice bit of humor. I was delighted. I thought it was a really great joke. I may have mentioned already that I have been wrong before.
Closer examination of the context brought the dawn of light. Somebody was completely serious about this. The interpretation I should have been reading was, “Wonderful President Bush is gone and awful President Obama is in power.” We should wish we had President Bush back again.
To sort the issue out in my mind I went back to the year 2000 election. It came down to a few hundred votes in Florida, and there was no decision until December. I had not voted for George Bush, but I am not a bad loser. I penned a congratulatory letter, and The Dallas Morning News printed it. And things seemed to go well for the new president, for the first few months.
Then the attacks of 11 September tested the president as few get tested. After the initial comic few seconds when the president learned of the attacks, he seemed to take charge. As commander in chief he had the power and the will, and within a few weeks the people behind the attacks began to feel the sting of American military might. The president rallied the country behind him as seldom before, and the religious fundamentalist who had declared war on us were on the run and hiding out. It was just a matter of time before the chief perpetrator, Osama bin Laden, would be brought to justice.
Of course we all know that a president does not run the whole show. This president had no prior command experience, but he had wise and experienced advisers, and they quickly put together a resourceful military coalition in the order of what President George H. W. Bush had accomplished only ten years previous. It was all good.
Then things began to go a little off track.
President Bush had campaigned as the environmentalist candidate, but we all knew that was just political rhetoric. Sure enough, soon after taking office the environmentalist president was unraveling some environmental set-asides enacted by his predecessor. For example, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was quickly stricken from the national registry and put back at the disposal of developers. Of course, reaction to this was swift, and even red state Utah was not appreciative. President Bush quickly reversed his impulsive decision, and Grand Staircase-Escalante is now a national monument for all to enjoy.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a U.S. National Monument protecting 1,880,461 acres (760,996 ha) of land in southern Utah. There are three main regions: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante – all of which are administered by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. President Bill Clinton designated the area as a national monument in 1996 using his authority under the Antiquities Act. Grand Staircase-Escalante encompasses the largest land area of all U.S. National Monuments.
President Bush, like many conservatives, has some heartburn with the Social Security system. Social Security was put in place by liberal President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the thought of government working that closely with the welfare of private citizens has long stuck in the craw of the conservative faction, particularly Republicans.
During his term, President Bush campaigned to privatize Social Security. Instead of having the government collect taxes for Social Security and guarantee payments to beneficiaries, workers would pay money into private investment funds and reap the rewards of a growing economy. To his credit, the president took his argument to the people, crossing the country and pitching it to gathering crowds.
The gathering crowds sat on their hands. Once the idea was explained the proposal was overwhelmingly snubbed. Privatization provided no benefit to people if the economy went into the tank, which was where it had been in 1935 when the law went into effect.
Anyhow, it was a nice try by the president, but it was not something that made him popular with the mass of voters.
Then something happened with the president’s declared “war on terrorism.” After chasing al Qaeda mastermind bin Laden into, supposedly, a cave in eastern Afghanistan, George Bush took his eye off the ball. Other matters attracted his attention. He turned his thoughts and his sights toward an old foe of the United States, Saddam Hussein, de facto dictator of Iraq.
It was suddenly realized that Saddam Hussein, who had lost the war with an American-led coalition back in 1991, had not given up his weapons of mass destruction. This had been one of the stipulations of the war’s cessation. This was an obligation not fulfilled. Saddam Hussein was reneging on his commitment. This required action.
When challenged, Saddam Hussein denied retaining any prohibited weapons, including poison gas, nuclear weapons and weapons materials and long range rockets. From the viewpoint of the Bush administration he was being obstinate, and the threat of war was needed to bring him into line. The threat drew closer to reality as denials brought outside inspections who failed to turn up the alleged war materials. Again and again the case was brought that prohibited weapons had been detected, and every time supposed evidence turned out to be faulty. There was a darker side.
The administration was sure that Iraq had obtained uranium “yellow cake” from a source in Niger. This was supposed to be the smoking gun that would indict Saddam Hussein. This would prove the case for going to war.
The CIA sent Joseph Wilson, husband of CIA operative Valerie Plame, to Niger to determine whether Iraq was obtaining the prohibited uranium. The result was a scandal that roiled the administration for months.
On July 14, 2003, Washington Post journalist Robert Novak, using information obtained from Richard Armitage at the US State Department, effectively ended Valerie Plame’s career with the CIA (from which she later resigned in December 2005) by revealing in his column her identity as a CIA operative. Legal documents published in the course of the CIA leak grand jury investigation, United States v. Libby, and Congressional investigations, establish her classified employment as a covert officer for the CIA at the time that Novak’s column was published in July 2003.
In his press conference of October 28, 2005, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald explained in considerable detail the necessity of secrecy about his grand jury investigation that began in the fall of 2003 — “when it was clear that Valerie Wilson’s cover had been blown” — and the background and consequences of the indictment of then high-ranking Bush Administration official Lewis Libby as it pertains to Valerie E. Wilson.
