WASHINGTON:In the Lincoln Bedroom, President George W. Bush likes to show off one of the most treasured historical artifacts in the White House, a handwritten copy of Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address.
The building’s walls speak of past battles, victories, defeats, heartache. President George Washington’s portrait hangs in the Oval Office. Civil War Commander and two-term President Ulysses Grant is placed in Bush’s private study.
The Queen’s Bedroom offers memories of Winston Churchill, who stayed there before and after World War Two, as Bush told C-SPAN, “waddling around ... with a cigar in one hand, a brandy in the other, demanding attention.”As Bush marks the Presidents Day holiday and George Washington’s 275th birthday on 19 February, he faces a drumbeat a criticism for the event that will likely be a big part of his legacy -- the Iraq war.The president believes it will take some time to determine his place in the pantheon of presidents, despite the negative assessments some historians have already made.
“I don’t think you’ll really get the full history of the Bush administration until long after I’m gone. I tell people I’m reading books on George Washington and they’re still analyzing his presidency,” Bush told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in an interview last month.Many in the current crop of historians are already prepared to declare Bush’s presidency a failure.
In a December opinion article in The Washington Post, Columbia University history professor Eric Foner wrote that Bush was likely to join mediocre presidents like Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson.
“Even after being repudiated in the midterm elections of 1854, 1858 and 1866, respectively, they ignored major currents of public opinion and clung to flawed policies. Bush’s presidency certainly brings theirs to mind,” Foner wrote.Foner’s article was headlined, “He’s the worst ever.”
But Vanderbilt University history professor Thomas Alan Schwartz said it was too soon to judge Bush. “Presidential reputations tend to go up and down,” he said.He cited Dwight Eisenhower as a president whose stock has risen in the decades since he handed over power to John Kennedy in 1961.
“But Bush will face some enormous obstacles to being fully rehabilitated. Much does depend on Iraq, but even if that does not end in disaster -- still an open question -- the mistakes made in the occupation will be ascribed to him. Were Osama Bin Laden to be captured or killed before Bush leaves office, that could help, but the uncertainties involving Afghanistan will also hurt him,” Schwartz said.
Bush, a Republican, sees historical parallels in Democrat Harry Truman’s presidency. Truman set in motion the Cold War doctrine that shifted U.S. foreign policy from one of getting along with the Soviet Union to trying to contain its expansion.Bush sees his ultimate legacy as starting a years-long effort to check a radical Islamist militant movement from spreading globally. He sees Iraq as a central battleground.
“Today, at the start of a new century, we are again engaged in a war unlike any our nation has fought before. And like Americans in Truman’s day, we are laying the foundations for victory,” he said last May.After Truman, presidents from Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan confronted the Soviet threat. Will future presidents similarly continue to wage Bush’s war on terrorism?
Many of the 2008 presidential candidates are searching for a way out of Iraq. Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, for example, says he would bring U.S. forces home by March 2008.And Obama’s comments on the war on terrorism, laid out in his 10 February speech announcing his candidacy, did not appear as muscular as the president’s. He said terrorists could be tracked down with a stronger military and better intelligence.
“But let us also understand that ultimate victory against our enemies will come only by rebuilding our alliances and exporting those ideals that bring hope and opportunity to millions around the globe,” Obama said.