[A great example of the War of Disinformation the media churn out day after day. Poor old Anne Leslie if she really believes this drivel. 1 million Iraqi deaths is hardly an example of compassion, now is it. See the real story: Assessing the Bush Legacy: Global War, War On Americans, Torture Programs, Destruction Of Civil Liberties, And Mega-Theft by Stephen Lendman, Andrew Hughes, Prof. Benjamin G. Davis.]
Last updated at 4:40 PM on 15th January 2009
Perhaps only Rory Bremner will miss him. As the sunnily gaffe-prone 43rd U.S. President packs up his golf clubs, dog and wife, and heads home to cut underbrush on his dusty Texan ranch, he has precious few friends left anywhere - bar Tony Blair, whose political reputation was destroyed, as Bush's was, by the debacle of the Iraq War.
Oddly enough, despite the fact that he became one of the most vilified U.S. presidents in history - Bush 'the war criminal', 'the world's number one terrorist', 'the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen' (according to Ken Livingstone) - I don't imagine Dubya will lose much sleep about the years of often hysterical abuse. And he does like his sleep.
Underestimated? George W. Bush was universally vilified but made significant efforts at education for the poor in the U.S. and aid to Africa
During his first presidential campaign, I had a long talk with him on his campaign plane as we criss-crossed the American heartland, full of the God-fearing 'reg'lar folks' whose votes he needed.
Affable, squinty-eyed, he sprawled in his seat beside me, cracking jokes, laughing at my anecdotes, laughing at his own; his charm in private is formidable, and it's seduced many of those who initially, like me, had no intention of being charmed.
He nicknamed me 'my favourite Britisher' on the plane, and merely chortled when I pointed out that it wasn't such a great accolade as I was the only 'Britisher' on the aircraft.
He even failed to be riled (as I hoped he would be, because we were getting on rather too well) when I told him that 'we in Europe feel you're at least two sandwiches short of a picnic'. (Bush-hating websites began to flourish: toostupidtobepresident.com, Bushisamoron.com.)
What, he wanted to know, did the 'picnic' jibe mean? 'Well, it means you're too stupid and uninformed for the job.'
President Bush (centre) welcomes former and future U.S. Presidents to the Oval Office in the White House: (Left to right) George Bush Snr, President-elect Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter
He then proceeded to adapt the phrase to the culinary tastes of different states: in New England, two clams short of a chowder; in Texas, two ribs short of a barbecue; in Louisiana... There was a knowingness in his eyes - and in mine.
He knew what I was trying to do, and he knew what he was doing: using his sly, skilful charm to de-fang a critic and run away, unscathed, from the interview.
But there was also something rather puzzling about him. I told him that, in a long career, I had never met a politician who seemed to be, almost preternaturally, so comfortable in his skin.
'Sure, I'm comfortable in my skin. I don't worry too much. I just get on with
As I noted then: 'Obviously no dark nights of the soul there.' And I doubt that there will be now.
At his final press conference before Obama ('a much better speechmaker than
me') takes over, he was asked if he had any regrets.
He sighed: 'Putting "Mission Accomplished" on an aircraft carrier [in Iraq] was a mistake - Abu Ghraib was a huge disappointment. Not having WMD was a significant disappointment.'
But history, he believed, would be kinder to him than 'the writers and opiners' he so insouciantly despises.
Shortly after the murderously spectacular jihadist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, those twin symbols of American economic and military power, I managed to get to Washington (the air lanes had been closed to civilian flights).
The nation's capital was largely deserted; it was as if a strange nerve gas had drifted up from the Potomac River, and I half expected tumbleweed to start blowing disconsolately through the abandoned streets, as if I were witnessing a cliched scene from some disaster movie.
Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi hurls a show at President Bush, who believes history will judge him kinder than contemporary critics
But of course this was no movie and suddenly sunny Dubya - who never
expected he'd have to become a 'wartime President' - was caught up in a
Every American - even those who, thanks to the 'hanging chad' voting farce in Florida, didn't believe he should have become President - rallied round their Commander-in-Chief in that time of national trial.
And, bizarre though it may seem now, he suddenly became the most popular President in modern history (as, indeed, did his father, the 41st President, when he led an international coalition to drive Saddam out of Kuwait).
Of course we all know now what went wrong. The war to unseat Saddam proved to be - contrary to all the bien pensant predictions - a stunning, high-speed success.
It was what happened after the American victory which turned out to be a disaster. Looting, unchecked by the American troops, was rampant: 'stuff happens', was the airy comment of his Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
And then the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, 'extraordinary renditions' (the practice of secretly moving detainees to countries where they might then be tortured) and illegality at Guantanamo, the diminution of human rights in the 'heartland' itself - a miserable litany indeed.
I'd been a supporter of the war, not least because of what I saw myself after the first Gulf War, where I'd stood in the desert in southern Iraq and watched Saddam shelling his own people - because, thanks to Bush Senior's exhortations, they had risen up to get rid of their psychopathic dictator themselves.
Terrorised and tortured Iraqis could evidently not do the job themselves. I believed then that there was unfinished business: Saddam had to go.
President Bush has few political friends left, although the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is certainly one of them. Here Mr Blair is receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Bush's method of management, I was told by a State Department insider shortly after 9/11, 'is to listen to lots of people, then decide. Once he's decided, he won't change his mind. If he's taken what he believes is the right decision - like giving up alcohol - he won't budge. Everyone around him just has to salute and say: "Right, Mr President"'.
