America’s Worst President?


USA Today founder Al Neuharth once chastised Senator Hillary Clinton for stating that George W. Bush’s presidency was one of American history’s worst. Neuharth promptly made his own list of worse presidents.
Now, he has recanted and offered a mea culpa:

I remember every president since Herbert Hoover, when I was a grade school kid. He was one of the worst. I’ve personally met every president since Dwight Eisenhower. He was one of the best.
A year ago I criticized Hillary Clinton for saying “this (Bush) administration will go down in history as one of the worst.”
“She’s wrong,” I wrote. Then I rated these five presidents, in this order, as the worst: Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, Hoover and Richard Nixon. “It’s very unlikely Bush can crack that list,” I added.
I was wrong. This is my mea culpa. Not only has Bush cracked that list, but he is planted firmly at the top.

Josh Bolten and Karl Rove must be spending some time trying to figure out how to fix Bush’s legacy problem with 22 months left and defy Hillary Clinton and Al Neuharth’s prognostications.
How to do it?
Here’s a start:

Read a lot more about what it took for Nixon to go to China
Work feverishly in helping to establish the State of Palestine
Invent the core institutional arrangements that might allow for collective security agreements between Israel and other moderate Sunni regimes in the Middle East
Help coax forward a Syria-Israel peace deal along the lines that got Libya out of the international dog house
Stabilize Afghanistan. . .fast
Call a Regional Conference on the Middle East and get all stakeholders there
Organize a global politial effort — that is serious — to engage, contain, and confront — in ways more creative and effective than a military strike — Iran’s nuclear weapons appetite
Stop pursuing foreign policy/national security objectives on the cheap
Call for, authorize and fund a Manhattan Project on Energy alternatives

This is not a comprehensive list, and Bush’s presidency has been politically chastened — but some of these are doable and could help raise the long-term stock value of the Bush legacy.
But as John Negroponte once told me about waiting for new great ideas from the administration on how to deal with Iraq, “Don’t hold your breath.”
— Steve Clemons


17 comments on “America’s Worst President?

  1. Arun says:
    Iran summons Pakistani ambassador over bombings
    Tehran – Iran has summoned the Pakistani ambassador to Tehran over the recent bombings in Zahedan in south-east Iran, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said Sunday.
    11 people were killed and more than 30 injured after a bomb planted in a car went off last Wednesday in Zahedan and hit a bus belonging to the paramilitary revolutionary guards (IRGC).
    The victims mainly belonged to the administrative staff of the IRGC.
    Also on Friday a percussion bomb exploded on a road in Zahedan next to a girls’ school and unfinished residential complexes without causing any casualties.
    The radical Sunni group Jundallah (God’s Brigade), which claimed responsibility for both attacks, is believed to have infiltrated Iran from Pakistan, which borders Iran in the south-east.
    The Iranian press has criticized Pakistan for becoming the backyard for terrorists infiltrating Iranian soil.
    The spokesman said in a press conference in Tehran that Iran and Pakistan have agreed to form a committee for improving border security.
    Hosseini said that several suspects have been arrested in connection to the bombings and according to their confessions, ‘aliens’ were involved in the incidents.
    Tehran has accused the United States and Britain of using radical Sunni groups like Jundullah for sowing discord between Iran’s Muslim Shiite majority and the Sunni minority.
    Zahedan, located in the Sistan-Beluchistan province bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, is mainly a centre for drug-trafficking.
    A large number of IRGC anti-narcotic forces are stationed in the Sistan-Beluchistan province and frequently clash with not only local but also Afghan and Pakistani drug traffickers who try to smuggle drugs via Iran to European markets.