Fitzgerald’s subsequent replies to reporters’ questions shed further light on the parameters of the leak investigation and what, as its lead prosecutor, bound by the rules of grand jury secrecy, he could and could not reveal legally at the time. Official court documents released later, on April 5, 2006, reveal that Libby testified that “he was specifically authorized in advance” of his meeting with New York Times reporter Judith Miller to disclose the “key judgments” of the October 2002 classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). According to Libby’s testimony, “the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE [to Judith Miller].” According to his testimony, the information that Libby was authorized to disclose to Miller “was intended to rebut the allegations of an administration critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.” A couple of days after Libby’s meeting with Miller, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told reporters, “We don’t want to try to get into kind of selective declassification” of the NIE, adding, “We’re looking at what can be made available.” A “sanitized version” of the NIE in question was officially declassified on July 18, 2003, ten days after Libby’s contact with Miller, and was presented at a White House background briefing on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The NIE contains no references to Valerie Plame or her CIA status, but the Special Counsel has suggested that White House actions were part of “a plan to discredit, punish or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson.” President Bush had previously indicated that he would fire whoever had outed Plame.
A court filing by Libby’s defense team argued that Plame was not foremost in the minds of administration officials as they sought to rebut charges – made by her husband – that the White House manipulated intelligence to make a case for invasion. The filing indicated that Libby’s lawyers did not intend to say that he was told to reveal Plame’s identity. The court filing also stated that “Mr. Libby plans to demonstrate that the indictment is wrong when it suggests that he and other government officials viewed Ms. Wilson’s role in sending her husband to Africa as important,” indicating that Libby’s lawyers planned to call Karl Rove to the stand. According to Rove’s lawyer, Fitzgerald decided against pressing charges against Rove. , The five-count indictment of Libby included perjury (two counts), obstruction of justice (one count), and making false statements to federal investigators (two counts). There was, however, no count for disclosing classified information, i.e., Plame’s status as a CIA operative. Indeed, it was already widely known (even by prosecutor Fitzgerald) that the actual “leaker” was Richard Armitage, via columnist Robert Novak. No evidence has ever come to light that Mr. Libby disclosed Plame’s CIA status to Mr. Novak, or anyone else.
News reports at the time indicated that Joseph Wilson had returned a negative result on the case against Iraq, and in a fit of spite it appeared members of the administration hit back at the report by striking out at the investigator—by outing his wife as a CIA operative.
In March 2003 the United States started a war with Iraq, ostensibly to eradicate the weapons of mass destruction. It was a failed coalition that went along on this expedition. France would not comply, citing the lack of any real evidence of prohibited weapons. France became the enemy in the eyes of many fans of the administration. Turkey pulled out, refusing the United States permission to move the 4th Infantry Division and support material through Turkish ports to the Iraqi frontier.
The problem at that point was the American military was already committed. Troops had already been sent to Kuwait, the only neighboring country to throw in its lot with the coalition. The 4th Infantry was supposed to be the western point of a pincer offensive against Iraq. Now the 4th Infantry was required to come by ship all the way from the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, around the Arabian Peninsula, up through the Persian Gulf (sometimes called the Arabian Gulf) to the port in Kuwait. The remainder of coalition forces had to start out from Kuwait without the benefit of having the 4th Infantry attacking simultaneously from the west. The 4th Infantry joined the fight when it finally caught up late in the conflict.
And you know what? The offensive against Saddam Hussein went very well. The Iraqi army was quickly defeated, and by April our forces were in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein was on the run somewhere in the country. By the end of the year he had been pulled out of a hole near his home town of Tikrit by American soldiers. In May of 2003 President Bush flew out to an aircraft carrier in the Pacific ocean and declared victory.
Unfortunately not quite.
During the invasion phase coalition losses were less than feared:
In the invasion phase of the war (19 March–April 30), 9,200 Iraqi combatants were killed along with 7,299 civilians, primarily by U.S. air and ground forces. Coalition forces reported the death in combat of 139 U.S. military personnel and 33 UK military personnel.
Then things sort of got out of hand. Lack of control of the after battle and poor management of the conquered country resulted in continued fighting and loss of human loss for years afterward. To this date in the order of 4000 American service personnel have been killed in Iraq, and many additional have become casualties.
And no weapons of mass destruction were ever found. Ultimately the president had to admit there never were any. It had all been a mistake.
The hurricane Katrina catastrophe may have been the low point of President Bush’s administration. The facts are this: In August 2005 a major hurricane was tracked on a course to the Louisiana coast, heading straight toward New Orleans. That city sits right at sea level, with critical parts actually below seal level. Preparations for the disaster at the state and city level were completely in adequate. In truth, a city like New Orleans is not capable of handling such a situation on its own. Also, the state of Louisiana failed to mount an adequate response.
Evacuation was the only recourse for New Orleans, and that city had a large population of people lacking the capability of evacuation on their own.
Prior to the arrival of the storm surge forecasters were predicting as many as 15,000 deaths. As it turned out the storm weakened just prior to landfall, and the 15,000 number was never realized. However, a principal levee failed, flooding much of the city, and thousands of residents had to take shelter in the Superdome sports arena.
