Today, the George W. Bush library will be dedicated and a long list of luminaries will laud the life and legacy of our 43rd president. I first met the future president in 1986, in Corpus Christi, Texas. I was an independent businessman at the time, and simultaneously, working for his father as an adviser. As the host of a business event held at the Corpus Christi Convention Center, I invited in George W. Bush to speak to the group. He did a great job. And afterward I took he and Laura and the twins to a Mexican restaurant where we talked politics.
In March, 19987, he joined his father’s campaign and co-opted my work with coalitions so I reported directly to him. It was then that he learned the power of the evangelical vote and how to tap into it.
I may be the first person, outside of his own random fantasies, who actually thought of him as a future president. Shortly after his father was elected I wrote a 44 page memo on presidential children. In the study I learned how many sons pursued the presidency themselves. Not just the first son born to a president, which was John Quincy Adams, but nine others. A few of them came close, including John Van Buren and Robert Taft. So I wrote about that possibility for the young Mr. Bush and talked about him to journalists, including a description in an article dated 1991. (George Jr. exhibits clout in Bush White House. Denver Post. December 15,1991, p6a.)
George W. Bush has a dynamic personality, a cunning sense of humor and was the most decisive person I had ever met in my life. While I never stopped praying or rooting for him, personally, I publicly parted ways with him over the war in Iraq. It was a decision that would cost me dearly in my career. Even before, when a 1998 CNN/Gallup poll showed George W. Bush as the leading presidential contender, I warned my wife. “If he wins the presidency we will go to war with Iraq and we will kill Saddam Hussein and we will kill his sons.” After 9-11, I watched helplessly as our war against Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda shifted to a war against Saddam Hussein, the man who had tried to kill Bush’s father.
There were many unintended consequences to the war in Iraq and to the subsequent upheaval across the Middle East. It was called “the Arab Spring” as dictatorships toppled. But Democracy, offered to voters in the region is routinely voted down as soon as it is won. The people want theocratic dictatorships. And they choose them at the ballot box.
Christianity, which existed in Iraq for 2,000 years and traced its lineage to the apostles , numbered one million believers before the Iraq war. It has been cut in half, with churches destroyed and members killed or fleeing to Jordan. Now the Coptic Christians of Egypt, one of the oldest Christian communities in history faces possible annihilation.
In 2011, when the whole West, including President Obama, were celebrating the change of governments in the Middle East, I was hotly criticized for throwing cold water on the celebration. It was not out of any loyalty to the dictatorships they replaced. But rather to the naive confidence with which we so easily brushed aside the tenuous house of cards that were in place. We did so by what we said and did and what we did not say and did not do. And we accomplished this without debate or adequate consideration, acting on instinct rather than logic. The consequences have meant death to many and the blood bath may have only begun.
Today, supporters of President George W. Bush say that he kept America safe and never raised taxes. Opponents say his war in Iraq had unintended consequences that are unhinging the whole Middle East and his spike in spending wrecked the economy.
Presidents spend their time in office trying to shape what happens and when its over they spend their time trying to shape what we think happened. Both with limited success. Today, President George W. Bush has begun his campaign for his legacy. What do you think? How would you rank the president’s time in office? Today the former president has a a 47% approval rating which is exactly the same as President Obama.
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