  2. Rick B says:

    We can make all the lists we want to about what Bush and his people might do to prop up his legacy, but Negroponte has it right. “Don’t hold your breathe.”
    Bush is unable to even start attempting anything that might put him into direct personal competition with his father. Everything he does is an attempt to accomplish things in ways his father would not use. That includes reading up on anything, analyzing it, and proposing solutions. Shrub can’t do it himself and he couldn’t accept criticism of his attempts. That’s why Rove convinced Bush to bring Cheney on board as Veep to do the skut work of actually running the bureaucracy, and why Bush has “delegated” all the work of actually running government to Cheney.
    Things in the Bush regime will not get better. If somehow Congress can tie Cheney’s hands, maybe things won’t get worse, but I don’t count on that. Bush and Cheney are deaf, dumb and blind fools wandering randomly around on the world stage in a state of fear with nukes in their pockets and carrier groups in their backpacks. [They’ve about used up ground troops.]


  3. KathyF says:

    “File not found”
    Can you relink?


  4. Arun says:

    For Pakistan political commentary, I recommend


  5. Arun says:

    Margaret Bourke-White wrote this
    in 1947 or thereabouts. What she said about the Pakistani state remains true to this day.
    The current version of what is described in that article is as follows:


  6. ET says:

    Today and tomorrow, February 17th and 18th:
    Emergency Summit to Impeach Bush for War Crimes in New York City


  7. Pissed Off American says:

    When accepting Bush as the “worst president”, I seldom see the resultant inevitable phenomena discussed. That phenomena is the quality of persons that work for, and support, this executive administration. From Dick Cheney on down to some ignorant bigotted asshole chanting “my country right or wrong” sitting in Ed’s bar watching Fox News, this administration, in every way, personifies the very WORST this nation has to offer. Limbaugh, Coulter, Fox News, etc, and quite a few million ignorant, uninformed, and fear ridden Americans paint a perfect picture of how far down the scale our nation has fallen. We have become a nation of ignorant self-centered gullible assholes ruled by devious evil lying assholes.
    But hey, they hate us for our freedoms.


  8. Pissed Off American says:

    All I know is that Pakistan was a terrorist state long before 911, and it blew my mind when Idiot-in-charge held them up as an ally.
    Posted by Jerome Gaskins
    If you want an eye-opener, research Mahmoud Ahmed, the ISI general that is known to have financed, on at least one occassion, Mohammed Atta. He was having lunch with Goss and Graham as the WTC collapsed into ruin. Although he is known to have financed Atta, he hasn’t been pursued or prosecuted, he is not on the FBI’s wanted list, and he was allowed to fade from view by the Pakistanis. Whereabouts unknown. Or not.


  9. bAkho says:

    The problems extend far beyond Bush to the current National Republican Party being the Worst Party ever. They are a toxic mix of anti-middle class elitists, corporate crooks, anti-intellectual, anti-science,racist, xenophobic, nativist, know-nothing, homophobic, militaristic fundamentalist Bible thumpers led by Southern rednecks. The GOP is totally disconnected from past foreign policy successes of Ike and Nixon’s best moments. They have expanded the worst war criminal tendencies of Reagan policy to turn the US from one of the most admired nations to one of the most feared and hated nations in much of the world.
    The majority of Republicans including the leadership are loyal supporters of the failed Bush foreign policy. Look at how the Republicans line up behind Bush like Stepford wives with only 17 Congressmen willing to see the light and not enough Senators to prevent a filibuster on Iraq policy. The Republican presidential contenders are all supportive of the Bush policy to continue to occupy Iraq through the next decade.
    The US needs to cleanse itself of the cancer that is the current Republican Party and its toxic foreign policy. Bush is the Worst President Ever because he is doing what the Worst Party Every wants Bush to do.


  10. Jim says:

    Personally I think the Iraq War has already made George W Bush the worst president in American history, and nothing he can do now can or will undo that. But to add to your list:
    Toture? Habeas corpus? respect for the underlying architecture of the US Constitution? separation of powers, checks and balances, that type of thing?
    In my fantasy world, Sandra Day O’Connor, Goerge Mitchell, Howard Baker, maybe Colin Powell (who also frankly needs to redeem himself) publish a manifesto calling for George W Bush, and all Republicans, to respect basic Constitutional principles.


