Mr. George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, believes history will vindicate him. That thinking is typical of his presidency: It bespeaks an enduring optimism and faith in the future, a relentless refusal to bend to facts, and the certitude that his decisions, no matter how controversial, were right. That certitude tended to put belief ahead of fact. Will the future vindicate him?

Today the verdict is negative. There was a collective sigh of relief on Nov. 4, not only at the election of Mr. Barack Obama, but at the defeat of Sen. John McCain, a candidate whose views veered ominously close to those of the incumbent president, and the prospect of the departure of Mr. Bush himself.

At the time of the election, just 24 percent of Americans said they considered Mr. Bush’s presidency a success. Today, there has been a slight rebound to 31 percent — “the typical nostalgia bump that most outgoing presidents get,” explained one analyst. That is the lowest rating among all U.S. presidents in six decades of polling, save for that of Richard Nixon when he resigned.

According to one poll, more than two-thirds of Americans — 68 percent — viewed Mr. Bush’s eight years in office as a failure. Another poll was even more damning: 73 percent disapproved of his performance in office, and the number has gone up since the November election. In contrast, Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton left office with approval ratings of 68 percent, Mr. Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush reached 54 percent and even the hapless Jimmy Carter had an approval rating of 44 percent.

Remarkably, Mr. Bush also has the distinction of having scored the highest approval rating of any modern president — 90 percent just after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. What went wrong?

Some blame events beyond his control. As Mr. Bush noted in his farewell address on Jan. 15, he took office in a recession and he leaves in a recession. The threat of terrorism was poorly understood and his predecessor was unable or unwilling to deal with it. Hurricane Katrina was another in the regular reminders of nature’s ability to humble human pretensions. His supporters also blame a determined opposition that did its best to counter his every move and, according to some of his most fervent backers, even desired to see the U.S. brought down a notch. To them, Mr. Bush was fighting rear-guard battles that sapped his strength and undermined his mission.

In fact, however, the great majority of Mr. Bush’s problems were of his own making. Take the partisanship he bemoans and his supporters blame for hurting the country. Mr. Bush took office promising to change the tone in Washington; he professed to represent a “compassionate conservatism.” Yet, at every turn, Mr. Bush drove partisan wedges deeper, labeling those who questioned him as unpatriotic. Rather than reaching out to those who disagreed with him and trying to unite the nation through persuasion, Mr. Bush demonized opposition and battered it into submission. He abandoned the charm, affability and humility that characterized his 2000 campaign and took a heavy-handed approach: He became the “Decider” who refused to negotiate.

Worse, his decisions were based not on debate and an attempt to canvas the best minds on a subject. Rather, information came from a small circle of friends and trusted confidantes. In this world, loyalty was more important than competence, trust more significant than knowledge. This view reflected the Republican suspicion of government as well as his own distaste for intellectuals and elites. Yet no matter what the origin, the result was a “bubble” that insulated Mr. Bush from reality and undermined efforts to respond when crises occurred.

Above all, Mr. Bush was certain. He knew he was right, whether the subject was Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the intentions of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, his staffing decisions, or the ultimate verdict on his presidency. That certainty may have come from his faith or membership in an elite family that has played a central role in contemporary U.S. politics. That confidence and certitude more closely resembled hubris — ironically, a concept for which he dismissed intellectuals and East Coast elites.

For all his ambitions — Mr. Bush sought to change the world — the U.S. has been weakened by the Bush presidency. America’s image of competence has been tarnished. The country is seen as hostile to international law, indifferent to international opinion and determined to go its own way, consequences be damned.

In some areas, Mr. Bush may have got policy right, but too often it was the result of neglect or second and third choices that followed poor decisions. Would North Korea have a nuclear weapon now if Mr. Bush had not demonized its leadership and refused to negotiate for several years?

We will never know. But to his credit, Mr. Bush has made the Obama presidency possible. That is a mixed blessing for Mr. Obama. The new president has been greeted with extraordinary good will and pure relief. But he also faces high expectations. Many in the world would like to see the U.S. restored to its previous luster and shine. For those fervent hopes, Mr. Obama can thank the Decider.

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