While George Dubya Bush will be in office for 14 more months, many have already labeled him the worst president in modern American history. They complain that the Bush legacy will extend well beyond January of 2009, when the next president takes office. Political observers lament he has had the “reverse Midas touch,” where he’s worsened every aspect of American foreign and domestic policy he’s blundered into. Bush’s most lasting negative legacy can be attributed to his autocratic leadership style, which has inspired other politicians to emulate his tactics and ethics. As a result, we see mini-Dubyas running for president and Dubya clones ruling other countries.
Bush has had a distinctive and destructive presidency. One characteristic has been dogmatic inflexibility: he came into power with a militant conservative agenda—cut taxes, reduce government restrictions on business, expand the role of the military, and promote American empire—and has not deviated from this. Even in the face of evidence that it was counterproductive, Bush has steadfastly pursued his program: when he launched his “war” on terror, he could have asked the American people to make a common economic sacrifice and pay higher taxes, but he refused to do this. His administration ran up unprecedented deficits while claiming to be “stimulating” the market.
President Bush does not believe in the balance of powers doctrine prescribed in the Constitution: the notion that the executive, judiciary, and legislative branches of government are co-equal. Since he initiated the war on terror, he has acted as if he was above the Constitution. He invaded Iraq on false premises, filled the American media with misleading propaganda, and ignored the modern rules of war regarding treatment of prisoners and civilians. Building upon his manufactured image as “wartime” commander-in-chief, Dubya has operated more as a despot than as the leader of a democracy.
Evidently, Bush feels the American people pay more attention to what he says than to what he does. His speeches are filled with platitudes about democracy and liberty; according to Dubya everything the United States does in Iraq is intended to produce a model democracy. Nonetheless, the policies of the Bush administration have diminished freedom in the United States and created a police state in Iraq.
Bush’s guiding morality is that the ends justify the means. His decisions are based solely upon considerations of power: how a particular policy will enhance his power, as well as that of the Republican Party and their wealthy supporters. Early in the Bush administration, a former policy adviser, John Dilulio, reported that every White House policy had to be approved by Karl Rove, Bush’s consigliere,; an indication that the White House strove to maximize the political consequences of every move the president made.
Now, as Republicans struggle to find a 2008 presidential candidate, the top four contenders—Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and Thompson—are running as mini-Dubyas. Giuliani and Romney, in particular, take the stance “we’re like George Bush, only smarter.” All four support the president’s ill-considered war in Iraq, but argue they would do a better job of “winning” it.
Nonetheless, the most dire consequences of the Bush leadership style—“it’s okay to do anything, so long as you win”—has been in foreign policy. While the White House talks about spreading democracy throughout the world, what they have actually dispensed is plutocracy disguised as free-market capitalism.
The most horrific consequences of President Bush’s style have occurred in Pakistan, where the Bush administration has steadfastly supported a dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. The White House position has been “because Pervez is our ally in the war on terror, he has carte blanche.”
In 2002, the failed U.S. military expedition into Afghanistan did not capture Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, but instead pushed them into the lawless territories of Pakistan. General Musharraf became the Bush administration’s point person in Central Asia: Dubya met with Musharraf, looked him in the eye, and declared him to be the right man for the job of rooting out terrorist evildoers. As a result, the United States funneled more than $10 billion in military aid to the Musharraf government. Yet, the Los Angeles Times recently reported that rather than fund anti-terrorist projects, “Pakistan has spent the bulk of it on heavy arms, aircraft and equipment that U.S. officials say are far more suited for conventional warfare with India.” Nonetheless, because General Musharraf is on Dubya’s side, the White House has ignored his draconian domestic policies. As a result, Musharraf has become an autocrat and disabled Pakistani democracy.
General Musharraf has emulated his mentor, George Bush. Using the threat of terrorist attack as an excuse, Musharraf has expanded the powers of the presidency and curtailed civil liberties. He has adopted the Bush morality that the ends justify the means, that it is OK to circumvent democratic process as long as your objective is to defeat evildoers. In the process, Musharraf has enhanced his political power as well as that of his political party. He has become a Dubya clone.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.