  11. bAkho says:

    Bush runs a corrupt administration devoted to proping up the finances of his corporate sponsors. This corruption has so infested the entire Republican party that no Republican successor to Bush will fare much better. Republicanism needs to crash and burn and re-establish itself without its toxic elements. That may take a generation. The Republican corporate sponsors are change averse. Bush policy has been successful in maintaining the status quo and supplying the gravy. The only legacy Bush really cares about is his tax cuts, which are just as doomed as his Iraq policy.
    The Bush administration lacks the internal dynamics to move in any of the directions you listed and is not listening to people outside the administation that could help them. This includes faithful Republicans like Senators Lugar and Hagel who are marginalized within the GOP. Bush is totally dependent on support from people in his administration that are actively fighting the very moves you suggest. This is the very reason that Bush is “The Worst President Ever”.


  12. Jerome Gaskins says:

    All I know is that Pakistan was a terrorist state long before 911, and it blew my mind when Idiot-in-charge held them up as an ally.


  13. JohnH says:

    Pakistan has been a ticking bomb–nuclear bomb–for years. Willaim Langeweische published an excellent piece, called “The Wrath of Khan.” (subscription, but well worth a trip to the library.)
    In it he largely exculpates Reagan/Bush by saying that the US could not stop Pakistan from developing nuclear weapons, even though Reagan largely turned a blind eye to the program, coddling Pakistan to get at the Soviets in Afghanistan.
    What is most instructive in my mind is the blowback of US arrogance. Reagan was forcing nukes onto European soil as a deterrent against the Soviets, and many Europeans, particularly Germans, felt that the US was perfectly willing to fight the Soviets down to the last German.
    The result: “American intelligence discovered that one company or another was about to export devices to Khan, U.S. officials would pass the information along in writing to their European counterparts in the expectation that the activity could be stopped. In some cases the Europeans refused to act because the sales were unambiguously legal. In many others interpretation would have been possible, and with sufficient commitment and energy the companies could have been approached and warned off. Instead, the Europeans closed ranks. Their attitude toward the Americans was them against us. The reports were slid into drawers, and the drawers were slid shut.”
    Pakistan got the bomb. Blowback from the current administration’s arrogance and incompetence will be felt for years.