I was also told that he would rarely express a view himself during these discussions. Unfortunately those to whom he listened most closely - Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld - were chosen largely because of their loyalty ('Bushes always have a very strong, almost tribal, clan mentality') and because they had long experience in Washington which he, demonstrably, lacked.
His certainty about his decisions baffled and infuriated some allies.
David Kay, an American weapons inspector, recently mused: 'He has a tremendous calm and certitude about the positions he takes and is unusually doubt-free about them.
'Most people, when they take monumental decisions, understand that they're doing it under conditions of great uncertainty, and are not fully at the time really able to understand what the consequences might be - and that frightens them. This President has none of that, as far as I can tell.'
What can be said in George W. Bush's defence? Let's look at some of the wilder calumnies. Contrary to popular caricature, Dubya is neither stupid nor ill-educated. He got degrees at Yale and Harvard Business School (and his grades were rather better than those of his former Democratic rival, the 'intellectual' Al Gore, at Harvard).
Allegations that he can only read a book if it's written in large letters in crayon are absurdly mistaken: in fact, he reads about 100 books a year, usually historical biographies.
And his habit of self-denigration doesn't help his image; at a dinner, he pointed to another Yale alumnus, a well-known intellectual, and chuckled: 'He wrote a book at Yale - and I read one!'
What he does lack is fluency - mangling his grammar and uttering gnomically baffling remarks.
President George with the First Lady Laura Bush and pet dog Barney: He will soon have plenty of time to spend on his Texan ranch
When I covered his father's ultimately successful bid for the Presidency in 1988, we scribes on the press plane would amuse ourselves by competing with each other to see how many of Bush Snr's numerous 'Bushisms' we could - collect in a week; his son inherited this embarrassing and, for satirists, endlessly entertaining trait.
And he knew and mocked his own linguistic failings. On overhearing me mutter some mildly disobliging remark about him, he gave a wry grin and told me: 'I've been misunderestimated all my life!'
There's a streak of dyslexia in the Bush family line (much denied, despite proven cases); but the clan adheres to the old-fashioned belief that there's something shameful, stigma-inducing about this neurological disorder, although dyslexia is unrelated to intelligence.
But what finally destroyed Bush's standing, even among his strongest Republican supporters, was his fiscal irresponsibility. He inherited a budget surplus of $128billion and by the end of this year the nation will be saddled with a $482billion deficit.
He not only spent a fortune on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but threw federal dollar bills around the political landscape like (as one Republican critic put it) 'a drunken customer in a stripper club'.
There was an anguished cry from a former supporter: 'Is Bush a socialist? He's certainly spending like one!'
Off-the-cuff statements are not one of President Bush's strengths
And it was under his watch that the sub-prime mortgage scandal erupted - although ironically it actually began under Clinton, who enacted legislation which prevented banks and mortgage lenders from ' discriminating' against those whose poverty might make them bad risks for loans.
Venal and greedy banks took up the challenge to abandon financial responsibility and we are now all paying the price for that politically correct foolishness.
And then there was the mismanagement of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
His careless, smug response to that - chuckling on television with his rich cronies while playing the guitar - convinced me that he had lost the ability to connect with ordinary 'folks' which had been his strength during his presidential campaigns.
As Matthew Dowd, his chief strategist-for his 2004 campaign, put it: 'Katrina, to me, was the tipping point. The President broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. After Katrina I was, like, you know, this is it, man. We're done.'
All successful politicians have to have luck. This one didn't: no sooner had he won the Presidency than Al Qaeda struck. Then came the scandal of Abu Ghraib, which he did not, initially, believe could have happened until there was incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.
'This is not what Americans do!' he expostulated.
But the damage was done: the world - especially the Muslim world - believed that this was indeed what Americans do, and that they'd proved their hypocrisy by excoriating the rest of the world for its abuse of human rights.
And then, of course, came the banking crisis and the economic recession. This optimist - some would say an intellectually incurious and unimaginative man - found himself blinking in bafflement in the heart of a perfect storm.
He came to power with several surprisingly 'liberal' ambitions: no Republican before him, certainly not one as rich and privileged as he is, had ever bothered about the dire state education system which had let down the poorest kids in the community.
He cared passionately: 'I want to make sure that no child, whatever their
circumstances, gets left behind!' he told me.
He enacted the 'No Child Left Behind' legislation that enraged the all-powerful Left-wing teachers' union because he demanded accountability from them.
He also hadn't a trace of racism in his bones (he appointed more members of ethnic minorities to the cabinet than there had ever been, including Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell).
While Clinton shed crocodile tears over Africa, Bush spent more on alleviating the poverty and disease in that misbegotten continent than his 'Ah-feel-your-pain' predecessor ever did.
And, of course, as he now points out, he has ensured that America has not been attacked on its home soil since 9/11.
However, whatever he says, his mismanagement of the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has damaged America's standing in the world.
But I don't believe the damage is fatal. The genius of America is its social and political flexibility, its belief that it can, under pressure, re-invent itself with extraordinary alacrity.
When I began covering presidential elections nearly 30 years ago - and witnessed race riots in Los Angeles and New York which threatened to break the body politic - I could never have imagined that a black man, whose Kenyan father herded goats in his childhood, would ever be able to reach the White House.
Barack Obama has, mercifully, proved my doubts to be unfounded. Long live America.
Perhaps Bush's tragedy is that he was too 'comfortable in his skin', too airily dismissive of detail and of advice from those who weren't, as he saw it, 'one of us'.
America and the Middle East have paid dearly for his insouciance. I think the world needs him to stick around clearing the underbrush at his Crawford ranch indefinitely.