We are now past the mid-point of George W. Bush’s second term as President of the United States. He has not had it easy, which is not unusual for second-term presidents in modern times. Only Ronald Reagan was able to turn his second-term around to finish as a very popular president. Bush’s poll ratings are very low, the main cause being the Iraq War - shown clearly by the change in the Congress as Republicans lost control of the House and the Senate; many American voters want our troops out of Iraq.
John C. Fortier and Norman J. Ornstein both with the American Enterprise Institute, have introduced and compiled this book of five essays by journalists and scholars: Dan Balz (Washington Post), Fred I. Greenstein (Princeton University), David E. Sanger (New York Times), Carla Anne Robbins (New York Times), and Charles O. Jones (University of Wisconsin). The editors set the stage for the essays by reviewing the history of two-term presidents and how the present presidency is proceeding. Second-term presidencies historically suffer from hubris, burnout, lack of new ideas, scandal, party infighting, and midterm losses. They usually though, do well with foreign policy, but George W. Bush is not doing well in that arena and suffers from the other enumerated items.
Dan Balz discusses how Bush’s over-ambitious second-term agenda has hit the brick wall of reality. His plan for Social Security is an example; he had big plans to overhaul the system, but the Congress and many Americans did not agree with him. Bush’s government’s inaction in responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hurt him at the mid-term elections, as did the Iraq War - especially when no weapons of mass destruction were been found. Bad planning for the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein and underestimating the insurgency has been a problem for Bush.
Fred I. Greenstein looks at G.W. Bush as a man and as a leader. Other presidents have won the presidency after having been a governor and not having major governing experience; interestingly, the first Bush in the Oval Offcewas one of the few modern presidents who had experience in Washington. Greenstein examines Bush’s political style, which involves his emotional intelligence, cognitive style, effectiveness as a public communicator, organizational capacity, political skill, and policy vision.
David E. Sanger examines Bush’s foreign policy. He started out well after the September 11 attacks as most of the world united with the United States against terrorists. Many countries supported the invasion of Afghanistan - but then Bush decided to go and remove Saddam Hussein from power which did not have world support. As time has passed, Bush has lost more and more support from other countries, and from many Americans. Sanger explores Bush’s foreign policy failures and the changes in his cabinet and other officials after his election to a second term.
Carla Anne Robbins shows how Bush’s foreign policy can change very quickly. In his second inaugural speech, Bush talked about spreading democracy throughout the world then later had his staff backtrack on this and clarify that he meant something else. Robbins demonstrates that Bush is not good at diplomacy, telling countries that they are either with him or against him and that those against him would suffer consequences for their opposition to the United States. Many countries, though, were not intimidated by him.
Charles O. Jones examines Bush’s executive style. Bush likes to be competitive and cooperates with others only when he is forced to or sees it to his advantage. He now finishes his term as president with the Democrats in charge of the Congress; he has already shown he will not cooperate with the new majority.
These frank, some might say left-leaning (although the essayists are analyzing the history of Bush’s presidency), essays tell the story of President Bush’s presidency and how it has floundered since it decided to invade Iraq and how the administration had no plan for withdrawal. The essayists say that it might be decades until history judges Bush’s presidency as being either great or a great disaster.
These quite readable essays vary in length; some but not all have endnotes, and there is an index. Those interested in presidential history, President Bush, and recent history will highly enjoy reading this book and shake their heads in disbelief at how a presidency started off after 9/11 with major support seems to be ending in poor approval ratings, already a lame duck.