A historian harshly assesses the Bush Administration’s efforts to combat terrorism and wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Brushing aside the former president’s claim that he cannot be fairly judged until after his death, Anderson (History/Texas A&M Univ.; The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action, 2004, etc.) insists that the legacies and lessons of the Bush presidency are already ripe for appraisal. After supplying useful potted histories of Iraq, “the Improbable Country,” and Afghanistan, “the Graveyard of Empires,” and a 30-year review of U.S. policy toward and battles with al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, the author brings the reader up to 9/11. From there, he focuses on George W. Bush’s presidency, an account of unrelieved hubris, malfeasance, deceptions and incompetence. The short version, widely available prior to this book’s publication, is as follows: Having ignored signals that should have alerted them to al-Qaeda’s attacks, Bush officials pressed for laws that curbed domestic civil liberties, even as they engaged in extra-legal methods to fight a misguided and certainly misnamed “war on terror.” Then, taking advantage of a traumatized electorate, an incurious, revenge-minded president, aided by Cheney, Rumsfeld and a brace of Pentagon neocons, abetted by a pliant CIA and a duped Colin Powell, cherry-picked evidence, lied to the country and rushed into a disastrous war for oil in Iraq against an unsavory dictator, easily demonized because he possessed WMDs, an accusation never proven. This horribly wrong turn in Iraq squandered the world’s good will, allowed Osama bin Laden to escape capture and the Taliban to regroup in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a mismanaged, bloody Iraq occupation depleted our treasury, depressed our military and robbed us of any moral credibility. Untroubled by the succeeding administration’s adoption of many of the Bush policies—Guantánamo remains open, the Patriot Act was extended—or by recent upheavals in the Muslim world that have demonstrated once again the difficulties of a properly calibrated American diplomatic and military response, Anderson approvingly cites a fellow professor’s judgment that, when it comes to Bush, there may be “no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.”
A relentlessly tendentious account sure to delight Bush critics and infuriate admirers.