On September 22nd George W. Bush delivered his final address to the United Nations General Assembly. As he is nearing the end of his eight long years in the White House, the time when presidents and the public turn to thoughts of legacy, I could only imagine how those assembled in the great hall and future generations would evaluate the Bush years.
As luck would have, it last week the simultaneous occurrence of an unrelated event provided a helpful insight. Last week the New York Yankees baseball team played their final game in their 85 year old stadium. When it was built in 1923 the now venerable stadium was a marvel. The Yankees, then an emerging power in the U.S.’ "national pastime", had needed this massive structure to accommodate their growing fan base. The reason behind their power and popularity was largely the work of one man: George Herman "Babe" Ruth. His home run hitting prowess and his larger than life persona was changing the game of baseball. Once completed, therefore, it was only appropriate that the new stadium be given the name "The House that Ruth Built."
For generations that designation remained as did the Yankees’ dominance in New York sports. They were loved by many, hated and feared by some, but respected by all who loved the game of baseball. Ruth’s records were broken, but his legacy remained. Without appearing to be flippant or "too cute by half", I reflected on this legacy of Babe Ruth as a standard that might be useful in examining the Bush legacy.
Bush too has fancied himself a game changer and in embracing the neo-conservative "Project for a New American Century" sought to use American power as a transformative force that would remake the Middle East and establish American hegemony for a century and beyond.
But, as I write, the "House that George Built" is anything but a success. It is, in fact, a study in extravagant failure for which no expense has been spared.
Afghanistan is in tatters, with the Taliban resurgent, there and across the border in Pakistan nearly undoing what had been seen as early successes in that war. As a result of this failure Pakistan itself is now at risk, reeling from spreading extremism and new terrorist threats. Iraq is nearly, though not neatly, partitioned by ethnic cleansing (one-fifth of its people are either exiles or internally displaced persons) and concrete barriers that define its new cityscapes. At the same time, terror and political discord still confound efforts to achieve any economic, social, or political development in that war-torn country. Next door Iran is emboldened and threatening to expand its ambitious reach across the region.
Al Qaeda has regrouped and morphed into new and deadly forms across the Middle East and beyond (authoring recent attacks in Pakistan, Algeria and Yemen). And the Arab-Israeli conflict, once difficult to resolve, has now become an even more problematic, suffering from U.S. neglect and misplaced intransigence.
In fact, the only areas offering a glimmer of hope are those where others have stepped into the breach (like Lebanon) to offer a steadying hand.
These new and ugly realities have been shaped by the recklessness of the Bush Administration. And while the President cavalierly dismisses the resultant disarray with the claim that history will prove him right, that is pure fantasy. The mess he leaves behind says otherwise.
And the perfect irony here is that in implementing his allies’ "Project for a New American Century," the President has brought about the opposite result. Instead of positive transformation he has created chaos. Instead of establishing American power he has only made clear the limits of that power effectively weakening the American role in the world.
This is "The House that George Built" and it, like the famed Yankee Stadium of old, will be with us for generations. Make no mistake, history will be a harsh judge. There will be no monuments built to George W. Bush and no one eager to see his records broken. Only a dramatic change in direction and hard work will enable the U.S. to recoup the stature it has lost and rebuild the fractured nations and tattered relationships this president leaves behind.