The fall back position for a situation would normally be FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is a government agency charged with handling disasters beyond the capability of local agencies. It was at this time the federal government failed its constituents.
Agencies like FEMA are not much liked by conservative politicians. To many, FEMA represents just another instance of government doing for people what people should be doing for themselves. President Bush’s treatment of his appointments reflected this lack of concern. Instead of an administrator with great experience managing such an entity, the president picked a political hack, George Brown, for the job.
After Bush entered office in January 2001, Brown joined FEMA as General Counsel. He was the first person hired by his long-time friend, then-FEMA director Joe Allbaugh, who also ran Bush’s election campaign in 2000. Allbaugh later named Brown his acting deputy director in September 2001. Bush formally nominated him as deputy director on March 22, 2002, and the Senate confirmed him many months later after the recovery efforts in New York had subsided. Brown oversaw the recovery efforts for New York and surrounding states with the White House Office of Domestic Policy’s Reuben Jeffery III who later became chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. After Bush announced the creation of the Department of Homeland Security Allbaugh left government and Bush nominated Brown again in January 2003 for the directorship. Brown was sworn into his position on April 15, 2003. Prior to his nomination as Under Secretary, the White House appointed Brown to head a transition team creating the Emergency Preparedness & Response Directorate within DHS.
Before that, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Brown served on the Consequence Management Principals’ Committee, which acted as the White House’s policy coordination group for the federal domestic response to the attacks. Later, Bush asked him to head the Consequence Management Working Group to identify and resolve key issues regarding the federal response plan. In August 2002, Bush appointed him to the Transition Planning Office for the new Department of Homeland Security, serving as the transition leader for the EP&R Division. As undersecretary, Brown also directed the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Integration Center, the National Disaster Medical System and the Nuclear Incident Response Team.
On August 31, 2005, following Hurricane Katrina being named an “Incident of National Significance”, Brown was named the Principal Federal Official and placed in charge of the federal government’s response by Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff. On September 7, 2005, then Coast Guard Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Thad Allen was named Brown’s deputy and given operational control of search and rescue and recovery efforts.
On September 9, 2005, Chertoff relieved Brown of all on-site relief duties along the Gulf Coast, officially replacing him with then Vice Admiral Allen. Brown remained Under Secretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response. Brown told the Associated Press that “the press” was making him a scapegoat for the slow federal response to the hurricane.
President Bush’s place in history was sealed when, during the height of the crisis, when it was obvious to all who could see that a major FUBAR was taking place, stood beside George Brown and uttered the immortal words, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” The end.
There was still bad news to come.
Traditionally conservatives, Republicans included, favor a laissez-faire attitude towards business, believing that businesses know best how to run their affairs, and government intervention will only screw things up. To this extent, there was little government oversight when financial institutions, many of them insured by the United States government, began making risky, sometimes fraudulent business transactions. This all came crumbling down in 2008, when Lehman Brothers, a standard of American investment banking since the 19th century, collapsed. This collapse brought down the house of cards that had become so fragile in the past few years, not all of it during the Bush administration. The country plunged into a deep recession, one whose beginnings are now traced back to the previous year.
To his credit, President Bush took swift action, and his administration put in place federal assistance to prop up the industry and forestall a complete melt-down. However, the damage had been done. Millions lost their jobs in the months following, and the conservative brand suffered a severe body blow. Two months after the collapse liberal Democrat Barack Obama was elected president, ahead of an opposition candidate who was a respected conservative and also a war hero.
I reflected on this earlier today as I watched President Obama speak to the press and to the nation. He apologized for the recent failures of his administration and took full responsibility for misleading people with his pledge that the Affordable Care Act would allow people to keep existing insurance policies if they liked them. The president took some harsh questions from the press.
As President Obama engaged in the interchange with reporters his innate capabilities became apparent. He responded straight-forwardly to each question, often citing relevant facts and filling in with explanations that elaborated on the topics in question. He exhibited a mental prowess I had not seen from a president since the term of President Clinton. What was missing were the vacuous responses notable with his predecessor. Here was a person, like his policies or not, like his style or not, who came suited up for the game. Barack Obama has been president for nearly five years, and I continue to remark how refreshing it is to have a commander in chief so mentally in command.
My final evaluation is that George Bush is a person who, sincere at heart that he might have been, was seldom more than capable. That is perhaps the Republican tragedy. Bush campaign operatives had trashed a more capable and experienced candidate when they smeared John McCain in the South Carolina primary for the 2000 election. Even beyond McCain there was and still is more capable conservative presidential material, never to be tapped. Rank ideology has invaded the Party the past few decades, and truly capable candidates are regularly passed over in favor of the perfect ideologue. This was the tragedy of George W. Bush.
So, to answer the question, do I miss George Bush? Maybe I do in a perverse way. I feel that sometimes what this country needs is a good bath, and somebody like George Bush is the one who can give it to us. Without the experience of the Bush administration we would be apt to forget what we are now missing.