Columns - Inside the glass house

The worst president ever

By Thalif Deen at the united nations

NEW YORK - Harking back to the politically inglorious days of Richard Nixon in the 1970s, there is a running gag that the popularity of American presidents take a quantum leap upwards whenever they leave the country on overseas trips.

The reason: more and more Americans want their presidents, particularly if they are bumbling incompetents, out of the country so that they can do less damage domestically. George Bush is no exception, as he made his farewell tour of Europe recently. But there were less street protests and demonstrations this time around, primarily because he is treated as a "lame-duck," who can do little or no significant blunders during the waning days of his presidency.

Bush playing basketball with PeacePlayers International Basketball Group at Loughview integrated primary school, as he ends his visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland on Monday. AP

And in one of his earlier tours in Europe, he did receive the highest poll ratings, of all places, in Albania. "Maybe, he should have stayed there," wise-cracked one stand-up comedian, who was certainly not a Bush fan.

Still, the international image of the United States, which has remained badly dented during the last seven years of the Bush administration, is showing signs of marked improvement.

The dramatic change in attitudes overseas is attributed to two factors: firstly, the impending departure of Bush by January next year, and secondly, the election of a new US president, come November. "Europeans are still much more negative than they were at the beginning of the decade, and highly negative views prevail in the Muslim world," says Andrew Kohut, President of the Pew Research Centre, which conducted a 24-nation survey worldwide.

"But there are some indications," he noted, "that the world sees the possibility of change with the prospect of a new president."

The survey also concluded that many people outside the US had more confidence on the presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama than his Republican counterpart John McCain. A second global survey conducted by (WPO), and overseen by its parent organisation, the University of Maryland's Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), was equally negative.
The lack of confidence in Bush's leadership was particularly strong in the Middle East, Latin America, and among Washington's traditional allies in Western Europe.

"While the worldwide mistrust of George Bush has created a global leadership vacuum, no alternative leader has stepped into the breach," says WPO's director, Steven Kull.

"Hu Jintao (of China) and Vladimir Putin (of Russia) are popular among some nations, but more mistrust them, than trust them. Also, the nations that trust them are not organised into any clusters that have the potential to be a meaningful bloc," Kull pointed out.

Bush has always maintained that history will prove him right and he will be eventually vindicated for his invasion of Iraq and his war on terror — not forgetting the justification of torture, the violation of Geneva conventions and the mistreatment of prisoners, both in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

And all of this happened under a Bush administration. And the buck stops at the Oval Office in the White House. Still, back in December 2003, when a Washington Post reporter asked him about how history would judge him, Bush had a blunt answer: "History? We don't know. We'll all be dead."

But a group of some 109 scholars and historians have already pronounced judgement on Bush's presidency. Only two out of the 109 said Bush was a success. But the majority of the scholars judged him "the worst president ever."

Domestically, Bush has taken a severe beating in opinion polls where his ratings have plummeted to around 20 to 28 percent, one of the lowest for any US president in history. As a result, even McCain who belongs to Bush's Republican Party, is avoiding being seen in public with the US president fearing guilt by association. McCain is also fighting off accusations that if elected president, he will continue with Bush's policies.

A vote for McCain, goes the slogan, will be a vote for a third term for Bush. But McCain vehemently denies this. The catchy slogan, however, remains stuck. Sean Wilentz, a Princeton University historian, who wrote an essay titled "The Worst President in History," said that arguments about a president's past history are difficult to prove.

"By just saying, 'In the long run, this is going to look great', it makes it very hard to respond to."

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