  14. Dan Kervick says:

    A few comments on your list:
    You suggest Bush should “work feverishly in helping to establish the State of Palestine”. Some of the problems we’re facing now in that region are due to the fact that President Clinton, also worried about a legacy that was in deep jeopardy, decided to start working very, very feverishly to finish an Israeli-Palestinian deal before he left office. What resulted was the rush job of Camp David, pushed forward by Barak and Clinton, contrary to the advice of the Palestinian leaders and without any significant consultation with them. When the Palestinians arrived at the talks, they faced a strong-arming Barak-Clinton tag team that informed the Palestinians that the new baseline for negotiations was not UN 242, but the territorial status quo of facts on the ground, built on three decades of illegal Israeli land siezures. Predicatably, the talks failed, and the resulting crash and its aftermath shook the situation in Palestine to a new low.
    There is no way we are going to get a durable and workable solution to that problem, based on a Palestinian state with mutually agreed-upon borders, within two years. What Bush *could* do is announce and institutionally establish a new (or new-old) US policy toward the conflict, with a diplomatic baseline of a complete withdrawal of Israel from all territories occupied in 1967, and starting with a major speech outlining and sypathetically recognizing the history of the Palestinian people and the historical injustice of which they have been the victims. The US must educate its own people first, and pull the history of the conflict out of the Forbidden Zone to which it has been exiled, before the US can begin to play a constructive role in a resolution of the conflict. Since this diplomatic move would be savagely opposed and brutally criticized by large portions of the US political establishment of both parties, then it is precisely the sort of initiative that history calls upon lame ducks to make. If Bush takes a bullet on this (the way Jimmy Carter has shown himself willing to do), and succeeds in seeing it through and re-orienting US policy before he leaves office, then history may look back on him more favorably. The next president may finish the deal, but Bush will be the one that turned the ship around and away from the rocks toward which it has been fatalistically drifting.
    In one area, your proposals appear to me to pull in two contrary directions at the same time. On the one hand, you allude to a Nixon going to China moment, and a regional Middle East conference with all of the major stakeholders, while on the other hand proposing a global Iranian containment effort and a regional Israeli-Sunni alliance. You seem to be proposing to both start a new regional Cold War and negotiate an end to it at the same time. Inventing “the core institutional arrangements that might allow for collective security agreements between Israel and other moderate Sunni regimes in the Middle East” will only promote conflict in the region, not resolve it, if these arrangements are part of a belligerent new anti-Iran and anti-Shia bloc. I know there is a certain amount of regional pushing for this new direction, but it is terribly misguided and cynical – and contrary to long term US interests. This movement is aimed at (i) securing domestic tranquility for regional Sunni autocrats by stoking religious fanaticism and sectarian hatred, and by elevating to isolated Evildom an imagined regional Iranian Empire, allowing the autocrats to entertain their subjects and buy their loyalty for years with the melodramatic specatacle of opposition to this supposed advancing Persian hegemon, and (ii) securing for Israel another four decades of intransigency, and a continuation of its gradual squeezeout of the remnants of the Palestinian national movement, by allying Israel with the fading autocrats and their new Cold War.
    The US should instead promote the regional security conference, in which Iran will be a participate, and at the same time open a separate and very public track of bilateral US-Iran negotiations. The Israelis and the autocrats need to see with their own eyes that the US is ultimately going to resolve its issues with Iran, that a grand bargain with Iran (oddly, already the most democratic country in the region) is in the cards, and that once that happens the natural consilience of interests between Iran and the US will take over and lead to a powerful new US-Iranian-Iraqi partnership – with implications for the petroleum market, for regional political reform, and for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    In the area of energy, your call for a sort of alternative energy Manahattan project is a very good one. But I think we also need to look ahead to the more immediate and near-term future and do something significant to cover the dangerous transition period. It is not enough to work on energy alternatives. In the intervening period, faced with growing economies and energy-hungry populations and business sectors, the world has already moved into a dangerous era of great power competition over strategic acess to and control of the world’s renaining traditional resources and markets in which they are sold. Central Asia, the Caspian basin, Africa, and southeast Asia are being turned into battlefields where China, Russia the US and Europe are fighting for control and influence, and this has lead to rising diplomatic tensions and rivalry all around, to the detriment of international peace and progressive cooperation on projects of mutual concern. A passing acquaintace with the history of great power and imperial struggle tells us that unless something is done to arrest this degenerative development, the result will likely be war in the end. And we’re talking about real, big international wars among nuclear armed powers – not a few terrorist attacks, or a grinding anti-insurgent quagmire in places like Iraq. Iraq compared to what’s coming is as the Boer War compared to the 1st World War – unless we do something to stop it.
    I have been arguing for some time that we need a Global Energy Transition Treaty to forge a new international energy regime, with participation from developed and developing powers, producers and consumers, to resolve conflicts and manage supplies in this dangerous period in global history.


  15. Arun says:

    I don’t see how the US government can stabilize Pakistan. Doing the obvious things will only make things worse.
    Pakistan is not a nation with an army, but an army with a nation, to paraphrase a famous quip. The military controls the politics, and the military has now thoroughly infiltrated the economy as well. The route to **long-term** stability in Pakistan is to return the army to the barracks, and impose durable and firm civilian control over the army.
    Giving aid to the military government in the name of stability would be just like giving aid to the Baathist regime in Iraq or to the Shah in Iran. You’re simply postponing the firestorm and making it worse when eventually the regime collapses.


  16. Steve Clemons says:

    Pudentilla — Good catch. I screwed up in posting this in haste. I’m very worried about the stability of Pakistan, which depends on the stabilization of Afghanistan. Not sure how many Americans share the concern or see these as linked, but they are.
    best, Steve Clemons


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