Scholars flunk George W. Bush

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — George W. Bush ranks among the five U.S. presidents who accomplished the least while in office, according to the Siena College Research Institute’s latest survey of 238 presidential scholars. The institute has conducted the poll annually for the past 28 years.

By comparison, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the country from 1933 until his death in 1945, ranks first in overall accomplishments. George W. Bush ranks as the worst among modern presidents — and the fifth-worst in history.

According to the “Survey of U.S. Presidents,” the top five include Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

The presidential scholars rank U.S. presidents on six personal attributes — background, imagination, integrity, intelligence, luck and willingness to take risks — and on five kinds of ability — compromise, executive administration, leadership, communication and overall.

Eight areas of accomplishments include domestic affairs, economic achievements, work with Congress and the president’s own political party, appointments of Supreme Court justices and members of the executive branch, foreign policy, and avoiding mistakes.

If one analyzes the Bush administration’s approach to foreign policy, health care and human rights, one might consider the biggest foreign policy blunders to be the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Bush administration blatantly ignored the advice of Gen. Eric Shinseki, who had estimated that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to secure Iraq. Even more seriously, the war against Iraq was based, from the beginning, on false premises.

Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly stated that Iraq was “the geographic base of terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11″ — despite lack of evidence for such an assertion.

The bipartisan 9/11 Commission itself found that Iraq was not involved in the 9/11 attacks and did not have a collaborative operational relationship with al-Qaida.

Compounding the wrongness of the approach toward Iraq was the assumed right to initiate a preemptive attack and thus flout international law. The 2006 updated U.S. National Security Strategy established that “the greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction — and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. There are few greater threats than a terrorist attack with WMD.”

As was clearly demonstrated, not only did the Iraqi government not have any WMD, but at no point could it have been considered a threat to the United States, given the obvious difference in military capability between both countries.

This was no impediment to former President Bush and his closest associates pushing their rationale for war against that country. That war and their justification for engaging in preemptive wars are among the most serious and damaging foreign policy decisions of the Bush administration.

If one analyzes the Bush presidency’s approach to health care, one sees signs of disregard for people’s health amid support for corporate interests — a reflection of the Bush administration decisions on almost all economic matters.

The Bush administration blocked efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate cheaper prescription drugs for seniors, thus negatively affecting their health and quality of life, while simultaneously depriving American taxpayers of savings from the very marketplace competition touted by White House economists.

The administration went to court to block lawsuits by patients who had been injured by defective prescription drugs and medical devices. In addition, a General Accounting Office study concluded that the Bush administration created illegal, covert propaganda to promote its industry- supported Medicare bill.

The Bush administration record on human rights is dismal. Who can forget the photos of prisoner abuse, carried out by the U.S. Army and other U.S. government agencies, at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq?

The reports have tainted the image of the U.S. as a defender of human rights. Compounding the magnitude of the abuse, Janis Karpinsky, a commander at Abu Ghraib, estimated that, at one point, 90 percent of the detainees in the prison were innocent of any crimes that would have justified their detention at Abu Ghraib.

Recently the group Physicians for Human Rights has uncovered evidence indicating that the Bush administration conducted illegal and unethical human experiments and research on detainees in CIA custody. Medical personnel engaged not only in the torture of prisoners but also in illegal experimentation, activities in clear violation of the Nuremberg Code.

It would be naive to think that all negative aspects of the Bush administration were the responsibility of former president himself. He obviously is the face for members of his administration and others who were influencing policy decisions. Still, the ultimate responsibility falls on him, and he is the one who must answer to history for his actions.

Cesar Chelala, Ph.D. and M.D., is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award.